REVIEW: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
There have been quite a few books inspired by King Arthur published in recent years. Here Be Dragons by Sarah Mussi, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White, Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke… The list is endless.
However, I don’t think any of them live up to Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn. Combining Black Girl Magic with a fresh twist on the Order of the Round Table, this is a captivating debut which I found ridiculously hard to put down.
When the book begins we meet our protagonist, Bree, on the night that her mother dies in a car accident. It’s made worse by the fact that Bree had a huge fight with her mother the previous night, leaving her to come to terms with the knowledge that the last words she said to her mother were ones said in anger.
Their fight was about Bree’s enrollment in an Early College program. Bree signed up without her mother’s permission, thinking she wouldn’t get in (but if she did, attending the university where her mother studied had to sweeten the deal, right?!). But Bree’s mother wasn’t ever going to let her daughter go there, and Bree is left with no idea why.
Unfortunately, Bree’s mother’s secrets end up causing her to get embroiled in more trouble than either of them could have anticipated. Before lessons begin she goes to a party where she meets a mysterious guy called Sel. She spots something strange that nobody else seems able to see, and Sel ends up doing something to her memories… Something that makes her wonder if her mother’s death wasn’t a simple accident.
Bree is left questioning the truth about the world around her, fighting with her best friend Alice, and being assigned a (startlingly attractive) peer mentor. How will Bree get her head around the new world she’s discovering while still struggling to cope with her grief?
Going into Legendborn, all I knew was that it was a King Arthur retelling. The last King Arthur retelling I read was one which seriously disappointed me, so instead of intriguing me that aspect made me put off reading this book for longer than I should have.
I wondered how a King Arthur retelling set in America was going to work, but Tracy Deonn does a wonderful job of explaining the history of how Arthur’s descendants came to be across the pond. She has obviously put a lot of work into researching not only the original legend, but the history of America itself as well.
At its heart this story is a scathing look at the way that generations of Black people have been treated in America – from back in the days of slavery up until today, when Bree experiences microaggressions and prejudiced comments just because of the colour of her skin. It’s empowering, it’s a call to arms, and it’s high time that we get more YA fantasy retellings written by Black authors about Black characters.
I absolutely love Bree. Although she is a Chosen One (and that’s not my favourite trope!) she is such a well-crafted character that I can almost overlook it. As well as dealing with the discovery of a magical underworld, she’s also dealing with developing feelings for Nick, the strain that the Early College program is putting on her relationship with her best friend, and her mother’s death. That adds up to a ton of character development, which Tracy Deonn ekes out and takes time with. Bree doesn’t change within a few pages, and throughout the novel we get a lot of her inner monologue as she struggles to decide what to do about the situation she has found herself in and the way that it is changing how she sees herself.
The other aspect of the story that I really enjoyed was the possible love triangle between Bree, Sel and Nick. I wouldn’t describe Bree and Nick’s relationship as instalove because it does take her a little while to trust him enough to let him in, but their romance does develop quite rapidly. However, the friendship between Bree and Sel was what I was living for. They have a lot in common, and even though he’s the bad guy at the beginning you quickly learn that there’s a lot more going on under the surface. I’m describing this as a possible love triangle because by the end of the first book Bree and Sel’s relationship is still purely friendship, but I have strong feelings towards these two and I hope that they end up developing strong feelings for each other! It’s been a while since I’ve felt this drawn to a YA romance, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Tracy Deonn takes these characters in the as-yet-untitled second novel in the Legendborn series.
There are only two reasons why I didn’t give this book five stars. The first is a very minor one, but it’s the overly repetitive descriptions of the way that each boy smells. I was reading this book aloud to Sean and I lost count of the amount of times I said the words ‘laundry and cedar’ or ‘whiskey and cinnamon’. Those descriptions are very vivid and vibrant, but when they kept getting repeated every couple of pages it threw me out of the story entirely.
The other reason that Legendborn ended up being four stars is that the ending is too rushed. For a book which comes in at just over 500 pages, the climax takes place over just a couple of chapters, and I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the action at the end of the novel had played out more slowly. I loved the fast-paced nature of a certain reveal, but as a whole the book had such slow pacing and I really savoured the level of world-building that Tracy Deonn was putting into the story, so for the ending to be a complete 180 was a bit of a shame.
That being said, this is one of the best YA fantasies I’ve read in a long time. I loved the fact that it included such a unique twist on the King Arthur legend, I really enjoyed the unique magic system and I think it’s brilliant that this book sits beautifully between YA and Adult – definitely sitting at the older end of the YA fantasy spectrum.
Tracy Deonn is an author to watch, that’s for sure. I’m eagerly anticipating news about the sequel to Legendborn, and I’m already looking forward to rereading this story in preparation for Bree’s tale to continue.
Are there any other King Arthur retellings that you’ve read and would recommend? Please leave them down in the comments!
Thank you for reading,