Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: September 15th 2020
Format: Physical ARC
Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.
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.
Grief, Death, Blatant Racism and Discrimination, Racial Microaggression, Mentions of Slavery, Whipping, Depiction of Mutilation
This is of of those cases where the longer I sit on it, the more I realize how great this book was?? Now, this was one of my most anticipated reads of 2020 and I am so glad I got to read an ARC.
I should preface: I can’t call myself a King Arthur fan. I don’t know much about the story and I’ve only seen the Disney movie once (and… even then I can’t really remember much beside the wizard and the floating books.) However, I don’t think you really need to be a fan to enjoy this. When I say plot, writing and lore were 100% the strongest points in the book and what kept me going, I mean that. Which is strange since I’m more of a character focused reader.
“Growing up Black in the South, it’s pretty common to find yourself in old places that just . . . weren’t made for you. Maybe it’s a building, a historic district, or a street. […] You gain an awareness. Learn to hear the low buzzing sound of exclusion. A sound that says, We didn’t build this for you. We built it for us. This is ours, not yours.“
But, there was so much to appreciate here: this story is set in the South, right? There’s multiple discussions on slavery and how our main character goes to this school and the acknowledgment of the slaves who built the place.
I wasn’t born or raised in the South, but there’s so much as a black person in America that I can relate to: from Bree code switching and being in a space you know wasn’t made for you and dealing with well meaning comments that are ignorant, to always being aware of your surroundings being black in a predominately white space.
“They are past-tensing my heart – my whole beating, bleeding, torn heart – right in front of me.
It is a violation.“
And since we’re here– Bree was definitely a force to be reckoned with. With everything she’s dealing with: grief and microaggressions and secrecy and just overall holding it together, you can’t not get behind her and cheer at every hurdle she crosses in her uncovering secrets. And with the discussions of black people and therapy and being in positions of power… WOO MY HEART JUST… CAN’T HANDLE ALL OF THIS. Now, were there things she did that I didn’t fully agree with? Yeah, of course. But, not once did I think she was making dumb decisions; she was reacting as wholly herself. Her character jumped out THAT much to me and it overall didn’t feel out of character.
That being said… there weren’t many characters I was really interested in. If I’m honest, Selwyn was one of the more complex characters here? No shade, but… Nick was a bit boring.
“You’re not a damsel to me, Bree. You’re an Amazon. You’re strong and you’re beautiful and you’re brilliant and you’re brave.”
Which leads to the romance. This may have been the weakest part of the story for me? Not saying I didn’t like them together, quite the contrary– we live by the nice guys finish first rhetoric and Nick definitely passed the vibe test. But… no spoilers: I wish development between them was a bit more fleshed out.
Overall, this book made me go through the motions: happiness, shock, elation, yelling and hollering and ready to GO. It gave me ALL of the Black Girl magic my heart could desire… you better believe I need book two in my hands ASAP.
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.