Reviews, Young Adult

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Don’t make your life about the loss. Make it about the love.

Published: September 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Representation: Black folks, Taiwanese American, Mixed-Venezuelan (bipoc); WLW, MLM, Bisexual, Non-Binary (LGBT+); Mental Health
Content Warning: mentioned car crash; grief; racism; racist microaggressions by an officer; being arrested; flashbacks; racial tokenism/”the diversity card”; physical and magical violence including depictions of blood, gore, and broken bones; threats against one’s life; mind control/memory manipulation; discussions and depictions of slavery and historical racism; violence against Black folks by white people; discussion of colonization; trauma; abuse; watching someone die; death of friends; suggestion of sexual assault/rape.

Summary

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.

— summary taken from Tracy Deonn’s website

Review

When we received this digital arc, we had no idea the ride this book would put us on. Of course we knew of the buzz, but it’s another thing entirely to be thrust into this absolute whirlwind of a story. WIth incredible and layered storytelling, interesting and multi-dimensional characters, strong and intricate world-building, and so much diversity, Tracy Deonn crafts a compelling novel that falls into the highly populated genre of YA Fantasy without falling into the repetitive tropes that we so often see in the genre. Abarna tends to have incredibly low standards for YA Fantasy due to the sheer amount of times she has been disappointed by them, but this book definitely surpassed her expectations. Legendborn is an imaginative, emotional, and compelling spin on the Arthurian stories we’ve heard over centuries, rooted in our spunky and determined Black female protagonist who isn’t willing to sit on the sidelines, and a healthy dose of ancestral magic. 

Our protagonist, Bree, has been through a lot. Throughout the novel, while she is discovering an underground world of Arthurian magic and secret societies, she is also re-learning how to find her bearings after an immense personal tragedy. This book is all the more powerful due to Bree’s continued resilience and determination even in the face of grief and trauma. It is easy to see yourself reflected in this character and feel empowered by her if you’re someone who has experienced trauma. It makes for an intrinsically emotional and robust narrative that is truly unputdownable.

“Bree’s story is, at its core, a story about someone who wants to understand the role of death in her life. But it’s also a story of someone who wants very much to understand and honor her mother and ancestors.”

– from the Author’s Note of “Legendborn”

We love the diverse approach taken by this book (unsurprising, we know, we love diversity)! It’s fascinating to see the different cultural lenses on the magic in this world, and the way in which generations of trauma and racism can permeate into magical affairs in a way that we don’t often see in our storytelling. Deonn tells an honest story that reminds us that our identity, background, and history are inextricably tied to our experiences and sense of self, in a way that many other authors tend to shy away from. Along with our protagonist, we also have characters who are Taiwanese-American and mixed Venezualan, including characters along the LGBTQIA2S+ spectrum including non-binary and bisexual/pansexual/gay/lesbian characters. The alluring characters, the relationships between them, Black girl magic, and the incredible, empowering twist at the end makes this book an absolutely spellbinding read. Admittedly, there are components of the world building that make it difficult to grasp quickly, but we think that has more to do with the complexity of it all as opposed to the storytelling. We advise you to hold on tight and stick with it even when you feel like you aren’t fully understanding everything – because trust us, you’re learning at the same level as the protagonist is, so you won’t miss a thing!

Truth be told, so much happens in this novel that makes talking about it very difficult without encroaching on spoiler territory. So we’re going to leave it at a short one this time. But if an Arthurian fantasy-mystery merged with Black girl magic, ancestral reverence, anti-slavery and anti-colonialism narratives, and the overarching theme of resilience appeals to you in any way, then this book is for you!

“To me, Arthur represents the seat of Western legend cannon. Arthuriana is an opportunity for us to reorient ourselves to the stories we preserve…and rediscover who gets to be legendary.”

– from the Author’s Note of “Legendborn”

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