In the past year or so, I’ve gotten moderately hooked on dystopian fiction. I’m not sure why, as I usually prefer a more upbeat tone to my reading, but I suppose it’s the same reason that I got into dark fantasy. Good authors combined with good worldbuilding is a win in my estimation. When I started hearing good things about Marie Lu’s debut novel Legend, I picked it up out of curiosity and wasn’t disappointed.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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.”
Any dystopian novel leans heavily on the worldbuilding—readers need to believe that our world and our society can turn into the one created by the author. In the case of Legend, I found the society very believable because it appears to have strong similarities to Japanese schooling. In Japan, education is extremely important and performance often strongly influences a young person’s life after they leave the school system. There are also similarities to certain aspects of American education, where standardized tests are important and many schools emphasize “teaching to the test”. In Legend, your future is determined by your score on a single broad-reaching test, and although the outcome of failure here is taken to the extreme, it’s enough like reality to remain believable.
In that vein, what I like most about dystopian novels is getting deeply into that worldbuilding and seeing how these twisted societies tick. The author has provided readers with plenty of facts, although obviously things have been withheld for future books. Lu drops enough hints and tantalizing details to create a fascinating picture of a life bounded by rules and numbers, and I for one loved reading her ideas. I was reminded of Ally Condie’sMatched and how easily I slipped into that world while reading the book. Legend got a similar response out of me.
Given that the main characters, June and Day, bond in a very short period of time, the author stages their relationship as realistically as is possible under the circumstances. It’s hard to make readers buy into an attraction based on so little time spent together, but Lu does a decent job. While it still hovers on the edge of being too fantastic, for me it worked well enough that it didn’t detract from the novel.
What was a little harder to swallow was how two 15-year-olds could be so outstanding at just about everything. June is somewhat understandable, as she’s been indoctrinated and educated from a fairly young age, but Day has been living outside of the system for at least a few years. He has had less of an opportunity to benefit from the perks of society, and yet he’s staging high-level raids on government institutions and has avoided capture for quite some time. Personally, I was able to suspend my disbelief and just go with it, but I also recognize that not all readers will be able to do so.
This is Lu’s first novel, and as such, I can forgive a few minor flaws. Taken as a whole, this novel is engaging and interesting, with enough twists and surprises to keep readers turning pages. I certainly recommend this book to anybody looking for some new and exciting young adult fiction. Legend is staying on my bookshelf, right next to Matched and The Hunger Games.
Also by this author: Prodigy
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on May 2, 2012.