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Legend by Marie Lu

Review by Sarah Gill

Legend is a 2011 dystopian debut novel written by Marie Lu. It is the first book in a trilogy and is followed by Prodigy and Champion. It is a story of revenge, betrayal, love and control; it will have your heart racing and your fingers poised ready to turn the next page.

The story is set in the future in a country called the Republic after the coast of California, USA, is split in two sectors: there are elite higher-class sectors where the privileged people live, and the poor sectors where the common people and homeless live. The poorer sectors constantly become infected with the plague as they cannot afford the expensive cures.

Each year, every ten-year-old child has to take part in the trials, a test hosted by the Republic to determine who will enter the army to fight against the Colonies (the Republic’s main enemy) or who will join the work force. Those who fail the trials are taken to labour camps and those who pass are afforded the opportunity to go to school. In the history of the trials, only one person has scored a perfect 1500. That person is 15-year-old June Iparis, the Republic’s prodigy.

Day, is the Republic’s 15-year-old most wanted criminal. He breaks into the Los Angeles Central Hospital in hopes of stealing a cure for the plague that threatens his family. During his escape from the hospital, Day allegedly kills Metias Iparis, June’s older brother. June is then chosen by the Republic to find and capture Day.

From the moment June meets Day she is completely drawn to him. After spending time together they begin to learn that things are not what they seem in the Republic as some of the mysteries begin to unravel themselves. Once separated, they have their own individual realisations that lead to the same conclusion; the Republic has been hiding a terrible secret.

At times I found Day’s physical strengths a little far-fetched considering he was brought up in the poorer sectors. He is very strong and athletic and because of these strengths he is seen by the Republic as the most evasive and dangerous criminal in history. However, he is an intelligent and resilient character, which made him such a thrill to read and also explains why June was so mesmerised by his charm.

I felt that June’s character was more believable in that she has come from a privileged life and has far more intelligence and physical abilities than others her age.

Throughout the novel, June and Day share the first person narrative with each chapter switching from one to the other as the story progresses. I found this to be a fun approach and I enjoyed how the chapters switched especially after the two characters encountered each other as it allowed insight into both June and Day’s individual motivations.

I found that the foreshadowing and narrative in the first few chapters before June and Day meet, took a little more effort for me to get through at first; however, the chapters were well written and were essential to the rest of the story.

The action scenes are fast paced and had me reading so eagerly that I finished the last three quarters of the book in one afternoon. Legend has a great immediacy to it, and I just couldn’t put the book down. The scenes are written with such pace that it propels with June and Day as they face seemingly unstoppable obstacles within their journey.

In true dystopian form, the book follows a classic three-part structure of the hero’s journey. Both June and Day come out the other side of facing each of their own internal changes and losses. There is a hint to the next book that there is a new challenge to be faced, this time though they will do it together.

The novel explores many themes with revenge being the strongest. June is driven purely for revenge of her brother’s death. She dreams of hunting Day down and bringing him in, not for the Republic but for her own selfish motives. Day is also driven by a sense of revenge toward the Republic for the things that they did to him after the trials, which is why he is a criminal.

Betrayal is evident when June meets Day before she realises he is the Republic’s number one criminal. Afterwards, when Day learns of June’s true identity, he feels the same betrayal.

The theme of love is what drives Day and is what has kept him in the Republic when he could have escaped. He has remained in the Republic to be close to his family and still tries to protect them. The glimpses into his memories of his mother are quite powerful and create an emotional connection. New love also emerges as June and Day explore what they mean to each other.

The romance and love story that begins to unfold between Day and June is not too over the top and it isn’t fully explored in this book but I hope to see it unfold more in the next one. This is another believable quality in both characters. They are drawn to each other, are only at the beginning of their relationship and are yet to explore what it means to each of them.

Lu’s use of control as a theme is also explored, with the soldiers of the Republic blindly following orders to confine families from the poor sectors to their homes when they are infected with plague; they let them die alone and without the help of their country. This demonstrates that during a war, soldiers will be controlled and it was very effective in this novel as it showed the power that the Republic had over its people and how much of an enemy they can be.

This is the kind of book you keep thinking about after you’ve finished reading it. Lu had me thinking about June and Day’s relationship, and their stories lingered in my mind also as I kept thinking about what might happen next in the second and third books.

Legend is an excellent dystopian novel, an exciting read. It is a great introduction to the characters and the world that the trilogy is set in. It would suit readers of Young Adult fiction and also lovers of Science Fiction to a mild degree. Though, if you are a technical Sci-Fi fan then this book may not be for you as it does not have many references to the mechanical aspects often seen in the Science Fiction genre. It is about rebelling against a post-apocalyptic society and should be read as the first novel in the series.

Image Atribution: Goodreads