Does Legendborn by Tracy Deonn Live Up to the Hype? (book review)
GENRE: YA Fantasy
LENGTH: 490 pages
After the death of her mother Bree goes to an early college program where she discovers an underground magical society known as the Order. When Bree realizes that she herself possesses magical abilities and that the Order may be behind her mother's death she decides to infiltrate them to find out the truth.
There are too many characters to reasonably discuss so I'll only be including Bree (the protagonist) and two other main characters (Nick and Sel) as well as three minor characters (Alice, William, and Patricia). In summary, though, with the exception of characters like Vaughn, who was a raging racist, I found all the supporting characters to be just fine.
Bree is stubborn but brave and bold. Her love interest, Nick, is kindhearted. Their relationship is cute but very cookie cutter. Sel is Nick's sworn protector and a powerful magic wielder known as a Merlin. Out of the main characters he was by far the most nuanced and while I initially was put off by him he grew on me a lot.
Alice is Bree's best friend and she was painfully under utilized. Her friendship with Bree was front at center at the start of the novel and towards the end, but during much of the middle she's really a non-character. It's a shame because she had such potential to serve as a grounding figure for Bree.
Patricia was Bree's counselor who helps her get in touch with her heritage. I didn't have a lot of feelings about her has a character other than she was sweet, but she's worth mention for she has a pivotal role in the story. Finally, William is a healer who is a good, supportive friend and probably the most wholesome character and my second favorite.
The novel is told from the first person perspective of the protagonist, Bree. Grief is a big theme throughout the novel which is what finally got me to pick it up. I find I gravitate towards books that deal with this topic as someone who has experienced immense grief several times in her life and hates how taboo it is in our society. The author herself lost her mother at a young age and based Bree's experiences with grief on her own. I myself wrote a (unpublished) novel when my grandma died as an outlet for my grief and a way to transform my pain into art, so I related to Deonn very much on this level.
Another recurring theme within the novel is that of race and racism. Bree is African-American and is one of only a couple people of color within the Order. Throughout the novel she deals with racist remarks and treatment from both her peers and older authority figures. I believe it's incredibly important for young black readers to have protagonists they can see themselves in. It's also essential that the problems POC both faced and continue to face are featured in these novels. To exclude them would be to erase all the struggles and triumphs of real life POC.
Despite the novel's great length it impressively never drags. This is largely due to both the plentiful action/demon battling scenes as well as the overall feeling of high stakes that permeates the entirety of the story. My one critique is that certain parts actually felt rushed. In particular Bree and Nick's transition from friends to romantic interests was too sudden and the reveal of the villain came out of nowhere.
The world of the novel is based on the legend of King Arthur and the author's African heritage. I am pretty unfamiliar with Arthurian legend, but thankfully prior knowledge is not really required. The rules of how the magic system and the politics of the Order work is in depth without being complicated to follow. The Order's magic and rootcraft (the magic of Bree's family which was based on African rootwork) were blended together seamlessly. It's the kind of book that fantasy writers like myself can appreciate for the careful world working but also more casual readers will enjoy it because it's a fun, well conducted concept.
I can immediately compare this book to Cassandra Clare's books (some of which I've read) and the Shadowhunters TV show (which I watched all of) as they both feature an underground group of demon hunters and a major character who is part demon. It is also comparable to Leigh Bardugo's book Ninth House because both are about secret supernatural societies on college campuses. Finally, it reminded me of a Disney Channel original movie, Avalon High, as both follow the King Arthur legend and feature a very similar ending. If you enjoyed any of these recommending this book to you would be a no brainer.
I heard nothing but positive buzz about this book and I'm happy to have finally read it. I think the novel's strongest points were Sel's character and the ease with which readers can be dropped into the world. Its main flaws, meanwhile, were characters that were underused (like Alice) or just boring (like Nick). It read a little too much like some other books I've read but it still had unique aspects. This isn't a new favorite of mine but it's a good, solid read and I'll probably pick up the sequel at some point after it comes out.
FINAL RATING: 3.75 ⭐️