Tracy Deonn's LEGENDBORN - A Brilliant Balance of Fantasy and Reality
by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
"Everything has two histories. Especially in the South" (230).
It has been a while since I read a book like this one that so perfectly bridges a brilliant fantasy world with immediate, super-resonant social issues. Tracy Deonn's Legendborn is a masterpiece.
Bree Matthews is 16 and trying to move on from her mother's death. She's built a wall to contain her grief and has escaped with her best friend Alice to an early college program at UNC. On one of their first nights there, Bree and Alice go with Charlotte, a UNC student from their hometown, to an outdoor party that is strictly against the rules. And Bree sees some extremely strange things: a weird, floating shape; a monster that appears out of thin air; and a boy and girl who each have hidden weapons at the ready to fight said monster. When the boy (Selwyn) realizes that Bree and a few others saw what happened, he orders them all to move in the other direction AND to forget what they saw. It works for everyone. Except Bree. And then Bree and Alice are caught by the police, taken back to campus disgraced and afraid they'll be expelled.
While they're dealing with the fallout from all of this—including the racism they faced both from the police officer and the Dean of Students (Bree is Black, and Alice is Taiwanese American)—Bree is trying to contend with what she saw and the strange connection she feels between those mysterious events and the night her mother died. Soon, determined to understand her mother's death, she's drawn into a world of magic, where Arthurian legends lie at the center, and she's entering a competition with other students to join a secret order. Even in the midst of these legends, she faces racism and misogyny, which at first seems secondary to this organization. But then she learns more.
I thought this book was just brilliant. Deonn is able to create vivid characters and build an amazing world, to bridge the genres of fantasy and romance, and to include a powerful depiction of racism that ranges from microaggressions to out-and-out violence. I picked up this book and, from page one, didn't want to put it down. My only struggle now is the wait for book two.
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