- First published in 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
- Format: Paperback – Published in 2020 by Simon & Schuster
- Reading Time: 10 difficult days
- Picked this up on a whim from my local independent but, after DNFing Once Upon A River, I decided to make this part of my New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge. The story itself doesn’t spread over 500 pages as the last few pages are taken up with author’s notes but that’s the only 500 page book I had to hand so I’m going with it. This story follows Bree, a girl who wants to leave her home and the recent loss of her mother behind her to pursue an advanced study program for bright high schoolers. It turns out that the college in question is offering more than just a leg-up. There’s a secret society of ‘Legendborn’ students who all trace their lineage to King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. Protecting their secrets are Merlins, mages who mesmer anyone who has seen too much. That might have included Bree if she hadn’t found the ability to resist the mesmer and uncover another removed memory that hints her mother’s death may have been connected to the Legendborn. There’s only one way to find out how – infiltrate the Order with the help of a self-exiled and reluctantly complicit Legendborn and do anything to find the truth.
- Racism is pervasive in this world and not just in the ‘normal’ world of the present day American South either. The Order of the Round Table may be a prestigious secret organisation with a long history based in royal myth but peel away the veneer of respectability and underneath, you’ll find a stagnant ‘old boys’ club’ that’s kept to their traditions and to the same old affluent white families for too long. The racism is never in your face (apart from one encounter with a racist cop) but it is definitely noticeable in the form of low-level and sometimes unintentional microaggressions that can wear a person down and make them feel like they don’t belong e.g. a character condescendingly praising a class on its ‘diversity’ just because there’s one black person in it.
- Overload of characters once we get to the Legendborn so it’s hard to get much of a fix on any of them. Bree and Nick are pretty good main characters but Selwyn definitely gets the most character development. He might seem antagonistic at first but, as we learn the pressures he’s under to succeed and as he learns that he can be wrong, the reader realises he’s not so bad.
- My main problem with this was how much time it took to really take off. I really struggled through the first half as the book went through the motions of a YA book with only the slightest hints that there was something magical going on e.g. going to a party that got way out of hand, starting at a new college away from parental supervision, arbitrary battle-to-the-death contests with teenage contestants and lies to cover up the magical deeds leading to her friends and family getting the wrong idea about what’s going on. The main problem was that Bree took too long to find the Order and then to sneak in. I also DNFed because I was getting so impatient with the story following all the YA cliches without much variation. If the scenes beforehand had been shortened or handled a bit better, I would have had an easier time of it.
- Inventive takes on the Arthurian mythology and the book didn’t shy away from merging it with the nastiest parts of American history. Slight content warning: there is a historic rape that is never explicitly described but it is very heavily hinted at. There’s also depictions of the historic brutality shown to slaves in the Deep South. The present day college is a place that is trying to tackle its terrible history of slave labour but the efforts feel token at best and feel like nothing compared to all the monuments and respect given to the white historic figures. Deonn did a good job of slowly revealing the college’s dark history and the present injustices. I just wish everything else hadn’t felt like an info dump.
- Some work really needed to be done on the world building as there were far too many info dumps. I really did need the table of heirs, family trees and special abilities at the end to make sense of it all as it was just too much at once in the text. I lost track of names and lineages a lot throughout the book. What I did like was the author’s decision to set up the Order of the Round Table first to get the reader comfortable with the idea before challenging it with counter-societies of Rootcrafters (whose magic is more based around nature) who view the Legendborns’ methods as an affront to theirs. It’s a good way of challenging the reader’s perceptions of these things and make them realise that they’ve never even thought about the problems with these secret magic societies before they were made to.
- I can kind of see that the author worked in video games. The magic systems wouldn’t be out of place in a fantasy RPG. I do think this might be better as a screen adaptation or as a video game adaption than a book. There’s certainly a lot of action and a lot of fight scenes that would feel right at home on the screen.
- Nice plot twists really turned the book around for me. One was incredibly shocking as it was the person I had least suspected but, in hindsight, made perfect sense. The other was a very well done anticlimax and something that fitted very well with the book’s themes. Again, sorry for being so vague but I don’t want to spoil it. The big twist of all is probably one you’d be able to guess but not until the last few chapters leading up to it.
- Got to say, I’m not too happy with the ending. It felt too much like a sequel hook and it halted the book’s pace in its tracks rather than slowly bringing it to a safe and complete stop. The climax was fantastic but it didn’t feel as satisfying as it could have been. There’s a lot of good stuff in this novel but I just felt it could have done with more work. Or, maybe, I should have listened to an audiobook version to get the full benefit. It’s a real shame because I’ve heard so many great things about this book.
Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
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