Review of Legendborn (The Legendborn Cycle #1) by Tracy Deonn
The first in the series sets up a strong young Black heroine who bucks tradition as she explores her own heritage, flexes her newfound power, and digs into the story of her mother's mysterious death--while infiltrating a magical, centuries-old Arthurian secret society.
“Two faults. My race and my gender. But they are not faults. They are strength. And I am more than this man can comprehend.”
After sixteen-year-old Bree's mother dies in an accident, she escapes the painful memories of her childhood home and town in favor of a special program for gifted youth at UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Heeeels!).
But her first night on campus, she witnesses the magical attack of a mythical creature on a student--then must evade a fellow student's attempts to wipe her memory of the event.
The experience jogs a buried recollection: a wizard was present at the hospital after her mother's accident. Now Bree is determined to find the truth about what happened. Was her mother connected to all of these mysterious goings-on? Did her mother have some sort of abilities she never told Bree about?
When Bree, who is Black, stumbles upon an all-white, powerful secret society, she ends up with more questions than answers. So she infiltrates the group, pretending to be interested in pledging--but the stakes are higher than she ever could have imagined.
Bree is wonderfully bristly, with a loyal best friend, Alice, that I loved. Bree has to keep in her trusted longtime friend in the dark about her delving into magical worlds and secrets, and this leads to tensions between them.
Her forged connections to those who knew her mother and knew of her mother were a story element I loved.
Much of the book is about duty and being born into roles, and Bree frequently struggles against racial inequalities and assumptions. The novel frequently questions the importance society places upon birth into privilege or hardship, race, and other factors beyond an individual's control. In the face of restrictions and rules, Bree repeatedly challenges the world's limitations, forging her own path.
I was reading Legendborn, with its Arthurian references, during the same period I was reading another (very different) young adult book with references to Arthur and his court, Silver in the Bone.
Whereas Silver in the Bone was more playful, Legendborn felt more earnest. Bree spends much of the book researching and wondering, and I preferred when she was taking action.
There's a lot of fairly chaste attraction with a heavy emphasis on romantic feelings. I found Bree's main love interest Nick a little overbearing after a time. Deonn seems to be setting up a clear love triangle for book two--duties and resulting romantic possibilities are dramatically shaken up by the end of the book. And war is coming.
I felt a little disjointed by the many elements of the Shadowborn, Legendborn, multiple Merlins, shapeshifters, Scions, Roots, and the various embodiments of some of these. I wasn't sure the story was made stronger for me by the links to Arthurian legend at its heart--I found myself wishing Deonn had developed her own wholly independent network of magic, inheritance, bucking expectations, and pending danger for her strong young Black heroine who's figuring out her place in the world.
I loved Bree's infiltration of the white, storied, generational power. The story's many correlations to slavery in the South are fascinating and chilling. And Bree dramatically shakes up the ritual-based, staid, formal foundations of the Legendborn by the story's end.
I'm imagining that book two shows Bree coming into her own with her power, drawing strength from her heritage, and a major reckoning, and I am up for all of it.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Legendborn is the first in Tracy Deonn's young adult Legendborn Cycle series.
I look forward to reading the second book in the series, Bloodmarked.