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.
“Don’t make your life about the loss. Make it about the love“Legendborn, Tracy Deonn
Legendborn is definitely something worthwhile to read, and it’s probably one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve read so far this year. I had this book on my radar since its release, especially since I haven’t encountered any fantasy book lately doing a rendition of the Arthurian Legends, but I’ve been hesitant to immediately get into it because of the tremendous amount of hype it has received, and I wanted to make myself wary for any book hype. However, the praise this book gets is obviously well-deserved. I would even highly recommend reading this book alongside the audiobook because the narrator did an amazing job, and made it so much easier to imagine everything.
Plot & Themes
Legendborn is obviously a very on-the-brand The Chosen One trope, and it didn’t shy away from milking that trope, given its Arthurian Legends roots (heh, see what I did there). But the story definitely centered on Bree’s grief towards her mother’s death, and how that propelled her in her journey to know the ultimate reason behind it and while uncovering many secrets. It was pretty straightforward, and a tad bit clunky at a certain portion, but I really picked up its pace at the latter half of the book. There were also twists and turns that I totally did not anticipate, making me enjoy it even more.
The book’s themes and messages regarding grief, mental health, diversity, race, violence, and Black history were huge selling points. I love when a fiction book not only entertains, but also educates. There were many of these gems scattered all throughout the book from start to finish, but they blended harmoniously into the story. It just wasn’t focused on relying those issues to its readers, but it was also a medium for promoting hope, survival, and voicing the right to take up a place in the world and be human.
Magic System & World-Building
The magic system of this book is my absolute most favorite thing. I really did enjoy the unique play on the Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and how the succession of power and magic comes from this popular story. I also really enjoyed that there is another magic player (or two) in this story, thus it gave more dimension into the fantasy aspect while also providing a deeper meaning to the story. While I have a tendency to prefer my magic systems to be more fleshed out gradually and with opposing consequences to its use, I do believe that Legendborn did a great job doing it, and I’m actually pretty excited to learn more about it in the next book.
As the book is set in modern times North Carolina, USA, it’s not that hard to picture it, especially since the author is very familiar with the location and had added her own spins to it. I’m not actually familiar with the pre-college “college” set-up here, but I always enjoy any school or university setting. It also helps that the fictional school itself and the surrounding area are riddled with a lot of history, especially before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. History nerds such as myself will greatly appreciate this portion of the story.
Characters & Dynamics
Bree is one heck of a character. I’m not usually a fan of perpetually angry characters, so my relationship with her began with a rocky start. However, that anger inside her comes from a deeper place which made me understand her more, and appreciate her character. I enjoyed her a lot more because of her stubbornness and blatantly forcing herself into a world she had no idea of. It was just so reckless and stupid, but it was even more entertaining that she quickly able to pick up certain aspects while miserably fail in others. She’s definitely a strong and complex character, and her ups and downs are something really take notice.
This book is full of character tropes, such as The Chosen One, The Golden Boy, The Mysterious Brooding Boy, The Ever Reliable Sidekick, and The Evil Mastermind. You could easily nitpick all these tropes, but very surprisingly I found myself enjoying them – because it all worked. Certain YA fantasy novels tend to overuse these tropes, hence I haven’t gravitated towards YA fantasy for the last couple of years, but the author has done a really good job at sticking to these popularized concepts but putting her own magic (pun intended) into them, thus making me fond of them.
Another thing I love about this book is how effortless and funny the characters’ dynamics are. Listening to everyone interact with one another was a delight, and it felt like everything flowed smoothly and no interactions were forced (unless it was implied to be). Bree’s dynamics with the other characters was highly entertaining, but my most favorite of them all are her bond with Alice and William. I’m such a sucker for long-time best friends and easy friendships in any book. This is a huge perk of listening to the books’ audiobook format because of how well the narrator did all the dialogues, as it felt like I was watching a movie.
On the Other Hand…
The only things I did not particularly enjoy in this book were:
The unexpected insta-love and love triangle between Bree, Nick, and Sel. While I enjoy any romance formed in a book, I did find the relationship progress between these characters a bit too fast, with a lot of cliches, and almost too convenient. I really love their friendship dynamics more than the romance itself, and I really struggled a bit during those parts that focused more on this because it felt like the story was derailing from its original purpose (in my opinion). Now that I finished the entire thing, it somewhat “makes sense” why this happened the way it did, but I’m still not a fan. I’m still looking forward how this bit will progress in the sequel.
There were just too many side characters to keep track off. As much as I could easily manage a lot of characters in a book, the way majority of the side characters were introduced in this one was just overwhelming. It all just happened in one to two chapters, and coupled with tons of new information, it took me some time to match who is who, and process everything together. I almost always get attached to side characters, but apart from William and Alice (who I absolutely love), I didn’t really feel any fondness for the others. I would have loved to at least have a tiny portion of an appendix just for the characters alone.
I actually get why this book is likened to The Shadowhunter Chronicles, but aside from its secret demon-fighting society descended from a line of demon slayers with aims to protect humankind bit, Legendborn is so much more. But I would recommend this to fans who want to try out something new. This book can also cater greatly to other readers, and might even entice fellow fantasy readers, like me. I’m very excited too see where this story will go further in the next book. 2022 is still a very long way!
About The Author
Tracy Deonn is a writer and 2nd gen fangirl. She grew up in North Carolina, where she devoured fantasy books and Southern food in equal measure. After earning two degrees from UNC-CH, Tracy worked in live theater, video games, and K-12 education. When she’s not writing, Tracy panels at SFF conventions, reads fanfic, arranges doggy playdates, and keeps an eye out for ginger-flavored everything.