by Tracy Deonn
Published September 15, 2020
Rating: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy, Own Voices
Note: I received an eARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to author Tracy Deonn, publisher Margaret K. McElderry Books, and NetGalley for the opportunity. My thoughts are my own and my review is completely honest.
Legendborn is a modern take on Arthurian legend and elemental magic with an infusion of Black American history. After losing her mother in a car accident, Bree Matthews is conflicted. The loss has changed her in more ways than she can express or understand, and she wants nothing more than to throw up a wall and move on as if nothing has changed. Bree and her best friend Alice are accepted into an Early College (EC) program at the Chapel Hill campus of UNC at just 16, and as it turns out, this is exactly where Bree needs to be in order to understand the changes she’s gone through since her mother’s passing.
She quickly becomes entangled in a secret society of students called Legendborn, descendants of King Arthur and his knights and their various squires and supporters, who defend the campus and surrounding area from unseen demonic threats. But Bree can see them. Is it possible that her mom saw them, too? Did she see something she wasn’t supposed to? With the help of a Legendborn named Nick, Bree is determined to find out what really happened to her mother and what it all has to do with this secret society.
I’ve been doing a lot of ARC and beta reading of Arthurian lore stories lately, but this is by far the best one! It’s a fresh take on the legend that was desperately needed with very compelling characters. It also confronts racism and xenophobia. As the only black page in this year’s page class, Bree has single-handedly made this year’s page class “the most diverse” the chapter has ever seen. She’s mistaken for “the help” on multiple occasions and always corrects that assumption with cutting whit. In the beginning, there is a police officer who assumes she’s made it into UNC on a “needs-based” admission and he reports that she “had an attitude” for telling him she got in on merit. The importance and prevalence of slave history intertwined with the history of both the campus and the Legendborns are integral in this book. These things are presented frequently enough to continuously remind the reader what the Black experience is like in the American south today and through history without making it the one and only plot point. This book has a lot to say about racism and a Black girl’s experience in today’s world, and this is handled well in a way that can be felt and understood by readers of all backgrounds.
Bree is not the only diverse character, either! We have a whole range of sexualities on campus, there are other black women teaching Bree about their own understanding of this magic she’s inherited, and her best friend Alice is a lesbian of Asian descent. This book also perfectly illustrates the very real reality that some (most?) people experience an abrupt disruption and distancing with their high school friends upon graduating and entering post-secondary education.
The magic system in this book is very well thought out and we get explanations of how it works as Bree learns what’s going on. Getting different explanations of the same magic from different perspectives (the Legenborn’s aether, the Rootcrafters’ root, etc.) is also fascinating and ties into the black experience in a white world storyline.
We do get some familiar YA tropes that may or may not be everyone’s favourite thing to read, such as instalove (remember the timeline of this book is only a couple of weeks), a surprise love triangle situation that adds little to the story, and the whole “chosen one” aspect. (To be fair, can you avoid the chosen one in an Arthurian story? I don’t think so.)
This book is advertised as YA and since the main characters are just 16 years old that does seem to fit. With that said, being that it takes place on a college campus, it also feels NA (New Adult) and feels more relatable to older readers like me (32) than a high school story. I think this book will appeal to a much wider audience than most YA titles.
I can’t wait for more from this author, and I hope I’m correct in assuming that this book is setting up a series. It certainly feels like it! I rate this title 5 stars out of 5, and I will be singing it from the rooftops for quite some time! I recommend this book to everyone, and I even think it would be a good introduction to fantasy as a genre for those who are looking to break into reading fantasy.
For more information on this title and author, and for more reviews by Jenna Rideout, please visit Westveil Publishing.