(Goodreads summary here.)
I remember absolutely loving Caraval when I read it last summer. I know there’s a lot of differing opinions on this series, and most people loved or hated the first book. I was in the first category for sure. It felt familiar, and yet completely unique. It enchanted me.
Legendary? Not so much.
I hate to be so blunt about it, but I just thought the sequel lost a lot of what I really enjoyed about Caraval. I wish I could chock it up to missing Scarlett, but even she frustrated me in this one. I think maybe I read Caraval at the perfect time for me to enjoy it, but that time has come and gone.
For one thing, Legendary starts off absurdly slow. There’s a lot of time spent recapping the events of the previous Caraval, which is fine in general (yes, please always give me a reminder of what happened, it’s more than likely I’ve forgotten), but there’s a limit to it. I don’t need 30 pages to summarize what just happened where nothing else happens. Reminders of what happened in the previous book should be built into the new story, not jammed in. If your story is good enough, your reader will generally remember what happened while still appreciating reminders of small things or catching subtleties of the plot they might not have the first time around. This isn’t that. At all. It’s just: “Here’s everything that happened in Caraval in case you’ve forgotten, but, to mix it up, it’s kind of from Tella’s point of view!” Honestly, the fact that the recap was from Tella’s point of view isn’t even really necessary: in Caraval, Scarlett does a fantastic job guessing her sister’s thoughts and plans, so we don’t even gain any new information from Tella, since it’s just reaffirming what Scarlett thought. Certain aspects of the plot even beat you over the head; they get repeated over and over to prove they were important. But you shouldn’t have to repeat things to tell you that they’re important – the characters responses should show you.
That’s the other thing that kept bugging me throughout this book: there is way too much telling and not enough showing. Yes, both are essential to good storytelling, but this relied way too much on just informing you of what the characters are thinking and feeling and doing, rather than letting the reader figure it out for themselves. And it’s frustrating. When the author tells you what everyone is feeling, it takes some of the fun out of guessing people’s motives and actions. It also makes plot points and actions far more predictable, since you usually know how they’re feeling. Some of it is also painfully obvious and redundant, mostly how often Tella laments that she’s cursed and doesn’t want to die. Like, no shit, Sherlock. Who wants to be cursed? I feel like that doesn’t need to be said, and her actions in trying to break her curse should speak for themselves. I mean, if she was okay with dying, she would’ve just sat back and done nothing to prevent it, which is far from what she actually does. So, yeah, I really did not need to be told repetitively that Tella doesn’t want to die.
Now this isn’t to say that I don’t generally enjoy Garber’s writing style. I think it reads well and quickly, but it does make for some annoyances. I know a lot of people have issues with how she uses color to describe feelings in Caraval, but that was actually something I kind of liked about it. Sure, it’s kind of odd, but most of the time I think it works for the story she’s telling. Legendary does a lot of the same things, except extends it beyond just color and into the other sense. While it happens in Caraval, if my memory serves, it isn’t nearly as often. I can get behind color; I can’t behind scents and tastes and touch at the frequency they’re used in Legendary. And that’s really frustrating to me, that something I really did like got taken too far, beyond the point where I enjoyed it.
Enough about the writing, let’s talk about the plot. As I said before, the book starts off quite slow. I wasn’t sucked into the world again the way I am with really amazing sequels. I think most of that is a result of how sluggish it is at the start. It wasn’t until about 200 pages in, around when the game starts, that I really got into the story. And at that point, it’s really quite late. A lot of the major twists are predictable, but I think they kind of work because they make sense. As much as I love being genuinely surprised by a plot twist, I’m also okay with being right if it’s a good plot point. I don’t like plot twists that add nothing to a story except shock factor, and so I’d rather have something be a bit more predictable but have it move the story along, so these expected ones were kind of fine with me. However, I think there are things that Garber could have done differently to make them less predictable. The big thing for me here is that I really think Tella’s uncertainty about Legend’s identity actually works against the plot twist. Hear me out. We’re told basically every 5 pages that Tella has a new guess about who Legend is. She then proceeds to give us every reason why or why not she may be right. I get that her uncertainty is important and contributes to her untrusting character, but if she had made a decision early on about who it was and stuck with it, I immediately would’ve assumed she was wrong. That’s more fun for me. That way, I spend the rest of the book trying to guess who it actually is without the benefit of Tella guessing along with me and giving me obvious information and trying to figure it out from the smallest hints. If Tella ends up being right, then I’m genuinely shocked by it. If she ends up being wrong, I get to see if I’m right and might still be surprised if I’m not. Long story short, I know that the uncertainty is essential to Tella as a character and to the overall feel of the story, but I think it happens to the detriment of the reading experience.
I know Caraval as a game is supposed to be complicated, but I thought that the game in Legendary actually got too complicated. It wasn’t so much the game itself, but how Garber chose to raise the stakes for the second book. The addition of the Fates honestly just confused me, both from a world-building perspective and from a storytelling one. I know that we have a new protagonist in Tella and so what gets mentioned is bound to be different, but it’s bizarre to think that there’s this complex and important religion that is barely mentioned in the first book. It means a lot of time is spent explaining it, which detracts from the movement of the story. It also complicated the magic system. I liked how deceptively simple the magic in the first book is, how nothing is entirely explained. It works with Scarlett’s character, since she isn’t the kind of person who needs anything and everything explained. However, Tella is way too inquisitive to just accept things as they are. I don’t mean that each and every part of the magic used needs an explanation – that would definitely get too complicated. I think I was looking for Tella to try and manipulate the existence of magic to try to help herself, which isn’t what she does. Like Scarlett, she shies away from it, which may fit Scarlett’s characterization, but I don’t think it fits Tella’s.
Speaking of, I really did want to like Tella, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t relate to her enough and honestly just found most of her actions frustrating. I completely understand her desire to not be in a cage, but I don’t think it’s a good enough explanation for most of her actions. She’s makes poor, reckless decisions that put others in danger as much as herself, even when she knows what the consequences might be. I was hoping that part of Tella’s character arc would include not acting so brashly, but I don’t think that happened. One of my biggest pet peeves in stories are characters who make the same mistakes over and over, and that’s exactly what Tella seems to do. Sure, by the end, I can see more reasoning behind her choices, but I still don’t think she ever truly thinks things through or considers how others will react to it. I’m fine with selfish characters, but, for me, they need to grow in other ways or lose their selfishness altogether, and I didn’t see Tella really do that in this.
I know that was a lot of hypotheticals, but I think at the end of the day, Legendary was just average for me. I’m glad I continued with the story, but I just expected so much more than what I got. I think I’ll read the finale, if only for closure and to see where the plot goes. I really hope that the elements of Caraval that I loved make a return in the last book.
Have you read either Caraval or Legendary? Did you enjoy them? What other sequels just didn’t quite meet the standard of the first book? Are there any books that you’d like to see rewritten, since I obviously want to rewrite this one?