When her mother was still alive, Tella found a set of tarot cards. Her mother told her they were dangerous. Tella saved one card, The Oracle. It has been predicting the future by the picture it displays ever since.
Tella wakes up in the forest next to Dante the morning after the Caraval after-party. She sneaks away and runs into Julian and Scarlett emerging from their room. Julian wants them to accompany him to Empress Elantine’s special addition of Caraval.
Tella needs to go because she’s still searching for Legend’s real name, the payment she must make in return for the info her “friend” provided her to gain Scarlett’s entrance into Caraval. And now she needs a second favor from him…intel on the whereabouts of her long-lost mother. She recently appeared on The Oracle tarot card, so Tella now believes she’s still alive. Scarlett agrees to go with Tella even though she might run into her fiancé the Count again.
Tella searches for the coin that fell out of the most recent letter from her “friend.” Dante meets her in the forest and presents the lost coin to her. Tella knows she likes Dante more than she should. He gives the coin back but asks why she has it because the Fates can use fated coins to track the owner.
Tella moves toward the Count. Julian appears and pulls her back. He reveals this isn’t the Count, just a man playing him in the last round of Caraval. Julian begs Tella not to tell Scarlett. He wants their relationship solidified before she finds out the Count might not be the evil person she thinks. Tella will keep his secret if he tells her Legend’s true name. He can’t, but he confides that Nigel the fortune teller is someone who can give her clues.
Nigel agrees to give Tella a clue in exchange for her rest. He tells her that Legend’s name can be won in the upcoming round of Caraval when Legend greets the winner of the game. Nigel takes the next four days of Stella’s sleep…the final days of the journey to Valenda Island. Tella makes it to Dante’s room before sleep overtakes her.
Tella wakes up days later in Scarlett’s room. She scolds Tella for being swept away by Dante. Tella assures her she isn’t and that he isn’t a very good kisser. Tella confides that she’s going to play Caraval this time and says they should play together. One look from Julian convinces Tella that she should talk Scarlett out of it. In Valenda, Tella rides a coach with a beautiful, aloof boy. She wonders if he’s part of the game. Tella discovers she’s not on the guest list when she arrives at the palace. Dante saves the day by saying Tella is the heir’s secret fiancé. The lady overseeing guests gives Tella a room in the palace’s golden tower. A box is delivered from the heir. He heard of Tella’s tale and wants her to wear the beautiful dress so he’ll recognize her.
Dante finds her at the ball. He says it’s unwise to wear the dress the heir sent. He says his plan to get Tella into the palace was the worst one he could think of. Dante was mad when he heard Tella tell Scarlett how bad a kisser he was. Then Armando (the fake Count) appears. He just told Scarlett the truth. He left her and Julian arguing. Dante follows Tella to a carriage and shares that she means nothing to him…that he discards girls after one use like Tella discards ball gowns. She says she feels the same way about boys. He laughs at her.
Jovan tells them this game is real and the Fates have been released.
Shortly after they arrive at the ball, Dante grabs Tella’s hand, trying to whisk her away from someone. It’s the boy from the sky carriage. He’s the heir. His name is Jacks. Jacks calls himself a “friend.” Jacks pulls her off to dance, asking her Legend’s true name. Since she doesn’t know it yet, he gives her two tasks to complete. She must find Legend’s true name and convince everyone she’s truly his fiancé. At the end of the week, they’ll say it was all part of the game. Unlike his past fiancés, Tella will survive the engagement since it’s fake. Jacks promises he knows the whereabouts of her mother.
Jacks and Tella make quite a show on the dance floor, pressing together and kissing passionately. When the thought that this is a kiss to die for surfaces, Tella realizes who Jacks truly is…the Fate called the Jack of Hearts who kills girls with his kiss.
Jacks then tells Tella his true second demand, although she does still have to be convincing about being his fiancé…He wants her to win the game and bring Legend to him. He says as long as she keeps the fated luckless coin with her, he’ll be able to track her and find Legend if she wins.
The first clue falls from the sky. They read it and then leave the party. Jacks notices how jealous Dante looks. Tella says it’s just part of the game.
Tella feels her heartbeat has slowed even though the kiss didn’t kill her. She tells Jacks he must give her some indication he truly knows where her mom is before she’ll comply with his two requests. He pulls out a tarot card. The image on the back is a picture of her mother. She’s trapped inside the card. This is why the Fates were believed dead…They are trapped just like this. He gives her the card for safekeeping.
Tella stows this card by her Oracle card. The Oracle still shows the old image of her mother. Then it changes to a happy one of young Scarlett and Tella to one of Paloma’s corpse and then back to the original image. Tella thinks her mother’s fate is entirely in her hands.
Another dress from Jacks is delivered. It’s nude with blue lace and scandalous. The note with it tells her the time to meet Jacks at a store in the part of Valenda the first clue is guiding her to. The time is scratched out and replaced with a new time.
The clerk tells her she’s early when she arrives at the store. Tella walks into the room to which she’s instructed. There sits Dante. He must be the one who sent the note and dress instead of Jacks.
Tella acts like her engagement has become real. Dante is furious until he notices blood on her hand. It’s dripping from her nails. Tella says she closed it in a carriage door. Dante takes off his cravat to tend to it. He’s gentle and affects Tella the same as always. Dante confides he knows who Jacks truly is.The dressmaker says it’s time for her appointment. The card and dress were from Jacks but Dante intercepted the gift and changed the time listed on the card so he could meet with Tella first.
When Dante leaves, the clerk brings out a set of hats and masks Jacks chose for her. Tella must choose one for the masquerade ball on the eve of Elantine’s birthday. They’ll fashion her a dress to match it. They’re each a symbol of one of the Fates because supposedly the Fates come visit Valenda on Elantine Eve each year to ensure the ruler is fit to rule another year.
None of them make the statement Tella wants. Then she sees the crown of candles with the dark veil, the symbol of Elantine’s long-lost child. The clerk balks when Tella selects this one, saying it wasn’t supposed to be on the cart. Tella insists this is the one.
Scarlett’s in Tella’s room when she returns. She reminds Tella this is all a game and asks about the fake engagement to Jacks. Tella says they’ve been writing to each other for a year and it’s real. Scarlett’s upset Julian promised to tell her the truth once the game was over yet lied to her within 24 hours about the Count. Tella starts to mention their mother, but Scarlett cuts her off.
Tella knows the first clue sent her to look for a church, so she goes to that district. Elantine’s citizens worship a variety of deities, but Tella has a feeling she’s looking for the hidden church of Legend. Dante shows her the way to Legend’s church. He gives her a pair of gloves that have hidden spikes in the fingers for protection.
They discuss the myth of the Fates. The witch who banished the Fates took half their powers. Even if the Fates ever get free, they’d have to kill to restore their full power. Tella silently wonders if this is why Jacks is searching for Legend. Because the story also says the witch gave part of this stolen magic to make Legend’s wish come true. And the goal for this round of Caraval is to find the object that can destroy the Fates.
Tella enters Legend’s church. Armando is the actor inside. He reads her cards. The Jack of Hearts, Maiden Death, Shattered Crown, and Lady Prisoner appear. Armando tells her the next clue is down the passageway he reveals to her.
Tella is supposed to walk until she hears something that makes her stop. She stops at a door when she hears her sister’s voice. She’s in her room with Julian, telling him she wants to trust him again but can’t. They refer to Julian as Legend’s brother. Maybe this was the clue she was intended to hear.
When Julian leaves, Tella opens the door. Scarlett’s dressed in Legend’s gown. Scarlett doesn’t know whether Julian is Legend’s brother, Legend himself, or neither. Julian gave Scarlett the next clue for Tella, which says she must go to the woman of parchment and ink. Tella saw her yesterday and knows where to go. She asks Scarlett to go with her tomorrow. Scarlett agrees to. Yet she appears to be hiding something.
Scarlett isn’t in her room when Tella goes to retrieve her. Tella goes out on her own to find the woman of parchment and ink. She doesn’t spot any actors she knows on her way. The other contestants seem to be on a different path than Tella.
When she finds the shop she’s looking for, Aiko, Caraval’s historian, is there. The magic journal chronicling significant Caraval events is tucked under her arm. She’ll answer one question for Tella for free. Further questions will require Tella to sacrifice something precious to her.
Tella accidentally wastes her free question. So when she sees a wanted poster of her mother hanging in the shop, she has to give something to Aiko. The poster denotes her mother’s true name: Paradise. Aiko requires Tella’s last memory of her mother before she gives Tella information about her. Tella eventually relents.
The memory Aiko begins to take is one that Tella hadn’t thought about it in years. It’s one memory past the one where her mother told her not to touch the cards of destiny. Her mother shared why the cards are dangerous. She said the Fates trap unsuspecting humans in the cards and they can’t escape unless…And this is the moment Aiko captures the memory. Tella doesn’t hear the end of it and suddenly doesn’t remember it at all.
Aiko tells her what she wants to hear: about her mother in her younger years. She captured many young men’s hearts, even some prince’s hearts if rumors can be trusted. But she didn’t want anyone’s heart. She wanted adventure. That’s why she answered the call to steal something most valuable: a cursed deck of cards. It contained the Fates from when the witch banished them from the world.
The deck Tella held all those years ago held the actual Fates. Whatever repellent the witch had placed on the deck (something Tella had always detected as an awful smell) had faded enough to allow Tella near them. So their mother left to protect her and Scarlett from the evil in the deck.
Tella realizes something: her mother’s wanted picture is made of parchment and ink. She wonders if this is what the clue is referring to. The next clue is written on the back. It says her heart must be what leads her to her next clue. Tella assumes this means something about her mother since she’s in her heart always.
Aiko shares one last piece of the story. She says Paradise left because she hoped to find a way to destroy the deck. Tella feels warm blood again, this time oozing from her ears, down her neck, and onto her dress. She rushes to her room to change and then goes in search of Scarlett.
A servant in the hall outside Scarlett’s room assumes Tella is looking for Dante. Tella assures her it’s her sister she’s searching for. The servant says Scarlett left for Idyllwild (Jacks’s castle) yesterday and hasn’t returned. Tella sets off in search of her sister.
When she’s almost to the castle, three women approach her. They’re dressed in costume (a couple days before the masquerade ball) as the undead queen and her two servants. They say nasty things to Tella. She swipes at one of them with her clawed gloves from Dante. The cut pours smoke instead of blood. They’re actual Fates, somehow free of the deck just like Jacks. They tell her she has to bring them the deck. Tella realizes the deck must be the only way to destroy the Fates. It has to be what Legend is going to ask the contestants to search for to win the game.
Tella has to escape to find the deck for herself and keep Scarlett safe. She jumps into the black water below. The Fates jump in after her, so Tella attacks the undead queen’s eye (her supposed weak spot) hoping to vanquish them all. It works. Tella is injured in the process.
Dante pulls Tella out of the water. As he carries her to help, Tella tells him in her half-conscious state that she wishes she hadn’t kissed Jacks. She admits she did it to make Dante jealous. He says it worked. She says he should’ve asked her to dance before Jacks. He says he will next time.
The next thing Tella knows, she surfaces from unconsciousness to the sound of Julian and Dante talking. Julian urges her to drink something. Dante says they have to take Tella to Scarlett to care for her when she wakes. Jullia can tell Dante really cares about Tella. Dante says he really cares about finding those cards. He calls Julian brother.
When Tella awakes, Scarlett is caring for her. Jacks is there with a silly story about how Tella was injured by falling from a carriage while it was rolling. Scarlett believes the story as she gazes at Jacks with adoring eyes. Jacks tells Tella the game is paused for one night so she can accompany him as his fiancé to dinner with the empress.
Once Jacks is gone, Scarlett reveals she doesn’t trust him. The adoring looks were just an act. Tella doesn’t know what to believe about Scarlett. Scarlett’s insulted that Tella would think she’s an actor in the game after everything Legend put her through. Tella considers telling Scarlett everything that’s happened in the game so far but decides against it. But she does tell her she suspects Dante and Julian are brothers.
The sisters want to trust that they’re telling each other the truth. Scarlett is particularly suspicious about Tella’s assertion that her engagement to Jacks is only for the game. Jacks certainly convinced her otherwise. Tella says in three days Scarlett will see she’s telling the truth.
Tella goes to Empress Elantine’s dinner on Jacks’s arm. Jacks seems out of character, more submissive than she suspected and blushing once. He looks at her with true admiration at times and even absently plays with her hair once. Elantine seems very pleased with her as Jacks’s betrothed. She asks Tella to try to get him to eat something more. She says he stays too thin eating only apples since he fears being poisoned. Elantine comments on the opal ring Tella’s mother gave her long ago and says someone must’ve paid a high price to obtain one of the keys to the Temple of the Stars.
A troupe of actors (including Armando and Jovan) comes out dressed as the Fates. Two young actors are dressed differently, though. They seem to be in old-fashioned clothes instead. The play depicts Jacks’s character trapping humans in a Deck of Destiny. Tella leans to whisper to him, asking what his goal in this round of the game is. He says he’s going to drink Legend’s blood to gain power. She decides his plan must be to use that new power to release all of the remaining Fates from the Deck of Destiny.
After the play, Elantine sends Jacks to get her some more water. While he’s gone, she asks Tella why she’s engaged to him. Tella says to rescue her mother. Jacks returns, and they can’t finish the conversation.
Caraval returns the next day. Tella’s heart leads her to the Temple of the Stars to try to retrieve the deck. Dante is there waiting at the temple door. He tells Tella the belt on her toga-like temple garment is wrapped wrong. He helps her re-tie it. Tella loves every second his nearness but pretends not to enjoy it.
Tella’s always debating whether Dante’s feelings for her are real or just part of the game as well as whether he’s Legend. She asks about the stories of his tattoos. He won’t talk about the black heart dripping blood but tells a story from his childhood about the ship with ripped sails. He teases her about wanting him. She walks away without a backward glance.
Dante appears by Tella’s side as she knocks on the temple door. She asks why he won’t leave her alone. He says he can but doesn’t want to.
Theron, a young man who looks like one of the god-like star statues in the garden, answers the door. An eight-point star is branded on one side of his face. Theron says he needs a drop of Tella’s blood before he’ll answer any of her questions.
He has a ring like her mother’s opal one. Tella shows him her ring. He says it’s a key to a vault below the temple. Its color means it’s cursed. Her mother owes them a debt that she hasn’t paid. Tella will have to pay the debt before she can use the ring as a key.
Tella pricks her finger with the ring to see a vision of her mother. Paloma’s making a deal with a shadow at the temple. They require her second born child (Tella) as their price because she’ll possess great power someday. Paradise agrees. The shadow agrees to let her hide the deck in the temple vaults.
Dante storms in and grabs Tella. She’s very upset. He carries her away and kisses her head as she cries. He asks where he can take her. She says somewhere to make her forget.
He tells her the story of his mother and father and upbringing. They kiss passionately several times and admit their feelings for each other. Tella tells him the whole story about what’s going on with her and Jacks.
If Tella wins the game, Legend will heal her. She won’t need Jacks. But to win, she has to give herself over to the stars. Only her ring can open the vault but it’s cursed until her debt is paid. Dante says he’ll find another way without risking their lives. Dante asks why she’s bleeding.
Tella sees her sister with Jacks. She disappears, and Jacks waits to talk to Tella. Tella feels his heart beating in his chest at one point and thinks it’s because she’s his one true love. His kiss didn’t kill her after all, and that’s only supposed to be true for Jacks’s one true love. He denies it.
Jacks says she has to win the game and get the cards to him instead of Legend. He says in Legend’s hand everyone trapped in the cards, including Tella’s mother, will die. Part of Tella is so mad at her mother that she’d maybe allow it to happen. The other part of her desperately wants her mom to be rescued from the cards so she can see how brave and resourceful Tella is and how bad a choice it was to give her up.
And is Dante Legend? If he is, are the things he’s told her and his feelings for her true? Both Jacks and Legend desperately want her to get the cards out of the star’s vault and turn it over to them. Maybe the best option is to leave them in the vault.
Tella wakes up at dusk the next day feeling like her heart has finally returned to its normal beat pattern and she isn’t cursed anymore. She reads a letter from Elantine saying she’s begun to wonder if Paradise the Lost is Tella’s mother because of the similarity in their personalities. She offers to help Tella find her if this is true. The tone of the note makes Tella decide maybe there’s more to her mother than the coarseness she recently observed. She concludes she must rescue her and find out.
A maid brings in the gown and headdress for the masquerade ball. The maid tells her rumors are flying that the empress’s child—the real lost heir—has reappeared and that the empress has fallen ill at the news. As Tella wrestles with the crown, the candles come off, revealing sharp points tipped in opals. This is a copy of the cursed crown in the star’s vault. It symbolizes an impossible choice. Tella dons it.
Tella goes to Elantine’s tower because the empress invited her to watch the fireworks with her. Elantine looks sick and much older. Tella asks about her rapid decline. Elantine says Legend has been giving her tonics to make her look younger and healthier to keep Jacks at bay. They talk about Tella’s mother. Elantine describes her as vibrant and full of life. She makes Tella wonder whether she knows the full story of why she gave her up. Elantine says she gave up her child, too, and has made many mistakes that didn’t work out the way she planned.
Tella suddenly notices her ring has changed. Dante must’ve made some sacrifice to undo the curse on it. Tella leaves the tower, still in indecision about the choice of who to give the deck to. But she has a renewed sense that she would like to meet her mother.
At the temple, she asks Theron what Dante did to break the curse. He says he made them a promise that he’ll have to keep or he’ll die. Tella goes to the vault. She’s reaching for the luckless coin in her pocket so she can summon Jacks. Otherwise, she knows she’ll see Legend because he’s the first face she’s supposed to see as soon as she wins the game. She grabs the deck without touching the coin and officially wins Caraval.
Tella hears Dante’s voice and snaps her eyes shut. She doesn’t want to see him. She’s in denial that he’s Legend. He comes up close to her and asks her to open her eyes. They kiss passionately. She makes herself pull away. She notices the brand on his wrist. He won’t tell her what he promised but says he’d do it all over again for her. His words and feelings still seem so real.
Tella asks him to leave because she’s summoned Jacks with the coin. He’s going to steal Legend’s powers and free all the Fates as soon as he arrives. Dante looks betrayed that she still wants to give the cards to Jacks but knows it’s about her mother. Tella realizes there’s a way to save both Dante and her mother. She writes her name in blood on the card to take her mother’s place. She disappears into the deck.
The world changes for an instant.
Dante picks up the ring that fell from Tella’s hand, slices his palm, pours his magic blood over the deck, and utters ancient words. The immense magic in his blood makes it turn black on the deck. The world changes once again.
Tella comes back into the world and is confused about how long she was in the deck and why she’s out. Her body is weak. Dante tells her he broke the curse on the cards and everyone is free, including her mother. He couldn’t sacrifice Tella. She can’t believe it.
Tella leans to kiss Dante. He freezes. She’s afraid something has changed between them. Then he kisses her very gently on the mouth and jaw and neck. He shudders, pulls away, and says he has to leave. She calls to him. He finally turns around. His eyes are cold. He says there’s somewhere else he needs to be. He says he’s still not the hero in her story. Tella’s heart breaks as he leaves her.
Jacks saunters up. He knows what’s happened. He tells her to stop pining. Jacks asks if she expected anything different from Legend. He says her mother and the Fates are all free but are far weaker than her because of how long they were contained in the cards. It will be a while before they regain their strength.
Jacks carries her to Scarlett since she’s so weak. She sees glimpses of care and concern in his eyes. She asks if he loves her since his heart is beating now. Tella thinks she caused it. He assures her he doesn’t love her. She asks why he isn’t watching fireworks with the empress tonight. He says because her true heir has returned and that’s who she’s watching them with.
They see Scarlett and Julian in a garden. They’ve clearly made up. They learn that Tella won the game. She sees relief in Julian’s eyes when she says Legend walked away as soon as she won.
HOW IT ENDED?
Jacks wants to keep his promise to take Tella to her mother. Tella says she still hates him as he puts her down. He says it’s probably for the best and leaves.
Julian reminds Tella that this happens in every round of Caraval. Legend makes someone feel like the center of the world for the sake of the game and then walks away. When Julian leaves, Tella knows Scarlett wants to ask a thousand questions. But she just says she’s ready to listen when Tella is ready to talk. She fell in love with Legend, the worst mistake of all.
Jacks bring Paloma to Tella as promised. She’s still in a coma-like state after being in the card for so long. As the sisters are watching over her, Scarlett admits that while she’s giving Julian another chance, she’s also giving Count D’Arcy one.
Then bells begin to roll, signifying the empress has died. Tella goes to watch the mourners and see the presentation of the new heir. Legend steps onto the royal balcony. He is the heir. Tella realizes she was wrong. She wasn’t the key to the game. Legend was playing more than one game. He chose the city of Valenda for the special session because the deck was here and also so he could claim the throne.
Epilogue…Tella receives a single red rose and a note from Legend on her birthday. It says: “Donatella, I believe it’s your birthday. I also believe we have unfinished business; I still owe you a prize for winning Caraval. Find me whenever you wish to collect. I’ll be waiting. —Legend”