Ancestry and Demon Nightmare Boys: My Legendborn Review

I'm kind of a sucker for retellings of all stripes, but Arthurian legend retellings are one of my especial favorites. So when I heard about Legendborn, a YA contemporary fantasy based on Arthurian legend, I knew I had to read it. And the perfect opportunity presented itself when said book was offered for free online by Simon Teen as part of their 25 Reads of December event!

So let's get into it ...

Book Title: Legendborn
Author: Tracy Deonn
Publisher/Year: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Number of Pages (According to Goodreads): 512
My Rating: 5 out of 5

Book description (from Goodreads):

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.

It's worth mentioning that when I decided to read this book for the 25 Days of Reading event, I didn't quite realize how long it is. Each book in the event is only available to be accessed for a day, and even though you can technically keep the book open for as long as you like if you don't close the tab, I still wanted to try and finish it in one go.

Legendborn is over 500 pages long, or 159,000 words (according to Kobo). And y'all, I gobbled this book up in the space of eight hours.

Allow me to tell you why!

A New Take on Mythology

The magic system in this book is super cool -- the Legendborn are a secret society who fight demon creatures to keep the world safe. They're led by the descendants of King Arthur and his knights, who are known as Scions. In times of especially bad trouble, each Scion in order of prestige gets "awakened," which means they get imbued with the spirit and powers of their ancestor knight. If things get bad enough that Arthur's Scion is awakened, then we get Camlann, which is basically the apocalypse.

There are several lesser-ranked members of the Legendborn, like Squires, which is the rank our main character Bree has to earn in order to get the information she needs. My point, though, is that the whole system is heavily based on people's ancestry -- which is pretty cool since you get to meet the descendants of characters from Arthurian legend.

However, since Bree is a Black person in America whose ancestors were enslaved, she can't trace her ancestry back very far before the records stop. This led to some really interesting themes about how history in America has a white western slant, and how a lot of prestigious institutions systemically exclude marginalized people.

Plus, it culminates in some MIND-BOGGLING twists toward the end, which I really can't talk about cause spoilers. Just go read it -- I promise you'll be gobsmacked.

Can I Be Best Friends With These Characters, Please?

If you love ensemble casts, then boy is this a book you should check out! Bree is a great protagonist and I loved rooting for her -- she's super tough and has a strong emotional arc that I couldn't help but get sucked into. I also loved Nick, the Scion of Arthur, who I would describe as a golden retriever boy because he's basically a lovable puppy in human form.

But I suspect that a lot of people's fan favorite is Selwyn, who 100% falls into this category:

Come on, how can you not love the guy? He's also really nice once you get to know him and learns to trust people more over the course of the story. We stan a brooding king <3

Trigger Warnings for Legendborn

According to Tracy Deonn's website, Legendborn might not be for you if you're sensitive to depictions of "death of a parent and traumatic grief/flashbacks, alcohol consumption, mind control/memory manipulation, racist macro and microaggessions, emesis (vomiting), blood, mild gore, combat violence, mention(s) of: physical abuse, racist violence, sexual violence."

Final Thoughts

If you love mythology and want something with a unique spin on well-loved tropes, this book is definitely for you! The characters rock, the magic system is awesome, and it's one of the best-paced books I've ever read in my life <3

Legendborn is available everywhere, so check out the links below if you want to snag your own copy:

Barnes and Noble | | Amazon | Goodreads

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