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Legendborn: Grief, History, Magic, Self-discovery (and a dash of romance)

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

TW (for the book and parts of the article): death, racism, light gore

When the time comes, don’t be scared. Fight. Take risks. Follow your heart. And move forward.”

Tracy Deonn binds reality and magic in this 2020 YA fantasy novel. Legendborn is 500 pages of non-stop twists and turns with threads of quotes that will stick in your mind for years to come. Legendborn follows 16-year-old Briana (Bree) Matthews as she navigates life after her mother’s death, the secrets of UNC-Chapel Hill, and mysterious strangers in a society bound in Arthurian legend. It is a modern-day tale that twists together grief, history, and magic with a balance of humor and sincerity. 

“When your entire world is shattering, a little bit of magic is… nothing” 

Bree Matthews is a heroine of her own making. She is wonderfully flawed as she trapezes between worlds. She is a young, black woman living in North Carolina with her dad and best friend Alice Chen. As women of color, Bree and Alice are characters that deal with many issues with varying responses. Bree has a biting wit and barely-curbed temper while Alice is more reserved and “by the book.” They are both learning their place in this world with the aspects of themselves that they cannot change. 

“To succeed in an institution founded by men who could’ve legally owned me, and wanted to.”

Bree and Alice go to UNC-Chapel Hill for their early college program. Alice wants the opportunity, while Bree wants to escape her memories and the suffocating guilt and grief her mother’s fatal accident brings her. She longs to separate herself from the realities of living in a small town and being known as the girl who lost her mother. She struggles with finding who she truly is while accepting the reality of her mother being gone. 

“Love is about more than loss”

The magic in this book is nothing less than enchanting. Arthur and the knights of the round table come to life in the modern-day South through college kids called “Legendborn” (cue credits). While studying for tests and going to class, these young adults must fight demons to protect their campus and the world in general. 

“Never forget. Be angry. And channel it.”

Nick Davis. Typical American heart-throb: blonde hair, blue eyes, tall. He’s a second-year early college program student who is called to look after Bree after she gets in trouble with the Dean. He’s also witty, loyal, and all-around charming. To make him even more enthralling, he has a mysterious past and is self-exiled from the Legendborn society. No wonder he’s the main love interest and one that even readers can fall head over heels for. 

Let’s see the other side of the boy-coin: Selwyn Kane. Bad-boy supreme: all-black wardrobe, tattoos, gauges, black hair, and striking amber-yellow eyes. He may not be a love interest (sad, I know) but he is Nick’s right-hand man, even if they don’t get along at all. Sel is a Merlin, a Kingsmage, someone who can control the magic (aether) all around them. He can be rude and off-putting but has a soft side when needed (love the “bad boy that is mean to everyone but her” trope). 

“Their resilience is bound in my flesh.”

The cast of loveable, and sometimes frustrating, characters continues. William, the healer, is a personal favorite with his sticky notes, passion, and utter faith in Bree. This line-up is also wonderfully, casually queer. Tor and Sel are bisexual, Greer uses they/them pronouns, Alice is attracted to women, and William is dating a man. None of these aspects are looked down upon by other characters and they are so casually brought up that it feels natural and like acceptance one can only hope for. They are just openly themselves and cared for all the same. It’s a found-family worth latching onto and wishing to be a part of.  

“You gain an awareness. Learn to hear the low buzzing sound of exclusion. A sound that says, We didn’t build this for you. We built it for us. This is ours, not yours.”

This book brings up race in honest ways. There are unmarked graves of black people on campus and Confederate statues on that same campus. We see Bree’s (and others’) history of ancestors being enslaved on plantations in North Carolina. The abuse on these plantations and the modern-day discrimination Bree faces with the courage of a full-grown adult weave together a story of strength and resilience. Bree is targeted, her ancestors were assaulted, people were not given the justice that they deserved. This true history in a story about Arthurian knights and tales blends perfectly and makes Bree a heroine you can’t help but root for. 

Two faults. My race and my gender. But they are not faults. They are strength. And I am more than this man can comprehend.”

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is a magical novel that twists our reality into one of magic but keeps painful histories and the realities of not belonging in a certain society. It is funny, heart-wrenching, and captivating with the mesmerizing language usage to match. I highly recommend this book to anyone who may not be a huge fantasy fan but wants something new and it is sure to get you out of a reading slump. What may put you back in the slump: the fact that the next book, Bloodmarked, is set to come out November 8, 2022. 

P.S. My next read for this month will be A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow if you want to follow along with me!

Avery Griffin

Coastal Carolina '23

Avery is a sophomore Marine Science major, with an English minor. She is a queer woman interested in social justice, being unapologetically nerdy, and changing her hair every other month. Her writings mostly consist of book reviews and some digital culture. She loves exploring the beach and general outdoors. She also enjoys reading and iced coffee year-round.
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