Why Stephanie Garber’s
is my latest obsession.
As a fantasy author, I have a certain standard when it comes to reading books within my own genre, especially since the majority of endings I see coming a long way in advance. It’s an unfortunate by-product of crafting these kinds of stories, whereby you’re so used to the construction that you can see in books you’d rather not when playing the role of the reader and not the writer.
However, once in a while, a series comes along and takes my freaking breath away. Most recently, that series is Caraval, Legendary, and Finale by Stephanie Garber. The books have been generally well received, but I’d personally like to see them get even more press and more readers because they really are THAT GOOD.
Don’t believe me?
Here are the five reasons why I’m currently freaking obsessed with this series!
1- It’s descriptively delicious.
No really, from a reader’s point of view, I haven’t found such a sensory novel in a loooong time and I completely devoured every word! The descriptions in these books are fucking incredible, with the use of colour, taste, and scent, being a common theme throughout.
I mean guys… look at this-
“The air tasted like wonder. Like candied butterfly wings caught in sugared spiderwebs, and drunken peaches coated in luck.”
And then there’s this…
“His mouth was crashing against hers. He tasted like exquisite nightmares and stolen dreams, like the wings of fallen angels, and bottles of fresh moonlight.”
OH OH OH and let’s not forget this one…
“Shades of the rich ruby love she’d felt during the game mixed with hues of deep-indigo hurt, turning everything just a little bit violet.”
Are you linguistically entranced by this author yet? Because she seriously had me hooked within a few sentences of the first novel, just by the descriptions. Honestly, even without the kickass story, which we will get to in a moment, I would have happily read Garber’s descriptions all day.
It’s very rare that I come across a series these days where one of the books in a series doesn’t let the story down somewhat. I felt this way, as I’m sure many other people did, about Sarah J Mass’ ACOTAR series, mainly because the middle book- A court of mist and fury- was like a freaking masterpiece and then the final installment left me with a bitter and somewhat melancholy aftertaste because the story felt rushed. If it isn’t the end book, then it’s saggy middle syndrome, but seriously with this series, every single book just gets better and better.
I think that in part this is due to the fact that Garber divides the narrative between the two sisters in a fairly equal yet effective manner, leaving Scarlett to tell us the first novel, and allowing her younger sister Tella to pick up the narrative in the second. Then, in the third novel, both sisters tell the story together, and seriously this just goes to compliment the narrative even further and give it a more consistent quality. Honestly, I also seriously appreciate that Garber did this as a trilogy and didn’t push it any further, because it was the perfect length for both the story and character arcs at play and didn’t feel unnecessarily dragged out for the sake of adding more books to the series.
3) Realistic female heroes who are both likable yet contrast.
One of the things I really loved about these books were the characters of Scarlett and Tella and how much they matured in their own unique ways throughout the series. Tella, I think made the biggest transformation, but Scarlett was also changed in an undeniable and crucial way which was interesting to watch. I also think that Garber respected the limits of her heroines and knew exactly how much to push them. For example, both girls did not suddenly become master swordswomen, or perform superhero level gymnastics when in danger, but focused on their own personal strengths such as trickery, wit, and charm.
They also had realistic weaknesses that by some other authors might have been considered shallow or non-progressive, such as both girl’s fascination with finery and the richness in the world of Caraval, or Scarlett’s fascination with marriage and her proposal that two men fight for her hand, especially with the general rising feminist trends in YA lit. Scarlett, in particular, wanted to settle down and find security by making a home with a husband, and that is something I liked about her character because, despite her sister’s contrasting wanderlust, she stays true to herself and her dream throughout the novel. I have great respect for her story because regardless of how it is perceived by the reader, it makes sense for her character and Garber is undeniably true to that despite current tropes.
Another great thing about these two is their relationship with one another, and arguably it is not their relationships with Julian and Dante in the novels that define them, as much as their relationship as sisters. They are a perfect balance of fire and silk, of wit and demure sensibility, and their loyalty to one another was something I enjoyed watching them uphold and strengthen during the course of these novels as well.
4) The premise of these novels is a total headfuck… and I loved it.
In the case of many fantasy novels, I find the plot predictable and am able to guess the end outcome from around the halfway point of the novel if not earlier. However, with these novels, despite the fact that we are warned from the very beginning not to get swept up in the game, which is fantasy, not reality, it becomes impossible to tell deceptions from honesty. We become caught up in what the narrators believe as the truth, and the real truth is, it became impossible for even me to tell what was the truth, and what was a device created by the game of Caraval itself or Garber. Because of the nature of these stories, the magic, the mystery, the character of Legend, and the game he puts on for his guests, I spent my entire time reading these books on the edge of my seat, and was totally shocked at the ending, even after spending 1200 pages guessing at how things would turn out. That for me is reason enough alone to give these books a whirl if I haven’t convinced you already of course.
5) The theming for this novel is enchanting yet macabre.
The theme of the carnival has been done a lot, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it displayed in such an oxymoronic blend of both the fantastical and the grotesque. The fates themselves are extremely creepy, even though I remain a huge Jacks fan (because who doesn’t love a heartless sociopath with icy blue eyes and the ability to kill with a single kiss?) I found the cages that were put around different female character’s heads, made from pearls, to be extremely resonant of the way in which the entire concept of Caraval could quite easily drive someone mad. Yet, you also have an underlying current of the oppression of women, with handmaidens that have their lips sewn shut, and again women with their heads in cages. However, Garber readily contrasts this with making it clear that True Love is the ultimate weakness of any all-powerful immortal being, and so, therefore, are women. (Perhaps then Garber is suggesting that this is why the fates feel the need to oppress their female counterparts and that the real power in this place belongs to the damsels. I mean, the ending would certainly lead me to think so.)
Among all this cruel macabre imagery, however, remains the lush and unmistakable enchantment that draws youngsters to carnivals in the first place, where the reader is pulled so deeply into a world of magic that they become suddenly sure that anything is possible. When you pair this feeling of endless opportunity with the roles played by the actors, and legend himself, you have this kind magnified exploration of societies grim underbelly, whereby the dirty laundry and flaws of humanity as a condition are exaggerated, bringing them into stark contrast against the seemingly polished and dazzling veneer of what guests are experiencing on the surface.
I think from the way I’m speaking about Garber’s work here I’m a fan, but honestly, these books are such a breath of fresh air. Yes, they revolve around a game, around fantasy, but there are also characters and situations that make the reader truly think, and even leave them pondering after the final page has turned. The description is mind-blowing, the characters diverse and realistically portrayed, and the imagery pure magic. So, if you are looking for your next obsession, the story that will transport so completely you away from the banal humdrum of every day that you’re clamouring to get back to the next chapter. You’ve found it.