Since I moved to Japan in 2007 and The Hunger Games was first published in 2008, Dystopian YA is a phenomenon born largely in my absence from consistent reading. For me Sci-Fi has always filled the role of undesirable fictional habitat and I’ve never liked it so I didn’t care about seeking out this new YA ‘phase.’ Now I know it’s here to stay, I’ve been getting acquainted with novels like Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi and Legend by Marie Lu which I’m happy to say lack the sterility that puts me off of Science Fiction.
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors.
Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles.
Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect.
Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.
Legend shares it’s narrative between the dual first person perspectives of our two protagonists, both of whom feel well fleshed out and realistic. June is brilliant and knows it being the only person ever to achieve a perfect score in her Trial, the test designed to the measure physical and mental aptitude of all children within the Republic. Day, who failed his Trial, is introduced to us both by his own POV and his legend which are sometimes at odds with each other as we begin to discover the reason for his criminal activities. I almost wish he did have a grander anti-Republican agenda (like the rebel Patriots), but in the end his motives are much simpler. Ones that June can identify with.
Day and June are from different ends of an extremely polarized economic spectrum and, true to her privileged upbringing, June is not entirely sympathetic towards the lower echelons until she disguises herself as one of them in order to find Day. June shows the most character growth as she is the most deeply embedded in a society that will use any means necessary to control its people. A society she trusted.
Despite being only 15, Day and June are on their own in this world permanently at war with The Colonies and beleaguered by plagues – the latest strain of which may be the deadliest yet. There have already been some shocking deaths so I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more in store. This is not a novel that pulls any punches. The injustice of one scene in particular (when Day is remembering the time his mum was preparing a rare feast of chicken) made me seethe.
The geography of The Republic and it’s sectors is very important, especially given the outbreak and spread of each plague, and I would have appreciated a basic map to keep track. Overall though, I had great faith in Marie Lu’s world building and character development. The only moment of disbelief I had was when we were in Day’s POV and he would describe how beautiful June looked in her regalia or think about kissing her. Given the circumstances he was in, I found it hard to believe he would spare much attention for anything other than his own fear, pain and grief. Then again, I’ve never had to live in a world where moments of beauty must seem even brighter for the contrast. I’m willing to accept that in such a world, you might have to savor what good you find whenever and wherever you find it.
Characterization in Legend was excellent even beyond the main protagonists. June’s brother Metias was noble and good, and despite only knowing him for a few pages, it was sad to lose him. Thomas’s transformation was even more impressive and watching him close in on June’s lies kept me on the edge of my seat.
I give Thomas a frown this time. Turn the questions back around. “What were you doing at my door in the middle of the night?”
But I must say, I didn’t really care for Tess. She lacked any personality and didn’t seem to contribute much to the plot other than drawing Day and June together (which is admittedly a very important point!)
Essentially the only ‘faults’ I can find with Legend are more a matter of preference. Aside from the absence of a map, the lackluster Tess and the occasional delayed suspension of disbelief, the only other thing was Day’s use of the word “goddy,” as in “a goddy maze of sewers.” It made him sound like an old man and jarred me momentarily from the story. Overall Legend is a great book and Marie Lu is an author I’ll be watching.