It’s time for another blog tour post. This is one I’m doubly excited about because A) it’s for one of my most anticipated books of 2020 and B) it’s my first tour with a newer company, Hear Our Voices Book Tours! Their mission is to amplify and share #Ownvoices reviews for BIPOC stories. I’m so excited to be able to help with that mission while having the privilege to talk about this incredible book!
Before I get into my review, though, I want to thank Netgalley and the publisher, Margaret K. McElderry Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), for providing me with a free e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. When I requested Legendborn, I was honestly ready for that rejection email, lol. The noise I made when I was approved was… not human 😅 And, of course, thank you to Hear Our Voices for letting me be a part of this amazing tour! Please make sure to check out the other amazing bookish content creators that are part of the blog tour and the Instagram tour!
And now, let’s get to the book!
“Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.
After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.”
- Author: Tracy Deonn
- Series: Legendborn #1
- Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
- Publication date: September 15th, 2020
- Genre: Fantasy
- Age group: Young Adult
- Content/Trigger warnings: Racism, rape (implied/off-page), slavery, violence
About the Author
Tracy Deonn is a writer and second-generation fangirl. She grew up in central North Carolina, where she devoured fantasy books and Southern food in equal measure. After earning her master’s degree in communication and performance studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tracy worked in live theater, video game production, and K–12 education. When she’s not writing, Tracy speaks on panels at science fiction and fantasy conventions, reads fanfic, arranges puppy playdates, and keeps an eye out for ginger-flavored everything. She can be found on Twitter at @TracyDeonn and at TracyDeonn.com.
My Review + 15 Thoughts
Imma just come out and say it: this book was STUNNING! A book centered around Arthurian legends starring a Black girl is everything I never knew I needed! There was so much that struck me on a personal level, even though I didn’t grow up in the South or, ya know, have to fight demons on the regular. So, as I go through my review, I wanted to also share 15 thoughts I had while I was reading the book. Starting with:
The look at the effects of grief is raw, painful, and real.
The book starts out with our main character, Bree Matthews, learning that her mother has died in a car accident. This event is pivotal in not only Bree’s life, but the story as we continue. But what struck me the most was how much it made me hurt. I am blessed to have not dealt with the death of an immediate family member so far in my 37 years of living. But reading about Bree’s pain, her anger, her turmoil… I felt it like it was my own. That is a testament to Tracy Deonn’s writing. That she could make me feel and understand Bree’s grief on Bree’s terms shows a depth in character creation and storytelling that blows my mind!
Speaking of Bree, she is an incredible main character!
She’s strong and smart. She’s stubborn and flawed. She’s dealing with so many things that a young girl of sixteen shouldn’t have to deal with and it’s amazing to watch her develop and grow. The way she processes her grief, the way she fights to understand her abilities… everything about Bree is so carefully crafted and well-developed that you can’t help but root for her! I don’t tend to like a book where the characters feel flat and one-dimensional. Thankfully, the characters of Legendborn are anything but that!
I see my teenage-self in Bree.
Bree is part of an program where she starts attending college at the early age of sixteen. While I entered college in the traditional sense, I was only seventeen when I started, so I instantly felt a connection. A strong connection with the characters of a story always makes me love it more! And then I read this quote:
“If we could get into EC, we could leave Bentonville High and move to a university dorm two hours away from home – and away from parents who held us so tight that sometimes we couldn’t breathe.
And, God, did I feel that! I went to a college about an hour and half from where my parents lived at the time for that exact reason! Looking back, my parents were not nearly as overbearing and suffocating that I thought them to be, but try and tell teenage-Kerri that. I loved how much I could connect with Bree, even as a woman in her late thirties.
You can tell when white people haven’t met/talked to a lot of Black folks…
Another aspect of this book that really resonated with me is the look at microaggressions against Black people and, more specifically, Black women. Bree finds herself embedded in an organization where she is one of maybe two POC and most definitely the only Black girl. But, even before that, she has to deal with interactions with mostly white people that made me cringe. There’s an instant where a character makes a comment about Bree’s hair and her reaction was spot on.
“I cringe because his tone is the one that feels less like a compliment and more likes he’s happened upon a fun oddity – and that fun oddity is Black me with my Black hair.”
It’s interactions like these that make you wonder if you are the first Black person the commenter has made an attempt to talk to. Or, even worse, when they touch your hair without permission. Ugh.
Tracy Deonn really captures the feeling of being the only Black person in a predominately white space.
I grew up in the military, so I’ve lived a lot of different places with a lot of different cultures. One thing that was a constant, though, was that my family tended to live in the suburbs and the schools I tended to go to were predominately white. My brother and I were often two of only a very few Black kids. So reading about Bree navigating her way through a place like the Order of the Round Table brought back a looooot of memories. The feelings of having to just “deal with” some pretty racist remarks. The way people assumed you were there as some sort of minority check-mark and not because you earned it. The feeling of having to be twice as good as everyone else to prove you belonged. It’s all dealt with in an earnest and honest way throughout Legendborn.
Nick is awesome…
Oh, Nicholas. If I were to liken the characters to animals, Nick would be a literal Golden Retriever. He’s so earnest and sweet and good!! Once Bree is well and truly embroiled with the Order, all he wants to do is protect her and, though Bree is a badass who don’t need no man, it is so sweet to watch their relationship develop. Beyond his interactions with Bree, though, Nick is such an interesting character! He has a lot going on and a lot of layers that we just get a peek into in this first book. I’m definitely intrigued by where his development might take him.
…but Selwyn is my favorite and no one can change my mind!
If Nick is a Golden Retriever, Selwyn is that feral black cat you adopted that you think hates you, but will jump on your lap for an exact amount of chin scratches every once in awhile. I love Selwyn! I mean, yeah, at first I thought he was an entire asshole, but he most definitely grew on me throughout the book. So we now have three main characters whom I really adore… it’s no wonder I, with my character-focused self, loved this book so much!
Vaughn can catch these hands 🤬
That’s not to say I loved all the characters. There were definitely a few I wanted to jump into the book and fight on the regular. But that is yet another testament to Tracy Deonn’s writing! When I’m invested enough to want to fight a fictional character, you know you’ve got me hooked!
I love the nods to Arthurian legends!
One of the main reasons I wanted to read this book is because of the King Arthur aspect. I love Arthurian legends! I even took an entire course dedicated to it when I was in college. So when we get little details like people in the Order associated with the descendants of the knight Gawain having bright green handkerchiefs, my heart was happy. Arthurian legends are so convoluted (there are just so many) but I think Tracy did an amazing job weaving them into her story.
I also love the mystery weaved throughout this book.
As soon as Bree works her way into the Order, you can tell that something is not right. Demon attacks are on the rise, there’s tension among the members, and something just feels… off. I loved trying to figure out where the story was going alongside Bree. I love a good secret and this book has PLENTY! Speaking of secrets and mysteries…
The magic in this world is incredible!
The world-building around the magic and the lore is, perhaps, my second favorite thing about this book! (First being the characters, obvs) I think the author does an incredible job of developing her magic system and how everything works. I like how, even though there are established rules, there’s still some intrigue about how things work that we have to puzzle out (see my last point… I love a good mystery). It’s interesting, and it ties into the real world so well that it makes it both fantastical and believable.
The little nods to the power of Black women are just… *chef’s kiss*
There is a point where Bree is meeting with an older Black woman and she thinks…
“I can’t tell how old she is, of course, because Black women are magical like that. She could be forty or sixty, or some number in between.”
And, like… I felt that ❤ This book is filled with magic in the literal sense, but I loved the nods to Black Girl Magic that are interspersed throughout.
This book legit made me laugh out loud 😂
Bree has such a wry sense of humor that I was absolutely okay with spending the entire book inside her head. There were multiple moments where her thoughts had me snort-laughing! And not only were her thoughts amusing, but there were various interactions that had me vastly amused, as well. I do enjoy a book that connects with my sense of humor and this hit the nail on the head!
This book also made me feel the bone-deep weariness of an unexpected Wash Day.
Look. Black hair is beautiful, but it is a temperamental mistress. A planned for Wash Day is an event that can quite literally take all day. But when Bree had to deal with an unexpected Wash Day on top of all the other drama in her life? I felt that in my soul.
That ending, though… 🤯
ASKDMEKRNFD, THAT ENDING!!! I can say for certain that I did not see it coming but I am so glad it ended like it did! I do love when a book surprise me and that definitely happened here. And it was executed in such brilliant fashion, too! I cannot wait until the next book is in my greedy, little hands because I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!!!
Final thoughts/#Ownvoices reflection: What can I say other than this book blew my mind? There was so much about Bree’s story that made me feel incredibly seen. There were uncomfortable, if familiar things. The way she feels she has to shrink herself to navigate white spaces. The way she is constantly fighting just to be seen as an equal. The many microaggressions she has to deal with on a regular basis. But there were also beautiful things. Her pride in her wonderful, natural curls. Her relationship with her father that made me think of my own dad. And the kinship she finds when interacting with some Black women she meets during this story. I felt represented in this story entrenched in Arthurian legends in a way I have rarely felt in the most contemporary of stories. I grew up loving fantasy novels but always resigning myself to the fact that people who looked like me were either absent, evil, or side characters. It makes me unbelievably happy to know that my children and the generations after them won’t have to grow up in that same world. They will be able to pick up a book like Legendborn and see themselves, front and center.
And they will have a damn good time while reading it, too! This book has everything I could want in a great fantasy: compelling characters, interesting magic system, and excellent world-building. If you’re looking for a fast-paced story where secrets abound and trials await, I think you would love Legendborn!