Content Warnings >>>
Legendborn is a fantastic work of young adult fiction, and if you compare it to boring white stories, I will cut you (kidding – but you get my point).
It’s fresh, imaginative, fast-paced, it pictures one of the most detailed and rich world-building I’ve ever read in Young-adult Fantasy, and I’m so happy that Black teens get to have such a wonderful heroine to look up to. The story follows Bree, a sixteen-years old Black girl who is struggling with the death of her mother, while she unfolds the mysteries surrounding a secret society, demons appearing out of thin air and strange abilities she never knew she had. Please read it already.
I recognize that sound. It’s the sound of holding on to a cliff by the edge of your nails. The sound of barely containing a pain so immense that to look at it, to raise your own flesh and examine what’s beneath, is to risk falling into a darkness you know you’ll never escape.
What fascinated me the most is how unique Legendborn‘s worldbuilding is : there’s just so much in there, the perfect combination of so many different influences (and that’s why I quickly lose patience when people extract one of them and call it generic, how dare you). What we’re not gonna do is complain about tropes when we got one million boring white red-haired girls who have powers because of reasons and dozen of love-interests because of reasons. Now that authors of color finally get to publish their novels, all of a sudden those tropes aren’t welcome? What racist nonsense is that? Moreover, I know it’s not a popular opinion – not that it’s unpopular exactly, either – but tropes are great, actually! What is not is using them without any kind of complexity or foundations, and that’s not what Legendborn does, at all – on the contrary. We couldn’t be further from the truth!
Then, a rush of frustration because someone probably wanted to record it all, but who could have written down my family’s history as far back as this? Who would have been able to, been taught to, been allowed to? Where is our Wall? A Wall that doesn’t make me feel lost, but found. A Wall that towers over anyone who lays eyes on it. Instead of awe, I feel… cheated.
In Legendborn‘s world, we have :
- a secret society and its racist history (which is, let’s face it, an inherent composant of all of them, at least those who were birthed out of western societies) ;
- a new, captivating take on Arthur’s legends : I’ve always been interested in these tales, but after a while they all started to blend together, you know? I’m so thankful to Tracy Deonn for coming out with such a fresh twist! She dusted off those medieval legends and created such a gem ;
- everything that makes urban fantasy so damn fun (I will not elaborate) ;
- something else I’m not going to give details about but just know that I loved how the magic system was inextricably intertwined with Bree’s ancestors’ history (and the history of Black people at large, including slavery).
The writing and the characters
But what made Legendborn such a success for me, what made me highlight fourteen pages of quotes (yes, a favorite quotes post will be coming, duh) and spend no less than six hours rereading parts and dissecting them with one of my best-friends – who recommended it to me so THANK YOU, LAURA, I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO REPAY THAT DEBT – are 1) the exceptional quality of Tracy Deonn’s writing and 2) the characters.
First, the writing : I can’t touch on specifics without spoiling you, and it would be a fucking shame, but just know that the way everything came together was fantastic and just – it was so damn brilliant, okay? Tracy Deonn trusts her readers to be clever and never goes in a direction without it making perfect sense in hindsight, and god, I’ve read enough Young-Adult fantasy novels to feel utterly grateful she does. Nothing’s innocent or useless, everything is perfectly crafted and it makes (re-)reading Legenborn a feast. I will be looking through my notes for a very long time.
But how can we talk about this novel and not mention the well-rounded characters? I ADORED THEM.
I imagine my wall crumbling to pieces, one brick at a time. I pull down the chains, the metal, the steel. I peel it all away until I can see beyond it to find that hard, tight knot of pain in my chest, the one wrapped in layers of bright, unending fury—the part of me I call After-Bree. And then I unwind her. One strand for my mother. One for my father. One for me.
- Bree is a relatable and complex main character we can’t help but love and root for – following her along was a delight. She’s not afraid of standing up for herself, but she also carries the knowledge that in the face of continuous (racist) micro-agressions, she has to choose her battles, and this is so important : she’s allowed to be overwhelmed and soft sometimes, no matter how admirable her strength is. Black women have been explaining forever why the “strong Black woman” trope is problematic – and especially when Black children are concerned. As I’m not Black, I won’t talk over them but strongly recommend you to educate yourself on this issue if that’s not already the case. But we can’t talk about Bree without touching her grief. I loved the way it was handled. Loved it. So often in books – whether they’re Young-Adult or Adult, grief is used as a plot device and treated in such a disingenuous manner that I cannot help but feel hollow. My father died from cancer mere days after his sixtieth birthday, and sometimes when I read books portraying grief I want to hurl them at the sky, I’m so angry. Grief is messy, not linear, and it changes us. Bree’s felt palpable and real and I just want to hug her. She’s a beautiful human being and I love her.
- Selwyn is everything and we adore him in this house : he’s my wounded son and I feel so protective of him. I know some readers described him like our regular Young-Adult bad boy, but on this I do not agree. First of all, he’s not a bad boy in my book : don’t freak out and let me explain!
- That boy is loyal and takes his mission seriously and I wouldn’t have wanted him to make different choices in the beginning. I don’t understand why I should be mad at him because of the way he distrusted Bree at first. Of course he did??? If he had acted differently, it wouldn’t have made any kind of sense! He’s oathed to protect Nick! Of course he’s gonna be wary of Bree! His slow evolution was fantastic and made him one of the most layered and interesting character. I adore him okay?
- His relationship with Bree – from enemies to friends, and I hope, more in the future – is splendid and truly one of the highlight of the novel ; original vigilance and rejection notwithstanding, Sel challenges Bree, believes in her, never cages her, respects her choices and decisions ; plus their interactions are so funny and entertaining, yet sprinkled with tension, I adore them together!
- Most of what I’d want to say about him would be filled with spoilers, so I’ll probably write a long spoilery ramble someday – I just know it, lol.
- Golden Boy – that would be Nick – I have a more complicated relationship with : indeed if I felt indifferent to him in the beginning and thought his relationship with Bree was rushed – he is sweet, and if he makes Bree happy I could get behind that, even though I love Selwyn one million times more – I couldn’t help but be so angry at him several times. It’s a good thing, I believe, because there’s nothing that I despise more than bland characters – and Nick was just that at first in my opinion – but you won’t find me singing his praises when he exploits so blatantly the power imbalance with Sel (power he says he doesn’t need or want, but that he’s quick to use when that suits him) and doesn’t seem to trust Bree enough to make her own choices and draw her own conclusions. I guess I’m just annoyed to see him solely portrayed as “the good guy” in reviews when nothing’s so simple – and thanks Tracy Deonn for that!
- I really enjoyed the secondary characters – even though I hated some of them so much, UGH. Alice and William delighted me and I look forward getting to know them – and others – better in the sequel, especially [redacted because of spoilers]
He laughs, easy and loud. When I look up, he’s shaking his head. “What?”
His grin is completely unguarded, and filled with something like awe. “You are remarkable.”
(because I do have to refrain from writing eight pages about Legendborn, now don’t I?)
I cannot recommend Tracy Deonn’s novel enough. It’s an excellent addition to Young-Adult fiction, and you’ll miss out terribly if you don’t give it a chance. Trust me on this, okay?
Author : Tracy Deonn | Publisher : Margaret K. McElderry Books | Genre : Young Adult Fantasy | Pages : 501
After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.
Legendborn is part of the books I chose for the Shimmering Worlds Reading Challenge.