The final novel in the Caraval series, Finale, is one of the most highly anticipated novels of the year. With the sinister ending of Legendary still looming over readers heads it’s no wonder how desperate Garbers loyal readership was to finish the series. However this anticipation begged the simple question: could any conclusion truly live up to these phenomenal expectations?
With the promise of the Fates return, released from a pack of playing cards that previously kept them prisoner, Scarlett and Tella can do nothing but wait. Grounded by their comatosed mother, unsure how to fight and nervous about the assuring doom they’re bound to face, nothing can prepare them. Surrounded by untold truths and desperate lies the sisters embark on the most dangerous game they are yet to play as their quest leads them to fated lands in search of long lost objects. Meanwhile time is running short in Valencia as the Fates turn their greed to its struggling population, guiding them with elusive and sinister lost heirs. With a Kingdom unknowingly rested upon this task, and the illusory comfort that it is only a game lost Scarlett and Tella are in more danger than ever.
I used to love the idea of something being so tremendous that it was worth dying for. But I was wrong. I think the most magnificent things are worth living for.
Having narrated a novel each, Scarlett and Tella share the recount of Finale. With Tella’s fiesty personality and quick temper her chapters stand apart to her sister’s reserved and cautious ones. This dynamic makes both women and their respective chapters distinctive as they each show bravery in their own way, both in a frenzy to protect the other. While Legendary taught Tella to be brave Finale teaches Tella loyalty as she is appraised more than ever: her childhood fascination with Legend growing dangerous and her plight as she struggles to cope with the risks Scarlett must take. Her character development, although less of a focus in this novel than Legendary, is still complex as she learns the value of her choices and decisions.
Scarlett, meanwhile, is forced to be audacious where she’s always favoured protective. It falls to her to step into the path of danger, aligning herself within the Fates’ twisted game, demanding a gallant composure she has previously lacked in earlier novels of this series. Throughout Finale Scarlett slowly develops under the cruel circumstance she is forced into. During the events of Caraval and Legendary she has learnt to trust Tella to be responsible for her own safety, however now she must form a character of her own, away from Tella’s protective older sister. This multifaceted challenge shapes Scarlett for the remainder of the novel. Her first step to independence, proposing a game between her two suitors where the prize is her hand, is jovial and cruel however this protagonist is quick to realise and her character continues to shape from there: becoming shrewd and intrepid as the novel progresses.
I’m the villain, even in my own story.
The plot of Finale is engaging enough. The ending was somewhat confusing, particularly Scarlett’s place, appearing particularly out of character and random, while Tella’s conclusion felt better suited. Paloma was disappointing, after the build up and struggle from the first two novels, she presents little interaction with the events of the novel while still remaining pivotal to the plot. The storyline was further perplexing and muddled as the characters explored various options and potential solutions for defeating the Fates. Often various leads feel random or pointless and the focus on Tella’s romance was somewhat repetitive and tiring, while Scarlett’s romantic game was resolved quickly and added little gravitas to an already cluttered storyline. Overall, however, the events are engaging and interesting bolstered only by the sinister backdrop and crucial character development talking place.
The pacing felt even and kept the novel engaging. Finale lacked the structure the Caraval game has always provided but the world still felt magical as Scarlett and Tella were faced with an even more difficult task. The storyline progresses slowly and rarely appears to drag, even when the plot hops between the different plans, yet it never feels like it’s dragging. Finale doesn’t feel slow, even when the sisters were merely waiting for the Fates to appear, however the pointless leads and random events could frustrate some readers.
Setting the novel in Valencia, introduced to the reader in Legendary, was creative and exciting. Having explored the city through Tella’s curious eyes in the last novel made its decline under the fates return even more prominent, highlighting the loss the Fates’ destruction would cause to such a enchanting setting. The inclusion of Fated objects and Fated places added a new element to the series, previously restricted to Legend’s magic and capabilities and this extension added a unique dynamic to the environment. The brief visit to the past only added to the complex world building and both these settings breathe fresh life into what could have become stale backdrop. A multitude of locations are presented to the reader during this novel and, although not fully explored, they leave an enchanting feel to the world as the implication of further wonders and sinister ploys is suggested.
Garber’s writing has only improved throughout the series, Finale at its pinnacle. Enchanting descriptions, illusions conjured with vibrant colours and a dusting of beautiful quotes creates an exquisite ensemble of this spectacular world. The almost fairytale feeling of the novel did somewhat contradict to the more serious and deadly subject matter, a line Garber has always been treading in her work, creating a picturesque fairytale and tainting it with monsters. The enchanting world spun up in this tale, made even more vibrant through the eyes of Scarlett and Tella, and the compelling touches of lost love make this novel well written. The prose provided only sparse descriptions of locations, picking up unusual and quirky details rather that in depth descriptions, often leaving settings to the reader’s imagination. This technique gave each location a storytelling vibe as peculiar details could be slotted together to build an overall picture of the events.
He smelled of magic and heartbreak, and something about the combination made her think that despite what he claimed, he wanted to be her hero.
Love remains core to Finale’s plot. As previously developed in her previous work the plethora of complex relationships are explored throughout the novel as Garber encourages the reader to consider what drives each character. While Scarlett and Julian present the passionate love affair that usually drives YA stories, it’s Tella’s cliché love triangle that takes centre stage. As Tella chooses between two men who desire to possess her more than anything her choices for happiness appear restricted. With neither suitor acting particular well throughout the novel it was troubling to read Tella, an independent and forward thinking character, so desperate to fall in love. Scarlett’s love triangle, although less central to the plot, was also disappointing as she favoured childish games over the use of communication and careful consideration, dragging along her potential suitors in a cruel manor. Both relationships glorify unhealthy romantic tropes.
The sibling relationships featured throughout the series were touched upon. Tella and Scarlett appeared to be drifting apart, the independence they’d shown in Legendary persisting as they slowly and sadly left each others lives. Meanwhile, Julian and Dante, although said to be brothers, played little part in each others stories, carrying only a passing interest in their relationship. Although the odd moment of brotherly advice or loyalty was conjured they remained mostly isolated throughout the novel. The breakdown of the sibling dynamic that always featured so heavily in Garbers writing was disappointing. Furthermore, the opportunity to fully explore the relationship between Paloma and her daughters felt missed as the novel persists with romance at its core, the loss of the themes of family truly centralised when Tella explains that she is happy to step out of Scarlett’s life for Julian.
Just because something is real doesn’t mean you believe in it.
The target audience for Finale remains very similar to that of Caraval and Legendary. The novel does not contain particularly dark themes and is digestible for any YA reader. Mentions of sex and death make it potentially unsuitable for very young readers.
Overall I can’t say if I’m disappointed by this final book. It didn’t live up to my expectations but the novels have gained so much traction it was near impossible to. It was difficult for Garber to satisfy a demanding readership and, although a good novel, it wasn’t as compelling or outstanding as I had hoped.