With a deluge of plot twists, feints, and deception, Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series embodies the theme of ‘not everything in Caraval is what it seems’ that runs throughout. (spoilers!)
Caraval, the first book in the series, is a masterfully written-out game in which the players mustn’t get too caught up, or they could go mad or be killed. It’s repeated multiple times throughout, for both the main character and the reader alike..
The story follows Scarlett, who is brought into the game unwillingly as her sister, Donatella, and a man named Julian essentially kidnap her away from the island they grew up on. Swept up in the disappearance of her sister, which turns out to be the mystery of Caraval that must be solved, Scarlett is determined to get her sister back with the help of Julian.
From the get-go, the reader is told that nothing is as it seems, and I believed what was happening with Scarlett, from her point of view, was that she would be lied to. What I didn’t realize was that I was being lied to as well. We were told multiple times that it was all just a game, and nothing was real, but Scarlett and I both assumed that deaths were, well, deaths! But we were very wrong.
One cannot talk about red herrings and subterfuge within a story without spoiling it, so if you haven’t read Caraval please do so before continuing on. It’s a spectacular story that deserves not to be spoiled for the reader, as the punch of the twists is what makes it so addictingly beautiful.
If you have read it, then you know the web of lies so cleverly woven within that leaves the reader with an aching need for Finale, the final book in the Caraval trilogy that can’t come fast enough with the cliffhanger that was left at the end of Legendary.
Unreliable narrators are common in fiction, with my favorite being Eugenides in The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, but what I’d yet to come across was unreliable prose within. It wasn’t Scarlett who was unreliable, but the words written between the lines, the implications behind the so-called facts.
There are two main things that are ruses throughout the first two books that I want to discuss: who Julian actually is and who Legend is. There are, of course, many many other deceptions throughout, such as who the Count actually is, is Jax more than just the Prince of Hearts…
At first, I wanted to go chronologically and speak about the plot, but that would be convoluted and confusing. Breaking it down into individual deceits is easiest to keep track of, for sanity’s sake. Even now, as I type this, what we know as fact at the end of Legendary could be completely overturned in Finale.
For those who don’t know what a red herring is, it is described as something, usually a clue, that is misleading or distracting from something else. Otherwise known as the entire plotline of this series!
It’s so subtle that one simply cannot differentiate between what is a red herring and what is actually the truth. It’s what makes the series fun, always keeping the reader on their toes. For instance, in Caraval we are told that everything is just a game, but both the reader and heroine believe it to be real, and in Legendary we are told at the start that it is very real and yet Tella doesn’t believe it isn’t real until it’s too late.
We’ll start with Julian. Julian, who shows up on the island to bring Scarlett and Donatella to Caraval as a sailor. He seems earnest, helping Scarlett after Donatella’s disappearance, even getting hurt in the process of retrieving Donatella’s earrings and giving up a day of his life in trade after Scarlett gives over two of hers for information.
As it turns out, Julian is Dante’s brother, seeking revenge for the death of their sister, Rosa. Or so Julian says. Again, I say nothing is to be trusted during Caraval and I fell for Julian’s lies again and again because of his supposed trustworthiness.
Both Julian and Dante are revealed to have been working for Legend all along, which in hindsight makes sense but doesn’t really help the feel of betrayal for both Scarlett and the reader. Julian leaves a message to Scarlett that it wasn’t a game to him, but he dies after Legend stabs him.
Moving onto Legend and who he is for a moment. Scarlett has been writing to Legend since she was small, wanting to be part of Caraval. She comes face-to-face with him first at a fountain, and then when she finds her sister. Donatella tells Scarlett that she’s engaged to him, only it turns out that he isn’t Legend, but an actor himself named Caspan, and he killed Dante.
In an emotional whiplash, Donatella falls to her death because she’d rather die than return to their sheltered life and abusive father. Only, Tella didn’t die. It’s all very confusing. Not only did Donatella not die, but she had caught the attention of Legend himself and worked with him to bring Scarlett into the game.
Julian was killed within the game because Donatella knew that Scarlett wanted to marry the Count, so it was part of the deal that she and Legend struck that Scarlett not fall for anyone else.
Julian and Dante are both alive, because while you really do die during the game, the magic of it brings everyone back to life at the end of it. So Tella, Dante, and Julian are alive at the end. In an emotional rollercoaster, it is then revealed that Julian is actually the brother of Legend himself, and he is hoping to turn Legend away from a life of villainy.
Now comes Legendary, where Julian is scarce but for a few poignant scenes. Scarlett has a hard time believing him because of his lies, but he is given another chance, though we don’t get to see much of it. It is revealed again, though, that Julian is Dante’s brother.
Dante plays a bigger part in Legendary than he did in Caraval, where he was just a rake who is a part of Caraval that takes interest in Tella, making a mistake by lying and pretending that she’s the Heir’s fiance. Because of this, Tella spends the entire book trying to figure out who to side with: the Prince of Hearts, or Legend.
In the end, we find out that Dante isn’t just an actor in Caraval, but Legend himself. So, really, all along Julian and Dante were brothers… or so we think. The final reveal is that Legend is the Lost Heir to the throne but both the reader and Tella are unsure of if this is the truth or another deception.
Is Legend the missing Heir? If so, where does his brother Julian come into play? Is he also a Prince? Is Dante actually Legend? He does some pretty powerful magic, so unless those powers belong to more than one person then I don’t see how he couldn’t be, but I, for one, fell prey to almost every red herring and lie told.
Also at the end of Legendary, we find out that Scarlett had asked the Prince of Hearts where she could find her ex-fiance, the Count, who an actor named Armando had pretended to be in Caraval. Not only do we not know who the mysterious Count really is yet, but we also don’t know what Scarlett promised the Prince of Hearts in exchange for the information.
Either way, Finale is going to be a whirlwind of the final book in this amazingly thought-out series, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!