After reading Caraval last month and feeling like it just didn’t live up to the hype, I was on the fence about reading Legendary, the second book in the series by Stephanie Garber. Fortunately, some people strongly urged me to give it a try, telling me that it was a very different reading experience. I gave it a try, figuring I could always DNF (did not finish) it if I didn’t enjoy it. However, they were right and I ended up enjoying the hell out of this book.
After being swept up into the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragon has finally escaped her father and saved her sister, Scarlett, from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t set free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.
The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more — and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets … including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice, but now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about — maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be doomed forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval … the games have only just begun.
Magic isn’t only limited to Legend in this story. There’s other strong sources of magic that come into play, and other practitioners that factor into the story as well. Additionally, the next occurrence of Caraval is held at Valenda, the capital of the Meridian Empire. It’s described beautifully by Garber, from the wondrous palace, to the different quarters, and even the shadowy underbelly of the capital. Her ability to paint such vivid descriptions of the layout of the world in which the story takes place is absolutely epic.
Tella is every bit the character I expected her to be. Her mischievous tendencies are evident even as a young child, as we see in the very first chapter. She’s smart, impulsive, stubborn, and willing to take risks:
“She liked the thrill that came with taking risks. She loved the feeling of doing something bold enough to make her future hold its breath while she closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation that she’d made a choice with the power to alter the course of her life. It was the closest she ever came to holding real power.”
Most importantly, Tella does not wait for a man to rescue her when things get difficult. She’s a fighter, even when the odds are not in her favor. She’s got flaws too — a lot of them. She makes decisions and thinks of consequences later. She isn’t always the most honest of people, but justifies her actions to herself. Besides the fact that she’s trying to win Caraval, she’s also trying to dig up more information about her mother, who just disappeared from their lives seven years ago.
Scarlett even loosens up a bit in this book. She’s not totally unwound, but she’s less prissy and uptight than she was. I’m not sure how much less, since the book isn’t told from her point of view at all, and she barely appears in the book. She hovers around the edges of some scenes, while Tella steals the show.
Many of the cast members from Caraval appear in varying degrees, some have major roles, while others pop in for a couple of scenes and duck out again. Dante especially has a starring role, and the way he’s described in the book makes it hard not to develop some kind of crush on him, even though it’s clear that he’s trouble.
Jacks pops in, and it’s clear immediately that he’s not the most savory of characters, but as usual, it’s hard to figure out what his ultimate goal is. Even when parts of his motivation are revealed, things are intentionally withheld to keep readers guessing.
I loved the story, the characters, the way it’s narrated, and the flowery prose. While Scarlett sees emotions in colors, Tella experiences the world completely differently:
“The world tasted like magic and starshine, like granted wishes and dreams come true, yet beneath it all, death still coated Tella’s tongue.”
It’s an intoxicating mix of danger, magic, and heady sensations. As Tella works to win the game and find a way to save those she cares about (as well as her life), she discovers that there are no easy answers in life. I have to give her credit, though. She doesn’t give up and try to find the easy way out. She fights for what she wants and believes to be right, and confronts trouble head on. It’s part of what makes me like her so much.
Maybe it’s because I have a feel for the books, or maybe the plot twists were a little more predictable, but I wasn’t surprised as much in this story as I was with the first. I definitely enjoyed this book more, though, and I’m looking forward to reading the last book to see how it all comes together in the end.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 6
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars