Stephanie Garber’s latest novel “Legendary,” the sequel to her well-received debut “Caraval,” continues the story of the two Dragna sisters. Whereas the first book focused on Scarlett, the elder sister, “Legendary” follows Donatella as she tries to win the magical game of Caraval and save her mother. Garber has a knack for describing the unique world she has created, but upon closer look her descriptions border on the nonsensical. Garber takes advantage of the fact that her readers don’t have a complete grasp of the rules of her magical world and, frustratingly, makes the rules up as she sees fit.
At first, Garber’s prose shines. “Genuine amusement lit a pair of silver-blue eyes, as dazzling as crashing waves, shadowed by untamed hair so gold it could have been turned into coins,” she writes. But the descriptions rarely stray from the handsome men that Donatella comes across or the magnificent dresses she and her sister wear. There are only so many times a reader can handle being told of the way Dante smells “of ink and secrets and wicked magic.” In fact, upon closer investigation, many of these descriptions are pure fluff. What exactly do secrets and wicked magic smell like? Garber has created this magical world, yet she fails to give it the attention it truly deserves. Instead of focusing on the truly unique and interesting setting she has created, Garber continuously repeats details about boys or dresses that hardly even make sense.
This sequel revolves around the Fates, a group of powerful god-like beings who ruled the world many years ago. Some of these Fates, such as the Prince of Hearts, have escaped from the deck of cards they have been trapped in for years. But the Fates are hardly mentioned in the first novel and all the questions about the game of Caraval that were left unanswered remain so in “Legendary” because Garber is too focused on explaining the history and powers of the many different Fates. There are eight Greater Fates, eight Lesser Fates, and a slew of Fated Objects and Fated Places that all require explanations. If Garber had narrowed this list down, she may have been able to successfully streamline the focus more onto the main intrigue of the series: the multi-night game of Caraval.
“Every curse has a way to be broken, and a loophole,” explains Dante. Garber lives by this rule and will shamelessly allow characters who know more than both the main character and the reader, to find and use secret loopholes to save the day. More than once, events happen behind the scenes that magically move the story along. Yet these secret dealings are often left unexplained or quickly glossed over, resulting in a shallow plot. Garber repeatedly takes advantage of the magical world to enable the erasure of certain problems that simply disappear.
The ending is completely unsatisfying. Donatella’s goal is to find her mother and ask her mother questions about her past. However, the novel ends before any of these questions can be addressed and even more questions are introduced in the last 10 pages. It is clear that Garber is leaving her readers in the dark, hoping they will rush to buy her third book in the series, “Finale,” when it comes out next year.
The descriptions quickly lose their luster and expose the skeleton of a plot. Her focus on the dresses and the men is alluring at first but becomes repetitive far too soon. Too many times Garber allows her characters to use loopholes or employ magical skills that were unknown to the reader until that very moment. The focus on the Fates is distracting and brings up more questions rather than answering those that were left after the first book. After all that, it is disappointing to reach the conclusion and fall victim to a clear money grab that leaves readers completely in the dark without the third installment of the series.
—Staff writer Caroline E. Tew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @caroline_tew.
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