Legendborn by Tracy Deonn | REVIEW

Review of Legendborn by Tracy Deonn on Ace Of Bens dot com.

I hate to say this—especially since I grew up obsessed with books and TV shows about magic and myths and aliens—but I was really starting to believe I just don’t like fantasy anymore. After reading a few fantasy novels that I could feel are objectively good books but simply not clicking with them, I was scared it was time for me to just stay away from the whole genre. But then my hold for Legendborn came in on Libby just in time for me to read this for a Diverse Baseline Challenge prompt, and oh. my. god. I was blown away by this book.

Turns out, I just needed a reminder that my love of fantasy lies almost exclusively in low fantasy. I’m obsessed with stories that take place in our world but add a magical twist, and Tracy Deonn does this so expertly that it should be required reading for fantasy writers everyone.

Legendborn is a story inspired, in part, by the legend of King Arthur, which I think it why it wasn’t really on my radar because what do I care about King Arthur? But also what did I care about Greek mythology until I read Percy Jackson. What’d I care about The Great Gatsby before I read Anna-Marie McLemore’s remixed version? The point is, don’t let that deter you from picking this up if it has been. Doesn’t matter! This book is worth it.

Deonn also pulls inspiration from US history, specifically its history of slavery and violently erasing the ancestral knowledge of the Black people captured as slaves. She takes this history and all the anger and grief wrapped up with it and builds a whole magic system around it and ties an existing legend into the world building, and I thought I wasn’t gonna care about this book because I didn’t know anything about King Arthur? Man, I’m ridiculous sometimes.

But plenty of people have written alternate magical histories, Ben.

Okay, but not like this one. Also, don’t you want more anyway? Come on.

Bree Matthews’ story unfolds in the middle of an intersection, and she just keeps discovering more and more roads crossing there.

She goes, as a normal teenage girl, to this early college program at UNC-Chapel hill, a primarily white institution that accepted her application but doesn’t exactly accept her presence. Then she witnesses a magical attack her first night on campus. This event tangles her up with a secret society of people, all descendants of King Arthur and his knights who respond to these magical attacks. They take her in, some more willingly than others, and she begins to learn about aether and magic that runs through bloodlines.

“This type of knowing is an expensive toll to pay. I can’t forget the knowledge just because the price is high. And yet, sometimes we have to tuck the reminders away today in order to grow power against them tomorrow.”

Tracy Deonn, from Legendborn

But wait! There’s also this whole other way of practicing magic that she learns about from a Black staff member and student on campus. Turns out aether is actually called root and there’s a philosophy of practicing it that runs entirely contrary to that of the Order’s? And the Order is a group of white people obsessed with their lineage who’s up to no good? Man, that’s wild. Who’d’ve thought?

Still, Bree doesn’t see herself fitting into either world and can’t get a handle on the magic raging inside her. She does know, however, that figuring it out will bring clarity on what happened to her mother, so she charges on.

In summary, I don’t have a single negative thing to say about this book. Legendborn isn’t simply a contemporary retelling of King Arthur; it’s a story of grief, believing in yourself, blood family and found family, generational trauma, colonialism, and challenging the systems in place. It feels weird telling people to go read this because I feel like I’m the last one to arrive to this party, but if you’re somehow even later than I am, you seriously need to get a copy of Legendborn and join Bree as she uncovers her family’s history and finds her own magic.

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