Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is an absolutely phenomenal debut YA fantasy novel. I’ve seen a lot of hype around for this one, and I’m here to tell you to believe that hype 100%. I’m always wary going into books as hyped as this, so I wanted to keep my expectations to a minimum. I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, and I can’t wait to recommend this to all the teens and adults alike at work.
After her mother dies in a car accident, Bree Matthews can’t wait to get away from her home town. UNC Chapel Hill has a residency program for bright high schoolers, and Bree sees this as her opportunity to get away. But when she witnesses a magical attack her first night on campus and realises there may be more than what meets the eye when it comes to her mother’s accident, Bree’s world changes forever. Bree stumbles upon a secret society called the “Legendborn,” descendants of King Arthur’s knights. When Bree discovers a magical war is coming, she must decide how far she’ll go to find out the truth about her mother’s death, and whether or not she wants to fight with the Legendborn.
Legendborn is one of the best debut’s I’ve read in a long time. I often have a hard time with YA fantasy books, but this one really hit the spot on all counts for me. The characters, the plot, the world-building, the themes explored– everything was so fully realised and excellently developed. I’ve seen a few reviewers criticise this for being too tropey, but to be honest, I thought Legendborn brought a fresh, new perspective to the table and used many well-known fantasy tropes well.
The world-building in Legendborn was really, really fun and inventive. I wholeheartedly agree with describing this as “Arthurian legend meets Shadowhunters.” The Legendborn are descendants of King Arthur’s knights, and their secret society have chapters all around the globe. These descendants all have magical powers, Bloodcraft, which they use to fight Shadowborn demons. We see the history of these powers slowly unfold as the book progresses and as Bree discovers and learns more about her own unique abilities. Descendants of King Arthur’s knights are Scions, who each choose a Squire who will be magically bonded to them forever. These Squires are chosen from Pages who compete in 3 trials that test their skills and abilities. Bree takes part in these trials throughout the novel whilst trying to learn more about her mother’s death. It’s a little hard to explain the whole system and how it works here, but I think it was excellently done. Whilst it was a little confusing to follow at first, once I wrapped my head around it, everything made perfect sense.
Bree’s characterisation was outstanding. She’s smart, sarcastic, funny and stubborn. She’s also dealing with a lot of grief and trauma after her mother’s death, and I think Deonn explores this excellently. You see the affects of this grief both in her actions and in her relationships with others. Deonn also excellently explores how trauma affects relationships– familial, platonic and romantic. Many of the characters in this novel face their own grief and trauma, and I think Deonn did a great job of showing how different people deal with this in different ways. It’s also worth noting that Deonn did an outstanding job of exploring and examining trauma not just on an individual level but an inter-generational level as well.
One of the themes explored through the whole novel is race and racism. Deonn shows how pervasive racism is, and also shows the long-lasting affects of racism. Deonn juxtaposes current day racism with historical racism– exploring and examining both the similarities and differences, and showing how racism through history has shaped racism today. I appreciated that the exploration of racism extended through not just the world-building, but the actual magic system itself, too. Throughout the novel, we meet a few Rootcrafters, Black women who borrow energy from the earth to perform their magic. Bloodcraft, in comparison, is coloniser magic– Bloodcrafter’s ancestors stole this magic and bound it to their bloodline.
One of the other things I absolutely loved about this book was how much it normalised queerness. Greer, one of the side characters, uses they/them pronouns. Whilst no labels are used, multiple side characters are revealed to be in same gender relationships or show attraction to the same gender. It’s all just so natural and normalised, and I love when books represent queerness in this way.
Overall, I really loved Legendborn. It’s a fresh, unique YA fantasy with a kick-ass heroine, great cast of characters and intriguing and addictive plot. Themes of belonging, grief, trauma and racism are excellently explored through characterisation, relationships and world-building. I’m so excited to read more of Bree’s story, and Tracy Deonn is an author you should keep an eye on. I can’t wait to read everything she produces in future.