Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, 498 pages, Can be read in a few days depending on your speed, Young Adult
A quote that I really appreciated: “Everything has two histories. Especially in the South.”Patricia, p. 230
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn—the first book in the Legendborn Cycle—is another book I picked up during last week’s snowstorm. The description I keep seeing is “Arthurian legend meets Black girl magic” and there really isn’t a better way to sum it up. Except to maybe add extra emphasis on the magic part.
Like many good stories, this book begins with a tragedy. Bree’s mother dies unexpectedly in a car accident and three months later, at the age of 16, we watch as Bree enrolls in the Early College program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Joined by her best friend, Alice (an Asian American teenage girl), Bree is hoping the first few days on campus will be fairly typical orientation to college life—getting to know campus, setting up their dorm room, and maybe some teenage rebellion now that they’re out of their parents’ eyes.
It’s that rebellion that gets them in trouble though. While at party they aren’t supposed to be at, Bree sees something that just does not compute. Something magical. And definitely something not of this world. Unfortunately, being slowed down by this unusual sighting led to her and Alice being driven back to campus by the police, which leads to a meeting with the Dean, which leads to being assigned a mandatory peer mentor.
Enter Nick. And enter a whole world Bree had no idea existed. A world that she forces her way into. I won’t spoil the how or why (at least not until I review book #2), but this decision sets off a whirlwind of events over a few weeks that include fighting, training, and demons galore.
Along the way, Bree learns more about herself, her mother, and her heritage. In particular, she learns about her family’s connection to root magic and the role it plays in her life. She also learns she’s pretty magical herself, in more ways than one. And of course, she also finds love and some unexpected friendships.
I don’t think I have ever audibly yelled, “Yeessss!” at the end of a book before. Until now. Because the ending was everything I wanted it to be. I mean, it’s also really messed up, as you’ll see when you get there, but it is also so perfect.
A very pleasant surprise—and the reason this book is so darn good—is the way Deonn really embraces the Southern setting and the theme of two—often competing—histories. The inclusion of incidences of racism and sexism and the conflicts that occur when a white-centered history is pushed to become a more complete telling that includes Black stories would be a cliché in lesser hands. In Deonn’s writing, however, these points not only fit smoothly into the story, but are integral to the plot. Another pleasant surprise was the way sexuality of various characters was introduced in a seamless, natural way, rather than a forced reveal. Every character was allowed to be their own true selves. And as someone who grew up in the South, I enjoyed the if ya know ya know references such as Cherrywine and hash browns smothered and covered. References that made me both hungry and homesick!
To be honest, this book wasn’t on my radar. I’m also not really into Arthurian legend. The only reason I picked it up is because I saw how excited everyone was that it got optioned for a tv series and I thought maybe, for once, I could read the book before I watch it. I’m really glad I gave it a try, though, because I loved it and I cannot wait for book two! And I hope we do get a tv series because I’d love to see all the magical creatures come to life.