"Legendary: A Caraval Novel" by Stephanie Garber; Flatiron Books (464 pages, $18.99)
The Dragna sisters are back in the game.
Last year's "Caraval" was a runaway hit, introducing readers to its dazzling titular world, an elaborate performance mixed with a treasure hunt where the audience is part of the show and nothing is what it seems.
Stephanie Garber's highly anticipated sequel is finally here, and fans of the first book - undoubtedly left hanging by its ending - will not be disappointed.
Scarlett Dragna emerged from "Caraval" victorious, but "Legendary" focuses on her younger sister, Tella, who has unfinished business with the powerful figure behind the famous game: the mysterious Caraval Master Legend. No one knows his true identity, but Tella has made a dangerous bargain and must uncover Legend's real name.
"Legendary" greatly expands on the world that's set up in "Caraval." The latest setting for the game is the capital city of Valenda, where we meet the empress and the scheming heir to the throne. We're also introduced to the mythology that underlies this universe: It's thought to have once been ruled by the Fates, who built the ancient city with their magic, but their power grew too great and they were imprisoned.
Some of this information feels overwhelming and a bit far-fetched, but after getting a glimpse of the subtle magic that exists in this world in the first book, it's nice to have an explanation.
Tella, who remained on the sidelines in the previous book, is wonderfully developed as a fierce protagonist, and seeing the world through her eyes creates a fascinating new dynamic. Other characters are similarly strengthened, and new ones come into play.
"Caraval" was a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns, and the latest installment lives up to that standard and more. Garber constantly upends everything we thought we knew, and each revelation is more stunning than the last. From start to finish, her writing is thrilling and suspenseful - though occasionally over the top, even for a novel about a magical circus world.
And just as the first book was marked by an undercurrent of danger beneath an otherwise entertaining game, "Legendary" continues to up the stakes and present impossible choices. As Tella gets closer to her goal, she realizes that delivering Legend's true name could endanger the future of Caraval and maybe the entire Empire. But if she fails, her own life is at risk.
And then, there's the matter of love. The lustful dalliance she's struck up with one of Legend's performers may be turning into something more. But faced with the gravity of her task, she can't afford such attachments.
Garber succeeds marvelously in broadening this magical, seductive world. And while the ending is satisfying, we're once again left with new questions that could certainly develop into a third book.
Readers will be hoping the game isn't over yet.
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