Day, the most notorious criminal in the Republic of America, is just trying to save his brother, who is sick with the plague in a family too poor to acquire black market medicine. When June Iparis’s brother is killed while guarding the hospital, she is abruptly graduated early from her military university and sent after the suspected murderer. As the two struggle—June to avenge her brother and Day to save his brother, the rest of his family, and himself—the sinister nature of the Republic becomes clearer.
Full of action, adventure, and daring feats by the fifteen-year-old protagonists, dystopian young adult novel Legend is Marie Lu’s debut novel. The story of Legend is told in alternating first-person perspectives of two characters who may seem familiar. Day is the vigilante wanted for his various crimes against the government—crimes he committed in the first place as retaliation against government atrocities. June fits a different archetype, the government’s darling who slowly turns against them as her eyes are opened. The familiarity of these tropes makes much of this book predictable, and none of the characters are developed much beyond that.
Even as a romance develops between the two perfect little prodigies, they continue to feel flat. Their interest in each other is initially founded on nothing more than physical attraction, and while that changes a little as they gain respect for each other’s impressive capabilities, they never get to know each other on a personal level—perhaps because these characters don’t have much in the way of individual personality to know anyway.
The military government characters, seen through June’s eyes, seem simply dedicated at first, and as her perspective changes they develop into flat, generically evil. Police brutality, senseless massacres, and totalitarian governments are, unfortunately, a part of the world we live in, and would logically be even more so in a dystopian world. In a dystopian novel aimed at older readers, I could expect such extremes of violence, but I am a little surprised to find them in Legend, which seems aimed more at younger teenagers. Not every young teenager will be prepared to face such harsh realities. More surprising is that, despite the blatant brutality and even sadism of these bad guys, the Republic’s innocent citizens don’t seem to think of rebelling (except for the shadowy Patriots, whom the Republic barely sees as a threat).
The story concludes in a way that left the ending with a nice feeling of open resolution; there aren’t any major loose ends left dangling and the overall struggles are wrapped up nicely, while there is still enough remaining open to lead straight into the sequel. Yet Day’s primary struggle to save his family seems meaningless and empty by the end, and June herself is left with nothing to fight for, just something to fight against. While the ending was overall satisfactory, it devalues the rest of the story in my eyes.
Legend is set in the future of the United States of America, in a barely recognizable Los Angeles, California. The formerly united country is divided into the Republic of America to the west and the Colonies to the east. The history of how that divide came about is covered up by the Republic’s propaganda, and the viewpoint characters don’t even know the Colonies and the Republic used to be one nation. Many moments offer tantalizing hints at the elaborate and fascinating history of Legend’s world, and I intend to keep reading this new series if only to learn more about the world.
Why should you read this book?
Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Legend. If you’re looking for story-driven dystopian entertainment with a fast action-filled plot, and aren’t bothered by flat characters, look no further. The action is gripping and the story engaging. Though flawed, this is nonetheless a promising debut and I expect to enjoy better things from Lu in the future.
Rebecca received a review copy of Legend courtesy of Penguin Teen.