Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: September 15, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source/Disclaimer: I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher as part of the Hear Our Voices Book Tour.
Content Warning: Racial slurs, Violence
Rating: ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ out of ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ ✈️ ✈️
Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.
After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.
Having been a fan of Arthurian Legend since I was little and first saw Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, I’m always excited to read books that are inspired by the legend, especially when they give them a new spin all together. Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn does not disappoint, if anything it far exceeded my expectations and wildest dreams.
One of the main things I loved about how Deonn crafted this story is how she managed to weave the history of slavery in America and the current racial issues and discussions we are seeing play out on a daily basis. Bree is very cognizant of the fact that she’s Black and living in the South and that she needs to be cognizant and aware of the situation and her surroundings, especially when it comes to law enforcement:
I’m sixteen. I pay attention. I listen to the stories from uncles, cousins, hell, my own father, about police run-ins and stops. I see the videos online. Sitting in this car and thinking about those images makes my heart pound. I don’t know if there’s a single Black person in this country who can say with 100 percent confidence that they feel safe with the police. Not after the past few years. Probably not ever. Maybe there are some, somewhere, but I sure as hell don’t know ’em.
As I read this part in the book, I found myself nodding along and saying “Amen” as Bree voiced the truth of being Black in America and interactions as a Black person with the police. Yes, there was once upon a time when I was younger and before I started seeing unarmed Black Man after unarmed Black Man being killed by the police, that I believed myself to be safe when around a police officer; sadly, that is a statement I can no longer make as I have become unnervingly more aware that any possible interaction with the police could lead to my not returning home alive after that encounter.
Later in the book, found myself taking note of another favorite quote of Bree examining what it’s like to be Black and have to deal with the constant reminders of slavery and how as a Black person, we’re not truly welcome in all spaces, that spoke to me, and I feel will speak to many other Black readers as well:
Growing up Black in the South, it’s pretty common to find yourself in old places that just . . . weren’t made for you. Maybe it’s a building, a historic district, or a street. Some space that was originally built for white people and white people only, and you just have to hold that knowledge while going about your business.
Sometimes it’s obvious, like when there’s a dedication to the “boys who wore the gray” on a plaque somewhere or a Rebel flag flying high out front. Other times, it’s the date on a marker that tips you off. Junior high school field trip to the State Capitol? Big, gorgeous Greek revival architecture? Built in 1833? Oh yeah, those folks never thought I’d be strolling the halls, walking around thinking about how their ghosts would kick me out if they could.
You gain an awareness. Learn to hear the low buzzing sound of exclusion. A sound that says, We didn’t build this for you. We built it for us. This is ours, not yours.
I may not have been born and raised in the South to where I saw these reminders on a daily basis, but I’ve done a fair amount of traveling through the South, and spent quite a bit of time in Richmond, VA, home of the Confederacy. Through my travels I’ve seen those Confederate statues and monuments and every time I see them, and the rebel flag, I can’t help but have an adverse reaction. As Bree so eloquently states, these statues, monuments and flags serve as a constant reminder to myself, and other Blacks, that if the Confederacy had won we’d still be in chains working the fields, cooking the meals and raising who are not our own. When I see these reminders, I can’t help but glare at them while silently gloating at them and the fact that they lost the war and as a result the spaces they built for Whites and Whites only are now open to people of all races.
As much as I loved the examination of race, I also loved watching Bree and her interactions with Nick. I’m not going to lie, reading their interactions, especially as they grew closer to one another and started to develop a romantic relationship, I found myself swooning on more than one occasion. Case in point, Nick has all the right words:
“You’re not a damsel to me, Bree. You’re an Amazon. You’re strong and you’re beautiful and you’re brilliant and you’re brave.” He presses his forehead against mine, his eyes squeezed shut, and takes a slow, ragged breath. “And I’d really like to kiss you.”
I love a man who recognizes and respects a woman and doesn’t list her beauty first when saying the things he likes about her. Nick is the kind of guy I would love to meet and fall in love with myself one day. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but Nick is the definition of chivalry and I love that he refuses to let the rules of the Legendborn society and history dictate his life and that he sees Bree for Bree, not because she’s Black.
Nick and Bree’s relationship is sharply contrasted with Bree and Sel’s relationship. Bree and Sel are an interesting pairing in large part because Sel spends so much of the book not only liking Bree, but not trusting her and believing she’s a demon. I found their evolution throughout the book to be a constant up-hill battle until finally the two were forced to have to work together and come to see and understand just who the other one is and the special connection that learn they share.
I could go on about how much I loved this book and the beyond amazing and powerful Black Girl Magic found within, but I don’t want to spoil it for other readers. All I will say is to be sure to add Legendborn to your Goodreads if you haven’t already done so, and be sure to preorder and pick up a copy for yourself: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Kobo
While you’re at it, be sure to follow Tracy for wonderful behind the scenes looks and information about the next book in the Legendborn series.
Tracy Deonn is a writer and second-generation fangirl. She grew up in central North Carolina, where she devoured fantasy books and Southern food in equal measure. After earning her master’s degree in communication and performance studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tracy worked in live theater, video game production, and K–12 education. When she’s not writing, Tracy speaks on panels at science fiction and fantasy conventions, reads fanfic, arranges puppy playdates, and keeps an eye out for ginger-flavored everything. She can be found on Twitter at @TracyDeonn and at TracyDeonn.com.