Legendary by Stephanie Garber: A Review

by Katie Moran

(ARC provided by NetGalley)

“As fantastical as Caraval might feel.

The next five nights are very real.”

Caraval has ended, the game is over and the revelry has begun… but player beware, it is all to be short lived. Isla de los Suenos, “The Island of Dreams”, the once mystifying island, with its charmed competitions and changing landscape, is now dormant of magic. Those who were once actors in the game have shed their personas. As we discovered at the end of Stephanie Garber’s dizzyingly magical novel Caraval, Donatella Dragna is alive. Tella and her sister Scarlett, our protagonist in Caraval, have a brief moment of reprieve before the illusions and games of Caraval begin again. This time, things are far more sinister than either could have imagined, and the stakes of the game are more real than ever before. Caraval has always brimmed with mischief, magic, and mayhem. Caraval is a tournament of trickery and deceit, while also offering amnesty to those seeking an adventure of their own, or an escape from their lives. At least, that’s what it once stood for.

“Legend has chosen you to play a game that may change your destiny.”

Now, the game has taken a strange and deadly turn. Donatella has found herself swooped up in her very own game of suspense, riddles, and mysticism. The mysterious Legend, creator of Caraval, has some wicked vendettas to settle and if Tella isn’t careful, his feuds may just consume her.

In Caraval, Stephanie Garber twisted a tale for Scarlett, the eldest Dragna sister, made up of immense adventure, magic, and love. Garber’s first novel is the journey of two girls escaping the terrible grip of their deranged father. Garber’s writing depicted the incredible bond of a sisterhood built on the foundations of trust and love. Legendary, Garber’s much awaited sequel, focuses on Donatella, the younger Dragna sister. Tella’s story is a story of loyalty, affection and hope between mother and daughter. Tella’s journey is a cataclysmic chain of events that lead her through trial after trial in the pursuit of finding Paloma, her long missing mother. Tella often speaks of choices. These choices, though incredibly trying and often resulting in placing herself in otherworldly danger, are relished by Tella because they are something all her own. She is the decider of her own destiny and this is something that has always been lacking in her life. She herself embodies the very mischievous essence of Caraval;

“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.”

Like Tella, there are countless readers who feel their choices are hindered by circumstance, or perhaps that they have no choices at all. Tella represents an evolution of what happens when we begin to realize that our every choice acts as a catalyst. These choices, whether they are large or miniscule, alter the layout of our path. It is through our choices that we create real opportunity, triumph, and change.

Tella’s realization of the power she possesses when taking authority of her own actions, leads her to understand that, no matter what type of deceit or misfortune is battling to control her, the loyalty and affection that she holds for her mother is steadfast and true. It will not be affected by the adversity she faces. Tella has to make hard decisions, taking stock of what she is and isn’t willing to lose to rescue the one person in the world whose love she craves. Tella is not without flaws, and she often questions herself and her motives, but her inquiry also provides moments of reflection, spaces where she realizes that fate is nothing more than the cumulation of our decisions.

In Garber’s Legendary, we encounter a world that reads like a criticism of our modern consumerism.  Valenda, the capital of the Empire and the place where Legend will host his second set of games for the year, is a place built upon economic consumption and rather blatant greed. In Valenda, religion is used to justify extortion and the need to increase profit margins. It is through the pairing of economy and religion that the world of Valenda makes its profit, praying on those who wish for protection from a higher power while ultimately taking advantage of that need. The relation between the two, as constructed by Garber, is an undertone throughout the entire novel. These moments are subconsciously understood by the reader as it feels familiar to our world.

The coupling of greed and religion permeates the story in other ways as well. In particular, this can be seen in the presence of the Fates. Fates. These otherworldly entities, similar to the Fates from Greek mythology, set the pace of the story. The Fates are intertwined with playing cards, and each possess their own sinister and formidable powers. Tella’s almost instant connection with the beings gives us insight into their dynamic and hierarchy. Each are said to be vile, preying on humans as their source of entertainment. The Prince of Heart takes a particular liking to Tella. He spends much of the novel manipulating and goading her toward dangerous decisions. Like all other tribulations Tella will face during the game, the Fates are only a representation of the mountains she is ultimately capable of traversing. Though often certain she is underestimated by the people around her, Tella learns that she is the only one with the power to make such assumptions true.

Stephanie Garber’s lyrical writing, incredible imagination, and wonderfully layered characters combine to create a lavish, lustrous story sprinkled with enough humor and romance that it will satiate many reading preferences. The second installment in the Caraval trilogy is absolutely enchanting, written with such care that readers will find leaving Caraval even more heart wrenching than before. We here are looking forward to the third installment in this sensational trilogy.