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.
Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster, Margaret K. McElderry Books, and Netgalley for providing me with this eARC in exchange for my honest review!
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is a King Arthur retelling that follows sixteen year old Bree Matthews as she begins her Early College program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Bree hasn’t been the same since her mother was killed in a car accident. This program is the perfect escape for her to get away. On Bree’s first night on campus she witnesses a supernatural attack that sends her on an adventure to find answers. Bree is thrust into a world of demons, magic, knights, and legends. She discovers the Legendborn, a group who are the descendents of King Arthur and his thirteen knights. These Legendbord are all that stands between demons (the Shadowborn) and the human world.
I absolutely LOVED this book! Legendborn is an incredible YA fantasy that tells a wholly original story. Yes, it is a King Arthur retelling, but Legendborn is so much more than magic, spells, and legends. Legendborn is an urban fantasy that deals with grief, loss, power, legacies of colonization and slavery, being a Black woman in the South, and finding oneself.
I did not expect to be so profoundly affected by Bree’s story. Tracy Deoon tells an incredible fictional story that she connects to our society by directly confronting racism and the history plus the continued effects of colonization, slavery, and violence against Black people. As the reader, we see Bree encounter racism everyday . . .whether it be slurs, discrimination, stereotypes, or more. She also lives in a constant reminder of the slavery and brutality against Black people. As a white woman I will never understand what Bree is feeling or going through. I am so thankful that Tracy has given us this story and allowed me to gain more perspective through Bree’s eyes. I definitely recommend reading Tracy’s author’s note at the end of the book.
One of my favorite parts of Legendborn is Bree connecting with her answers and learning about her own family’s history.
Legendborn contains magic, mystery, romance, competition, and some MAJOR twists! I will say that the King Arthur lore and the history involved with the society, inheritance and magic was a bit confusing. I didn’t know much about King Arthur besides a little bit from “Merlin” and “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” so not much lol. I didn’t really know what to expect. I definitely had to take my time and do lots of highlights to keep everything straight. It is so extensive and there is a ton going on, but it never felt overwhelming. I felt like I was with Bree discovering and learning with her as she did. The world-building is all encompassing and so complete. Tracy Deoon truly crafted an entire world and lore using the legend of King Arthur.
The magic is also fascinating! From aether to Rootcraft . .. it was all so interesting! I was very excited to read the author’s note and discover that Rootcraft is inspired by African American history and spiritual traditions. Rootwork was created by enslaved Africans and their descendents. The Rootcraft that Bree encounters is fictional, but inspired by this Rootwork. This is such a cool detail and I love learning something new! Again . . . please read the author’s note. It is not only inspiring, but also provided some really awesome insight into the inspiration for Legendborn.
The cast of characters in Legendborn is amazing and so incredibly diverse! The best part is that the diversity is done naturally and it doesn’t feel like a “shtick” or just for token diversity points. A great example of this is one of the Legendborn pages, Greer. Greer is non-binary. This is not announced or a big deal in the slightest. Instead Greer’s non-binary status is seemlessly part of the story. I love that They are just another character and They are accepted as such. It’s incredible to see! I hope this is an inspiration for everyone that reads this to be more accepting and tolerant of those different than you. The world needs more kindness and respect.
Bree is an excellent lead. She is strong, fierce, and loving. It was heartbreaking to watch her experience the grief from losing her mother. I truly felt like I was with her on this adventure.
I am a little undecided on how I feel about the romance. It definitely was on the insta-lovey side. It kind of has to be though because the whole book only takes place over about three weeks. Also, there is an explanation for the insta-love near the end which helps. There’s also a potential love triangle that I think will be delved into more in the following books. I am not a huge fan of love triangles, but I am intrigued by this one!
The only reasons why I deducted a star is because of the insta-love and the overall rushed-ness of the beginning. Everything felt very boom boom boom. It all progressed very quickly. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it just felt a little rushed in the beginning.
Legendborn is an exciting fantasy story that has so many important themes. I am so glad that I read this book because 1) it’s a fantastic and unique story & 2) I am thankful that I was able to read a modern day fantasy through the eyes of a young Black woman. It’s not enough and I will continue to work to improve myself to be a better ally, but Bree’s story is one step and allowed me to gain more insight into what Black men and women experience every day.
I absolutely loved Legendborn. Even though it is inspired by the legend of King Arthur, this retelling feels totally original and utterly fascinating! I loved all the detail and the world building! And the ending was a rollercoaster of twists and reveals! I cannot wait to see where the story goes in the next book.