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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Legendborn, by Tracy Deonn, is a modern update of the Arthurian legend that imagines a secret society of demon hunters called Legendborns, who are descended from the original Order of the Round Table. The story is reminiscent of other popular contemporary fantasies like the Shadowhunters series, in which magic is hiding in plain sight for the select few with the ability to recognize it. With its fierce and relatable 16-year-old protagonist Bree, a pulse-pounding plotline, a diverse cast of characters, and a crowd-pleasing romance, it's no wonder the book has been on the best-seller lists since its week of release. The language and violence make it best suited for eighth-graders and up, particularly readers who enjoy retellings with heart and socially conscious messages.
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What's the story?
LEGENDBORN focuses on 16-year-old Bree Matthews, who's accepted in a residential "Early College" program for gifted high schoolers at UNC Chapel Hill shortly before her mother dies in an accident. Still grieving over the argument she had with her mother the day she died, Bree, who's Black, and her best friend Alice Chen, who's Asian, arrive on campus just in time for Bree to witness a hot but creepy guy battling a definitely not-human creature an annual outdoor orientation party. Bree quickly discovers that she can see demons and that one of the college's secret societies is actually a group of Legendborns, young demon hunters descended from the original Order of the Round Table. Newly aware that magic exists and that she can see it, Bree begins to make a tenuous connection between the day between magic and the day her mother died. She also finds out that her administration-assigned older mentor in the program, the irresistibly charming golden boy Nick Davis, is actually a Legendborn with the secret society. After they end up fighting a demon together and the society's "Merlin" Selwyn Kane can't successfully erase her memory, Bree persuades Nick to sponsor her in a tournament to become a Squire, warriors who are magically bonded to Scions (direct descendants of the Knights who are "Called" between the ages of 16 and 22 to fight the demons). Because the Order is overwhelmingly White and comprised of members of the same families and their ancestral friends, Bree stands out as a double outsider. Meanwhile, a university therapist who knew her mother in college begins to teach Bree more about the historically Black magical abilities in her maternal line.
Is it any good?
Tracy Deonn's contemporary fantasy blends traditional elements of Arthurian legend with a page-turning plot, a fabulous protagonist, a thoughtfully diverse cast of characters, and a sweet romance. Legendborn leans into issues of race in a unique way, particularly with how it presents all the microaggressions that Bree encounters. A gifted Black teen at a predominantly White college founded in the antebellum South, she's still bound to confront and deal with racism. She also has to unpack all of the half-truths about the past, even the description of how the fictional magic stemming from different cultures isn't free from the stain of slavery. But what's remarkable is that these issues are woven in organically, so by the time of big reveals, readers will already understand exactly how those plot twists are justified by the text and by history itself.
The world-building is extensive, although fans of any contemporary fantasy are familiar with stories that explore the magic surrounding ordinary life (think of the Shadowhunters books by Cassandra Clare or Leigh Bardugo's recent series starter, Ninth House). The young characters within the Legendborn society are interesting and diverse, at least when it comes to gender and sexual orientation (the characters include a nonbinary character, a lesbian character, two bisexual characters, a gay character, and a queer couple). The introduction of the Rootcraft (African American magic) and how it differs from the Bloodcraft the Legendborn use is fascinating and full of historical, if upsetting, truths. While at its heart a Chosen One tale, Legendborn is full of characters to root for, romances to cheer on, and more juicy plot developments that should make the next installment just as good.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages about race and racism in Legendborn. How does the author use an anti-racist lens to describe everything from Bree's treatment on campus to the use of magic to the history of the University of North Carolina and its surroundings? Why is it important to recognize the institutional racism in a college or location's past?
How is violence depicted in Legendborn? Is it necessary to the plot development? Do you think that supernatural violence impacts readers differently than realistic violence?
Discuss the various romantic relationships in the book. What about the potential love triangle? Do you prefer a central love story or a love triangle? Who do you think will end up together?
Will you read more in this series? What do you think will happen next?
- Author: Tracy Deonn
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
- Publication date: September 15, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 512
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
- Last updated: January 25, 2021
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