Read: 11th September 2020 – 16th September 2020
Spoilers in review: Potentially, but very minor
Rep: black main character, sapphic taiwanese-american side character, sapphic venezuelan-american side character, black side characters, non-binary side character, bi side characters, gay side characters
CW: death of a parent, hospitals, car accidents, police, slavery, racism, child abuse, memory manipulation, violence, rape
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 absolutely deserves the hype that it’s been getting!
I really loved the way that the magic system worked, and how different groups used and wielded their magic differently. The magic within the world of Legendborn relies heavily on a kind of equivalent exchange. No use of magic, or aether or root as it’s called within the book, comes without a price. For some that price is simply an offering of fruit to their ancestors. For some, who use significantly more aether for significantly longer, the price is much more.
This book contains a sharp commentary on the generational trauma that is reality for many Black Americans. While most white people can trace their family tree back for generations, with some being able to go as far back as the middle ages or even further, many Black Americans are only able to go back a small number of generations before slavery meant that any further records were lost. It’s shown repeatedly that while Bree is painfully aware of this, it doesn’t cross anyone else’s mind unless Bree spells it out for them. Racism, both overt and unintentional, plays a large part in this book. There are people who proudly wear their racism like a badge, and there are people who sincerely believe that they’re not racist but do racist things anyway. The way that this book ended was both brilliant and heartbreaking. That may seem like a non-sequitur, but it isn’t.
This book also tackles grief, specifically the grief of losing a parent. This is something that I have some experience with myself, although the circumstances surrounding it were different enough that I didn’t see myself in Bree’s reaction. I knew that my father’s death was coming for basically my whole life, Bree had no idea that her mother’s death would happen until it did, and that does make a huge difference. Deonn has said that Bree’s grief is inspired by her own grief following the death of her own mother, which makes a lot of sense. Bree’s grief may not have been personally relatable to me, but it felt real, and I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who need this kind of portrayal. Something that Deonn got bang on, however, was how people treat you afterwards. Some people tiptoe around you and offer platitudes, and you know they’re just trying to be polite but it doesn’t make you feel any better, and some people think that you should be over it already and want you to act like it never happened and nothing is wrong. Most people aren’t being malicious when they handle talking to those who are grieving poorly, but what they say can get grating nonetheless.
I loved Bree! She cares deeply about her friends, is never afraid to stand up for herself, and while she’s determined to achieve her goals she also has a strong sense of right and wrong and, despite what she might tell herself, she’s not someone who can walk away from a bad situation if it would mean leaving someone else behind. She’s also an extremely fast learner and very intelligent, figuring things out before I managed to almost every single time.
Her relationship with Nick was sweet and believable, but what I liked about it most was that the two of them communicated their feelings effectively. The will they won’t they stage is fun to read about and all, but only up to a certain point, and in my opinion Deonn picked the perfect moment for Nick to stop and say that he wasn’t kidding around, that he really did like her, and to ask if she liked him back. They spent most of the book in an actual relationship, which was great! Bree and Nick used communication, it was super effective!
Selwyn, the other male lead, was a really fun character to read about. He’s very dramatic, which led to a couple of moments that were hilarious and worth experiencing for yourself. He also fulfils a favourite obscure trope of mine that I’m fairly sure I’ve only seen once before. Person A is trying to protect Person B. Person C comes along to help Person B with something, and Person A perceives them as a threat and is hostile towards them. Eventually, Person A realises that they were wrong, that Person C is harmless, and that actually they both care about Person B’s wellbeing and all their goals align. And then Person A and Person C become very close friends,
and maybe more. It’s a very specific version of enemies to not-lovers that I loved in Princess Tutu, and this book has confirmed that I love it in general.
I didn’t like Bree’s friend Alice at first for a couple of reasons, but by the end of the book she’d not only apologised for the stuff that made me dislike her in the first place, but had redeemed herself and then some. I’m pretty sure that she’ll be playing a bigger part in book 2 and I’m really excited to see how that plays out! I have a prediction, but it’s going to be a long time before I can find out whether I’m right ;_;.
I’m dying to compare one of my favourite parts of the book to another thing-gone-wrong, but honestly I think even mentioning it would spoil it, and that’s not something that I want to do at all. Just know that it was a very good part of the book and I enjoyed it tremendously, and being able to make that comparison only made me enjoy it even more!
Pretty much everyone has been talking about how great Legendborn is, and people are right. If this book isn’t at least on your radar then I don’t know what to tell you. If you’re even slightly interested in giving this a go then do it!
I received an e-arc through Netgalley in return for an honest review
About The Author
Tracy Deonn is a writer and second-generation fangirl. She grew up in central North Carolina, where she devoured fantasy books and Southern food in equal measure. After earning her master’s degree in communication and performance studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tracy worked in live theater, video game production, and K–12 education. When she’s not writing, Tracy speaks on panels at science fiction and fantasy conventions, reads fanfic, arranges puppy playdates, and keeps an eye out for ginger-flavored everything. She can be found on Twitter at @TracyDeonn and at TracyDeonn.com.