Book Review: Revel in Black Girl Magic in ‘Legendborn’ by Tracy Deonn

Cover design by Laura Eckes, Cover illustration copyright by Hillary Wilson. Image courtesy of Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

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Cover design by Laura Eckes, Cover illustration copyright by Hillary Wilson. Image courtesy of Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Tracy Deonn, a debut author this month, is here to create her own legacy in her contemporary fantasy book Legendborn – which you can purchase here. Legendborn brings readers into a modern-day legend. It follows Bree Matthews, whose life is thrown out of balance after the sudden death of her mother. When Bree starts an Early College (EC) program at UNC-Chapel Hill, she witnesses a magical attack and meets a boy named Sel who tries to wipe her memory of the night – only, Bree remembers everything. Soon after, a new memory resurfaces of the night Bree’s mother died, and she realizes a different (and magical) force may have had a hand in her mother’s death. A now determined Bree sets out to learn the truth, infiltrating a group called Legendborn to do so.

The first aspect of the book that caught my attention is Deonn’s imagery and the way she ties it into worldbuilding. Rather than write lengthy paragraphs, Deonn utilizes her characters to explain. Readers know as much as Bree, learning new information about the world when Bree does. Subsequently, Deonn connects the reader to Bree. Beyond worldbuilding imagery, Deonn’s style creates vivid images of everything that happens. She expertly sets the scene of UNC, how the characters look, and also describes Bree’s inner thoughts and emotions in a way that presents them as near physical characteristics.

Along the same vein, Deonn paints a vibrant picture of magic and the different forms it assumes. At the beginning of the book, Bree mentions magic in the metaphorical sense as she grieves her mother, not realizing there’s real magic in the room with her, exemplifying her loss of hope. Shortly after, Sel is introduced and Bree witnesses the magic attack. She becomes more open to the idea of something otherworldly (albeit reluctantly), and magic quickly becomes infused into the story. Deonn creates a clear distinction between the seemingly infinite source of magic Legendborn use and a form of magic that borrows its power from more natural sources, which is a finite source. Though one form is slightly more prominent, they each play an important role in Bree’s quest for the truth.

Deonn continues to expand the Legendborn world by breaking down the very legend the story spins. Her secret society is the Order of the Round Table. She goes in-depth about its ceremonies, hierarchies, and the different types of magic users that exist in her mythology along with Legendborn, such as darker beings called Shadowborn. The book is a distinctly modernized version that also pays homage to its classic source.

Character-wise, Deonn brings together a dynamic crew. Each character, regardless of how much page time they receive, lends themselves to the story, whether they are antagonistic in nature or offer support to Bree. They have distinctive personalities. They never come across as flat or uninteresting. Deonn makes it easy to root for (or not root for depending on the character) them. She does an excellent job writing characters who seem a little more ambiguous in nature, allowing readers to decide for themselves how they should respond to certain characters.

Naturally, Deonn’s most multi-faceted character is her protagonist. Bree’s journey throughout is a captivating one. First, Deonn takes a deep dive into Bree’s grief and the way it manifests. Bree separates herself into Before-Bree and After-Bree. After-Bree builds walls and defenses against intruders, protecting her self-preservation. But her grief also weighs heavily on her, emphasizing her anger. Deonn also examines racism – especially as it pertains to Black women – within the Order and in general and how Bree reacts. People notice Bree’s Blackness in ways that generate discomfort for her, which also leads her to become hyperaware of the literal, physical space she inhabits. These experiences provide thought-provoking commentary, as well as raise awareness that they are experiences that happen often. But despite the negativity she encounters, Bree keeps her determined resolve, highlighting her resourcefulness. She learns to use her emotions to her advantage. She’s also compassionate, even when it’s least expected. Bree is an excellent character, one who’s relatable and you quickly care about.

If you were searching for your next read, I’m here to tell you that Legendborn is it. Deonn writes with an evident knowledge of classic Arthurian mythology, as well as a strong passion for turning that mythology into something clever and unique. Deonn unpacks her world without overwhelming or compromising the story. She effortlessly blends high stakes action with more slower-paced moments, ensuring you remain invested in the story. She includes plot twists that not only shock (that ENDING, whew) but also move the story forward in exciting ways. And, of course, the book is all the more enchanting and memorable with its Black Girl Magic, both literally and in the more figurative sense. Trust me, you won’t want to miss this one.

Make sure you order Legendborn here or stop by your local bookstore to pick up your copy!

Julia

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Julia joined the Nerds & Beyond team in 2019 but has always enjoyed writing and talking about her favorite fandoms. She's an avid reader, movie watcher, and a lover of all things Christian Bale. She loves The Office, Hannibal, Bob's Burgers, and Mr. Robot

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