Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Author: Tracy Deonn
Publication Date: September 15th, 2020
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Age Range & Genre: YA, fantasy, contemporary, retelling, LGBTQ+
Content warnings: death, racism, manipulation, memory erasure, violence, anxiety attacks
Synopsis: 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 takes one of the most renowned myths and turns it on its head as Tracy Deonn, and Bree by extension, shake ancient legends to the core and make them their own – and I loved every minute of it.
Everything has two histories. Especially in the South.
5 Reasons to Read Legendborn
- Legendborn explores Southern Black girl magic in its capacity as both a contemporary and a fantasy. Grieving her mother, starting college early, and being a young Black girl in the South means that Bree has enough on her plate without having to worry about fighting in a prophesied war using magic she didn’t even know she possessed. Bree is a phenomenal protagonist – she is furious and grieving and brave and wise, and she feels so strongly in the wake of her mother’s death that she begins to separate Before-Bree from After-Bree in an attempt to compartmentalize and continue to function. With a fierce personality and her own special magic, Bree has the makings of a great knight, but her lack of training isn’t the only obstacle she faces. The Order is an old society, and it shows – Bree is repeatedly told that she has no place at the Table, that she is stealing the spot that “belongs” to one of the Vassal families who have served the Order for generations, that she is a charity case and can’t succeed based on her own merit. And as much as Nick and her other friends try to have her back, none of them can truly understand what it’s like look around a room full of rich white folks and only see people who look like you in uniforms.
- Legacies can be wonderful, even magical things – but they are privileges, too, because history is always written by the victors. Legendborn explores who gets the privileges that come with the bloodlines of the knights of the Round Table, from extra speed and strength to the wisdom of King Arthur himself, but more importantly, it explores who possesses the ability to trace their family as far back as the sixth century, and whose history has been destroyed with violence. The UNC campus itself memorializes only select legacies, including a statue immortalizing a plantation owner, and has a long way to go in acknowledging and providing reparations for its own racist origins. Family legacies are just one of the many things that the other Order members take for granted, with meticulous notes and documentation about their ancestors at their disposal – luxuries that Bree has been denied because of the enslavement of her own ancestors. But Bree is resilient and resourceful, and she recovers parts of her family’s past that can shake the foundations of the Order as they know it.
- Heal in order to survive, resist, and thrive. Bree is reeling from the loss of her mother, but as she learns more about the Order and the special kind of magic she possesses, she also finds herself grieving for family members she never got the chance to know. With the help of unexpected allies and her mysterious new therapist, Bree learns to navigate both the present world and one of the past. Bree might not have the written down history that the Order members revere, but she is able to learn from her ancestors and speak with them in order to find the answers she so desperately seeks, as well as answers to questions she didn’t even know to ask. Bree is understandably terrified by this magic she didn’t know she had and doesn’t know how to control, but she is not as alone as she thinks when she embarks on her dangerous quest of infiltrating the Order.
- Straightforward and to the point, Tracy Deonn’s writing is poignant and absolutely wrought with emotion. Deeply embedded in the South, there is no shortage of racially charged interactions throughout Legendborn. Whether it’s with the Dean, the older Order members, or people she considers to be her friends, Bree does not have the privilege of getting to take a breath. There is no respite for her as a young Black woman in an overwhelmingly white community, and finding a new, secretive world does not equate to Bree being able to ignore the one she lives in. Legendborn is also a story of healing, and the conversations between Bree and her father drove me to tears multiple times. Tracy Deonn doesn’t beat around the bush, and her writing rings true and is all the better for it.
- Legendborn honors the legacy of Arthur and the Round Table even as Deonn makes the legend unmistakably her own. The legend of King Arthur and his knights has been remade and retold countless times (I couldn’t stop thinking of Avalon High the entire time I was reading Legendborn – it lives in my mind rent free), but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. This is Arthur in a way I’ve never seen it before, contending with racist legacies and the ways they are upheld without being challenged, how traditions are used as a way to abstain from change and progress. Through Bree, Deonn challenges the Chosen One trope, the idea of who is assumed to be the hero, and who can be the hero. Deonn herself said it best: “Arthuriana is an opportunity for us to reorient ourselves to the stories we preserve…and rediscover who gets to be legendary.”
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