Legend the Series (Book 1)
By Marie Lu
Available now from Penguin Putnam
Part of the Breathless Reads tour
I am not known as a lover of dystopian fiction. I'm certainly no Lenore, who is currently devoting her blog to Dystopian February. But it's not that I lack an interest in the genre. Before the current YA dystopia boom, I would've told you how much I enjoyed ON THE BEACH by Neville Shute and THE STAND by Stephen King. But then I read a popular example of the genre like WITHER and I just can't get into it. Luckily, for my enjoyment, the plague in LEGEND is far more believable. It mostly affects the poor, since the rich receive vaccinations in addition to having access to better food and less stress on the body from labor. But while the people of the Republic might not have to worry about a disease killing them at a specific age, they do have to worry about their Trial at age 10. The Trial is a combination written, verbal, and physical test that determines your place in life. It's the SATs on post-apocalyptic strength steroids.
Five years ago, Day failed his Trial. June earned a perfect score. Day learned that the failures are experimented on, rather than killed; meanwhile, June rose quickly through the ranks of the military academy. Now Day must retrieve plague medicine for his recently quarantined family. And June must avenge her brother, murdered by the infamous criminal Day. Time for them to meet unknowingly and fall in love!
Okay, so I'm pushing it a little with that exclamation mark. But I felt Day and June's relationship felt rote in an otherwise engaging thriller. They spend a couple of days together and it's true love. I acknowledge that they are hormonal teenagers, but Day and June are practical, cunning, and mature-beyond-their-years teenagers. They've also got this mutual respect thing that would be a more interesting to explore, in my opinion, than the typical insta-love interest. They have great chemistry, but I wish there were more time for the relationship to build. Their first kiss seemed casual.
That complaint aside, I devoured LEGEND in a single afternoon. Marie Lu convincingly wrote two very different narrators. Day, for instance, frequently ponders the cost of things and how many of them he has bought or could buy. Conversely, June never thinks about money, aside from noting that Day thinks in small change. There were many other believable character moments, including that pampered prodigy June is the one to question her commanding officer. Smart kids (and adults) are constantly involved asking, "Why?"
LEGEND's plot hits several standard beats, which thankfully include a climax. I've been fortunate in the series I've started lately as they've all had complete beginnings. LEGEND was plausible enough to keep me reading and had the characterization to keep me engaged. I didn't buy into the central romantic relationship, but I did like the various familial relationships explored. (For those who have read the book: how creepy was Commander Jameson's treatment of Day? I vote spiders-crawling-down-your-back creepy.)
LEGEND should please dystopian and non-dystopian fans. Lu was inspired by Les Mis, so perhaps you can even convince some musical-loving friends to read this one. (Or friends who are really into Victor Hugo, if you have any.)