By Stephanie Garber
A love worth fighting for. A dream worth dying for. An ending worth waiting for.
It’s been two months since the Fates were freed from a deck of cards, two months since Legend claimed the throne for his own, and two months since Tella discovered the boy she fell in love with doesn’t really exist.
With lives, empires, and hearts hanging in the balance, Tella must decide if she’s going to trust Legend or a former enemy. After uncovering a secret that upends her life, Scarlett will need to do the impossible. And Legend has a choice to make that will forever change and define him.
Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win, and those who will lose everything.
Welcome, welcome to Finale. All games must come to an end
Two years ago, Caraval captured my heart so thoroughly that it still skips a beat whenever I recollect certain moments—the boat sinking, the inn’s shutting door, the rose-covered carousel, Tella’s skylit room, the fire-filled kiss. Such a vivid world popped into being within the pages, helped by Scarlett’s colorful and deeply resonant emotions. With Legendary came an expansion on the world of Valenda, outside the magical game of Caraval, and a new point of view in Scarlett’s younger sister, Tella. While I struggled to connect with Tella’s story on a few levels, she felt like a vivacious old friend I couldn’t wait to meet again by the time I opened Finale.
And then there we were, diving back into the story of two sisters so deeply connected to one another that one died to free the other from a lifetime of abuse, and the other wished her back to life thanks to her relentless, devoted love.
Finale is, above all, a character-driven story. When the plot twists and dips, when a great plan goes awry or comes to nothing, when the characters make somewhat nonsensical decisions and frustrate the reader (particularly in the first hundred or so pages for me), that is what must be kept firmly in mind. Tella is vibrant, teasing, joyful, cunning, selfish, and always the first person to jump into action and take massive risks no matter how much her plans have failed her in the past. Though she makes messes along the way, she does learn from her mistakes and grows better and bolder each step of the journey. Scarlett is soulful, measured, gracious, caring, and bears a quiet but lasting strength. She makes choices based off fear a little too often, but love will always motivate her to bold action and radical sacrifice for the good of all. Between these two characters, we get a fascinating and unpredictable story from beginning to end.
And then come the Fates. From their origins to their powers, the Fates are presented as a blend of tarot characters come to life and old gods, like the Greek deities who exist under one creator or supreme “father” to influence the decisions and lives of mortals. It is never made fully clear whether the Fates were all mortal, ordinary humans before, but it is that very mystery that lends them such intrigue after all. Whenever a fate is present in the story, their unpredictable nature lends an automatic tension to the narrative and urges you on until you find your eyes flying from one sentence to the next, perhaps just a little scared to stop reading.
If it’s not already apparent, I LOVED this book and would recommend it to anyone to read! The romances were masterful, slowly constructed, and contain the perfect balance of sacrifice, hope, selfishness, and selflessness that one finds in the best of love stories. Scarlett and Julian remain my all-time favorite, but I can’t say that I didn’t cry when Tella finally won you-know-whose heart (trying so hard not to spoil but seriously)! The end truly is worth waiting for.
Because it is a character-driven story and Legendary and Finale read more as pantsed than plotted (written based off character arc rather than a carefully constructed plot), I was able to forgive many of those frustrating points where their plans and proposals changed abruptly or were abandoned altogether in favor of chasing a new thread the character has found. For example, all of the mad twists and turns in Caraval made sense in the end because it all exists within the scope of the game, and there is an internal logic within that allows for such ideas to bloom and be cut off ruthlessly.
My only other major criticism is that I would’ve loved to dive deeper into Scarlett’s sections, her mind, and the major twist/reveal that happens in Finale (which I will leave spoiler-free here because it was huge). I found myself getting a little frustrated that we would have these long, sprawling, beautiful chapters featuring Tella (who I truly love in this book) and then only a page or two of Scarlett’s deeply compelling story arc in the book, which skipped through what could have been the most vivid and interesting scenes of the book. Especially toward the middle-end area when Scarlett was meant to be working towards a particular goal and exploring a new aspect of her abilities, I was so sad that we didn’t get to see what that looked like, or what the extent was, or even how she managed them. Even so, there was enough to satisfy—I just feel it could have been even better, given room to breathe and given as much care/emotion as the Tella scenes.
4.5 out of 5 Magpies