Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend
Marie Lu

Putnam Juvenile (2011)
305 pages
YA / Dystopian / Adventure

Purchase it from Amazon here

I’m having the opposite reaction to Marie Lu’s Legend as I had to Ally Condie’s Crossed – I don’t quite know why I didn’t like it more.  Perhaps it was the five days between reading the first third and picking it back up to finish that dampened my interest.  Perhaps it’s because I keep hearing so many familiarities between the characters in Legend and the ones in White Cat, which I’m currently listening to on audio book, and I haven’t quite made up my mind about White Cat yet.  I’m not sure what it is, but I did enjoy Legend.  I found the characters intriguing and, while a bit predictable plot-wise, I also found it exciting.  So let’s put our analyst hats on for a minute and see if we can figure out why I didn’t love this book as much as I should.

Legend is about a girl and a boy from different sides of the tracks in a future version of the United States where Los Angeles and much of the West Coast are known as the stable Republic and the rest of the former country is referred to as The Colonies.  The Republic and the Colonies are at war.  I’m not entirely sure over what, but the Republic is a bit of a police state, divided into vastly different rich and poor sectors.  There also happens to be a deadly plague floating around.  So basically, your standard "life sucks" dystopia.

In this Republic, every child must take the Trial at age 10, which determines whether they’re shipped off to work camps, placed in a profession, or sent to college before being recruited by the military.  Our female character, June, is the only kid to ever get a perfect score on these tests and is a prodigy recruited into the city police (a branch of the military) as an officer at the age of 15.  Her male counterpart, Day, is a poor street kid, who is the Republic’s most wanted criminal.  He is also 15.  June thinks Day killed her brother, so she’s out for revenge.  Espionage, hidden identities and street fighting follow.

I really like the characters of June and Day.  I particularly like how the story was told in alternating chapters from their individual perspectives.  From a visual sense, I also like that Day’s chapters were in a different font and color than June’s.  I thought that was an interesting touch and I hope it’s something that carried over into the finished version.

Day and June are very much the same outside of their different backgrounds.  It’s very much a nature versus nurture thing – their nature is identical, but the lives they’ve lived also make them drastically different.  Day is very pragmatic, a realist, who can see the world as it is.  June is strong, stubborn and determined, blinded by the faith she has in the Republic and the rhetoric that’s been hammered into her head from a young age.  Both are passionate about family, agile, clever and defiant, standing up for what they believe in.

I have to hand it to Marie Lu though.  She did some things that I did not think she’d do.  There’s bloodshed in this book and it often times came suddenly and unexpectedly.  The main plot points are pretty predictable, but these jarring events that are small in the context of the story but huge in their lasting effects really surprised me a few times.

Commander Jameson is a bit of a mustache twirling bad guy, which is a little funny because she’s a woman.  To be honest, all the government officials we meet are kind of not-so-subtle mustache twirlers.  This is very much a book of black and white, where sides are clearly drawn from the beginning and nothing much happens to add any shades of gray.

I didn’t buy that June and Day were only 15 years old.  Yes, I realize that both have been placed in adult situations that force them to grow up much faster, but emotionally they spoke and seemed a few years older.  Once I gave in and thought of them as a bit older, it didn’t bother me as much.

I have little gripes like how the Trials aren’t described in much detail, so they reminded me of the training scenes in The Hunger Games.  Or how there’s a part about the significance of Day’s necklace, but it doesn’t go anywhere.  I also couldn’t quite wrap my head around how a 15-year-old kid could be public enemy number one when there’s a war going on and Colony (Colonial?) spies running around everywhere.  Is Day really doing the most damage?  Or are they just embarrassed that a kid is doing so much damage?  If it's embarrassement, why would they advertise his existence so readily?

But overall, it’s a well written, compelling story with characters with whom I enjoyed spending time.  There just wasn’t that little extra something that made me all flustered and flailing over it.  Many pieces popped up in the story momentarily and then disappeared, which often frustrates me though I can only imagine they’ll come into play later on.  I’m curious to see how the sequel changes the dynamics both of the main characters as well as the world they currently live in.

I’ll probably pick up the sequel because I did like these characters and I’m curious to see where Lu takes things, particularly in relation to the plague.  I’d recommend Legend but with a slight caution that the hype might dull the impact a little.

B-

Fun compelling characters in a mostly predictable plot; standard dystopian world with a repulsive form of government and shady bad guys; lots of action and occasionally shocking moments

 

Addition 12.02.11 - Marie Lu talks to Entertainment Weekly and includes the background behind how the Republic and Colonies formed.  It doesn't sound so complicated and, I think, would have been useful to include in the actual book.

 

I received an ARC of this book from the publishers when I harassed them at Comic Con.  They did not know I was a blogger.  This is an honest review.