It’s rare that I come across a book that, after finishing, makes me want to shove it in people’s faces and demand they read it. ( Maybe not that violently, but you get the point. ) Even after reading other YA titles like Six of Crows, Throne of Glass, and even Hunger Games, I wasn’t thinking, “now this is required reading for all YA book lovers!”
But Tracy Deonn’s YA Urban Fantasy take on an ancient Arthurian secret society unraveled by a 16-year-old black girl dealing with profound grief and crazy family secrets…yeah, this is one that deserves to be on every future YA writer’s reading list.
From a YA fantasy lover’s perspective, I was reading one of the best-written YA novels in recent years ( if not all time ), while also being let into a very personal and quintessential story on how familial generational secrets and experiences can affect current generations. From a YA writer’s perspective, I was reading an example book from a master class on how to write the perfect YA novel that not only entertained but taught you something; made you feel something profound.
And that last point is what I’d been missing from my recent reads: a sense that there was a purpose or point to the book beyond entertainment or fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good action adventure and even a good spine-tingling romance that makes your toes curl, but after a while, it gets…stale? Boring? Repetitive? Basically like every big blockbuster Hollywood movie that’s come out in the last decade.
And just like Hollywood blockbusters, there is a formula that most YA fantasy books take on. It usually has “save the world” stakes, some form of magic or superpower that only the protagonist has, and includes a romance that develops alongside the main plot (which is something I used to love before I realized it’s in ALL the mainstream fantasy books), and usually has a twist that involves the romance going sour before the end of the book.
There are definitely more tropes ( and versions of those tropes ) in that formula than I’ve listed, but that’s an analysis for another day.
In Legendborn’s case, most of the typical tropes and plot points you see in other popular YA fantasy novels are met, but Tracy Deonn manages to take the tropes and not only make them engaging again ( while throwing in her own incredible sequences that don’t fit the mold at all ), but simply write them well.
For instance, the love interests. You meet one character very early on in the book, and at first, he checks off the boxes for every slightly rude and edgy white boy that ever lived in a YA. ( It’s ok you can still love these tropes, I don’t judge! ) But as the novel goes on and secrets are being unraveled by our main protagonist, Brianna Matthews, those secrets also help unravel the romantic interest and reveal that much of his circumstances align with Bree’s internal and external journey.
He’s given his own agency that doesn’t revolve around the protagonist, which immediately sets him apart as a character to be watched with interest. ( And let me just add that the banter between him and Bree is some of the funniest I’ve read in a while! )
As for the other love interest ( who was the main one for most of the novel ), he fits the stereotypical good guy with righteous morals shoes to a ‘T’. And yet I still found myself interested at times despite his predictability. I think it’s all down to the fact that Tracy Deonn made him so consistent in his characterization, that his righteous attitude felt believable, which is something I’d never thought I’d see from a love interest character.
And as for the main character, Bree, I really can’t say enough to praise how well her character was handled. Even though I’ve never lost a mother myself, I felt her pain, her anger, and her regret through every page, every dialogue, and every action. This is 100% a mix of talent and personal experience from Tracy Deonn, who, in her author note at the end of the book, describes how she too lost her mother and had to learn to cope with her trauma and grief.
I think any author who opens themselves up like this for their creations is incredibly strong and brave. And it makes reading their books that much more impactful and relatable.
Now, before I end the review, I must say that there is A LOT more to this book than what I mentioned. Some very important discussions on race and racial injustice happen in this novel. As someone who has never experienced these things, it was a gut-wrenching eye-opener; one that really shot this book up into the stratosphere for me, and made me want to write this review.
It’s so, so important to have books like this out in the world and to have an author who is willing to explore tough and realistic topics ( and to have representation of minorities ) for teens in today’s age. There’s not much more I can say other than just READ THIS BOOK. Or give it to someone who reads YA fantasy.
To anyone who is looking to dive into an Urban YA fantasy, or who simply wants to know what great YA reads and looks like, I can’t recommend Legendborn enough.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars!
Trigger Warnings: One scene of rape that is not explicit, several instances of racial hostility, mentions of slavery that include historical flashbacks, minor mentions of sex, and some minor references to drug and alcohol use.
I’d recommend this for ages 15 and up!