Before I get into my review of Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020), I want to recognize that it may be biased and cloaked in an unexpected connection. I was 17 when my father was killed. My acceptance to UNC arrived just under two months later. That August, when I moved into my dorm, I was a powder keg of grief, anger and guilt. But especially anger. There were many days that my walk back to the dorms from class consisted of counting my steps to remind myself just to put one foot in front of the other. The unexpected loss of a parent on a not-quite-an-adult leaves a mark. I never expected to see those explosive emotions that defined my years at Carolina on the pages of a fantasy novel set at my beloved Carolina, but here we are and oh how painfully beautiful and accurate Deonn’s depiction is. I often say that books get in my blood, but this one tastes like my tears.
Bree is a 16-year-old black girl from rural NC, and as progressive as UNC is, it’s full of old money, legacy students, and privilege. With that in mind, the novel sails not only in its depictions of grief but in microaggressions as well. Deonn does an excellent job of capturing the public ivy’s tainted history and its continued impact. (Carr and his beatings were real, as is his presence on campus. Also real was the now-removed Confederate soldier facing North.)
Bree breaks the rules and goes to an off-campus party where chaos ensues, and a mage tries to wipe her memory. But Bree’s a bit different, and her introduction to magic leads her to believe that her mother didn’t just die in a car accident. Through sheer chance, and a little grit and determination, she pesters her way into the thick of a secret society that operates out of a castle just off campus. (UNC is home to the Order of Gimghoul, a secret society that operates out of Hippol Castle.) The Order of the Round Table isn’t prepared for someone like Bree, but they may not have a choice. Bree is determined that they hold the key to the truth about her mother.
Deonn boldly stares down the traditional fantasy canon while giving the reader an Arthurian legend unlike anything Tennyson or Malory could have imagined. She gives her reader Merlin and the magic expected from the likes of a kingsmage. But she also gives us rootcraft and generational power. She gives us Bree.
The novel is fantastic. The premise is great. It doesn’t fall into some of the traps that other YA fantasy novels tend to get hung up in. There is a love triangle, but it’s an Arthurian legend – so, there’s going to be a triangle. The second in the series, Bloodmarked comes out at the end of the year. I’m curious to see how it’ll stack up, but I’m very excited for it.
Read this book.
And forever my thanks for this novel, Tracy.