Finale

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

Caraval | Legendary

Finale was written by Stephanie Garber and first published in 2019. It is the final instalment of the Caraval Trilogy and tells continuing story of Scarlett and Donatella Dragna, as they fight to find a way to stop the cruel Fates from taking control of the Meridian Empire. As the novel follows on shortly after Caraval (2017) and Legendary (2018), I would strongly recommend reading the books in sequence to fully appreciate them.

When Legend risked everything to free Tella from a cursed Deck of Destiny, she thought that it meant that he loved her. However, although Legend still regularly visits her in her dreams, she knows that it is not true. Immortals cannot feel love, only obsession, and she knows that she will never be happy unless she severs their relationship.

Similarly, Scarlett is having difficultly deciding who her suitor should be. Although she is passionately in love with Julian, she still wants to give Count Nicholas d’Arcy a fair chance. However, her courtship is interrupted when she stumbles across a horrible scene – one that proves that the Fates have also been released from the deck.

The Fates are powerful and dangerous, taking pleasure in treating humans as toys. However, it is not long before Scarlett and Tella learn that they have a weakness. If they are able to kill the original Fate – The Fallen Star – the rest will lose their immortality. However, the Fallen Star’s one weakness is a closely guarded secret. Will Scarlett and Tella be prepared to risk everything to destroy him, even if doing so risks all chance that they have at future happiness?

Before I begin, a quick word of warning. Although Finale is still rather tame compared to some of the other books that I have reviewed, I feel I should probably note that it is a little darker than the previous instalments. It does contain some very mild sexual language and a couple of scenes that show the aftermath of torture, which some sensitive readers may find disturbing. You have been warned.

If you read my previous reviews of the series, you might recall that I am not its biggest fan. Although Caraval is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, I could not overlook the fact that the plot was largely style over substance and featured some very shallow characters. Still, I was disappointed to find that Finale is by far the weakest instalment of the three. Even more so than in Legendary, the story really has lost a lot of its charm. There is no Caraval this time around and so the series looses so much of its sense of whimsy. Magic in Finale is mundane and practical, used to hurt and even torture but never carrying the beauty that it had in the first instalment.

The biggest issue that I had with Finale was its irregular pacing. While a majority of the story was build-up to an admittedly fast-paced climax, it still felt as though everything was oddly condensed. A majority of the novel followed Tella in her investigations, yet these frequently got derailed. Although she learned early on that the Fallen Star’s secret could be found in the Immortal Library, it took her an unbearably long time to actually look for this. Instead, her story was bogged down by her love triangle with Legend and Jacks – something that felt a little pointless at this stage as the reader is never in any doubt who she will wind up with.

Conversely, Scarlett’s mission often felt really rushed, shoehorned into the plot between Tella’s much longer and more frequent chapters. We don’t really see much of her time as the Fallen Star’s prisoner, even though she remains close to him for most of the story. Almost all of this development occurs off-page and so the reader is denied seeing the day that she spends learning the depths of her power and interacting with the defacto leader of the Fates.

The most interesting thing about the story is that we do get to learn more about the Fates and see how their readings in the Deck of Destiny are determined by their individual personalities. As there is little exposition in the story, most of what we learn is revealed in tantalising snippets, giving glimpses of the larger picture. This gave the novel a faerie tale feel, bringing to mind the way that the Tales of the Hinterlands are approached in The Hazel Wood. While I did not feel that this cut as deeply as I would have liked, as we don’t get to see all of the Fates in person, I was intrigued to learn more about them. I especially like the creativity of some of their designs, such as the Maiden Death’s cage of pearls and the flamboyant and sensual Mistress Luck.

Yet the rushed plot lead to an unsatisfactory ending to this trilogy, in which everything fell into place far too easily and the villain basically defeated himself. Given the bittersweet nature of the stories to date – and the emphasis that there was not going to be a happy ending – I must admit that I felt a little cheated. I am not going to spoil what happens here but I will just say that it felt almost unnatural how almost every major character wound up with exactly who they wanted, in an way that almost ensured that their troubles had finally come to an end.

The multiple love triangles also really impacted my enjoyment of the story. I do love both Scarlett and Tella. They are well written female protagonists who are strong in different ways but still retain their femininity. Scarlett is quiet, thoughtful and empathetic while Tella is fiery, strong-willed and passionate. Over the course of the story, both learn from each other’s strengths and realise the unique attributes that make them strong.

However, the overt focus on the love triangles – or just love in general – really overshadows their personal growth. Both characters spend far too much time mooning over their potential suitors. Indeed, in Tella’s case, these relationships are not even based on love. She is always aware that neither Legend nor Jacks are actually capable of loving her, yet still has trouble “choosing between them” as the story progresses. She goes so far as to forgive Jacks again and again for his obsessive behaviour, even when he almost kills her!

Tella’s frustrating romantic sub-plot really overshadows Scarlett’s story, especially towards the climax when far too much focus is put on Tella’s “sacrifice” over Scarlett’s arguably more important role. Indeed, Tella only actually does one important thing in the story. Scarlett risks her life and freedom (mostly off page) over and over, and has to face extreme emotional anguish and the constant threat of torture in her brave mission to destroy the Fallen Star.

Anyhow, I’m starting to rant so I guess I will stop here. While I did enjoy Caraval, I unfortunately feel that the series has just gone downhill since then. Finale is a poorly paced novel that puts too much focus on late-stage love triangles and therefore really rushes to wrap up the trilogy. Ultimately, I was left liking the idea of the Caraval Trilogy far more than I did the execution.

Finale can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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