by Tracy Deonn
e-book, 512 pages
Published September 15th 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
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.
I read this through RivetedLit #25ReadsofDecember program
“Power taken and not returned incurs a debt. And the universe, and the debt, will always come to collect, one way or another.”
One of the things that immediately stood out to me when I first read it was this book reminds me a lot of early paranormal YA, with the setting and the trope, especially The Mortal Instruments. I can definitely see where the comparison comes from but honestly, Legendborn is its own book and is so much better!
Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, the paranormal aspect of the book is very trope-y. Dark haired, dark clothing, mysterious, brooding powerful guy who said all the mean things but hiding painful secrets? ✅ The golden boy saying all the right things? ✅ Bullies? ✅ Having 2 best friends? ✅ Secret societies? ✅ Training session? ✅ There are more I guess, but I just lost count. Some tropes excited me as it’s been soo long since I read paranormal and honestly, I missed them, but some of them also drives me crazy (how predictable the love interest is and the possible triangle being one of them). I tend to tune them out while I was reading, but I have to admit the amount of tropes this book has also meant that I was caught off-guard when some of them got subverted 👏
I will still firmly say that the romance sucks and I really don’t need the teenage drama 😒
In terms of world building, I love how it’s rooted in the legend of Arthur but with its own twists. However, I do think that the first half of the book can be hard to follow, with all the hierarchies and terms we have to keep up and understand of. I’ve seen this complaint a lot too so I know I’m not the only one, but I can firmly say that once you got into the world and the magic system, you’re good to go. You’ll fly through the pages, actions, and secrets, and the last 30% was one of the best reading moments for me in 2020!
Legendborn explores the continuous impact of slavery and I felt like I learned so much while reading this book. The story is set on UNC Chapel Hill and through the pages, we see how much of it, of the country, is actually built from the system and how many of famous historians have supported this awful system. It discussed intergenerational trauma and separation through the Legendborn system along with Bree’s own magic. Another important issue this book discussed is grief, and it felt so raw and real. The fantasy and adventure elements were certainly riveting, but I also gained more knowledge and understanding.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the characters! I think Bree is a great main character: she’s persistent, inquisitive, and brave. My only complain is just I wish she showed a liiitle more disbelief upon discovering the Legendborn, but later Alice also showed a similar “shrug and move on” attitude so maybe it’s just to move the pacing alone. Speaking of Alice, she’s a loyal friend but the 180 turn she did and the things she said at the beginning of the book came out of nowhere and seemed like a plot device to get her out of the way 😬 I couldn’t say much about the other characters since they’re pretty trope-y, but I do enjoy getting to know the back story of Selwyn and Nick
(even tho I still hate the romance).
This is a shorter review compared to what I usually write, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Legendborn! It has a great magic system and world building, full of callbacks for paranormal YA that will comfort you, and twists that you won’t see coming. It also discussed about important topics like slavery and grief in a way that I learned and understand a lot more. There’s a reason why this book is getting a lot of buzz and I’d say they are all very well deserved!