Legendary, by Stephanie Garber

When I read Caraval last year, I suspected that I’d enjoy it. The idea of a magical scavenger hunt embedded within a five-day-long Renaissance Faire environment was too awesome to pass up. Needless to say, it appeared pretty high on my year-end list of favorite books. And the epilogue’s teaser for the sequel Legendary had me anticipating it well over a year in advance.

Well, Legendary was released at the end of May (and I had it in my hands the very next day), but due to being super busy at the end of my school year, a road trip, and then the holiday, it took me a little longer than I would have liked to read and write this review. This is no reflection of the quality of the book because I think Legendary is better than Caraval in almost every possible way.

First off, the decision to switch the primary character from Scarlett to her younger sister Donatella (mostly referred to as “Tella”) is brilliant. In Caraval, it was clear that Tella was more outgoing, more thrill-seeking, and more inclined to act on impulse than think things through. In short, I find her character far more intriguing.

Secondly, the stakes of the game are considerably higher. This time around, the game of Caraval occurs almost immediately following the game from the previous book, which in the world of the story is never heard of. That indicates there’s something greater than just a scavenger hunt at play here; there’s got to be a significant reason for Game Master Legend and his troupe to have the game when they do. Whereas the game in the first book seemed be played with one common quest for all participants, this game seems tailor-made to Tella’s own personal quest to find her mother.

Third, there’s significantly more danger. The motto of Caraval is to remember that it’s only a game. The players are warned not to get lost in the game. This time around, the boundaries between being real and being only a game are more than blurred. Tella runs into the enigmatic and slightly sadistic Jacks, the possible heir to the empress, and pretends to be his fiancée. I won’t spoil the book with the reasons and consequences behind this action, other than to say that it seriously puts Tella’s life on the line.

An underlying motif in the book is that no one is who they necessarily appear to be. The Caraval players from the first book have all switched roles, and it was fun seeing some of my favorites in new lights. Even some of the people who figured prominently in Scarlett’s pre-Caraval life turned out to be Caraval players. Oh, and there are times when the motives of Tella’s own sister Scarlett are in question! While trying to find her mother, Tella learns of her true identity, and along the way, she has to learn Legend’s true identity such that she questions that literally anyone could be the mysterious game master. And she’s fated to learn Jacks’s true identity too.

Occasionally helping and annoying Tella in her journey is Dante, who harbors several secrets and objectives of his own. Their love/hate relationship gives a great dose of romance to the book. It’s just as steamy—perhaps even more so—than Scarlett’s relationship with fellow Caraval-trickster Julian from the first book.

And, there’s a kind of triangle in this book between Tella, Dante, and Jacks, though I won’t necessarily call it a “love” triangle. My thoughts on YA triangles are that they have to be organic to the story and not be there just because it’s a YA trope. This is more of a “conning” triangle, in the sense that they’re all manipulating each other’s hearts—in quite a variety of ways, as you’ll find out if you read it—to get what they’re after. What elevates the triangle is that the objectives of these three characters are in complete and direct conflict with one another, making every beat of the story—and beat of Tella’s heart—exciting.

After I read Caraval, I proclaimed it would make my year-end list (it ranked at #4). I’ve made it clear that I like its sequel even more, and there’s no doubt it will make this year’s year-end list. For a stronger narrator, higher and bolder stakes, and surprising twists and turns, Legendary is nothing short of legendary and deserves its FIVE STARS.

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Legendary is available at Amazon.

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