Legend by Marie Lu: Book Review
"What a joke! Poor little rich girl's fallen in love with the Republic's most famous criminal."
June and Day have no reason to cross paths. June is the Republic's prodigy, sworn to a country that promises its people a future of victory and glory. Day is the Republic's most wanted criminal, born into the slums and struggling to help his struggling family. Everything changes when a mysterious X appears on Day's family's door, signifying that someone has the plague. Desperate to find a cure, Day breaks into a hospital and in his escape, injures Captain Metias. That evening, June is told that her brother passed away and it was the infamous criminal that killed him. In a daring game of cat and mouse, June and Day are in a dangerous battle, each fighting for their own ulterior motives, but perhaps their aggression is directed in the wrong direction.
Told in alternating point of views in a rich, dystopian setting, Marie Lu invites the reader to join on an epic adventure where corruption, murder, and love take center stage.
I am 100% biased when it comes to writing this review and I have little to no shame. I originally read this book in 2013, when I was only eleven. This was the book that made me want to write my own book. This was the book that helped me in dark times. I have a very personal relationship with this book that goes back far into my early adolescence.
First, let's talk about Day. I adore Day as a character. He is brave, cunning, and resourceful. I absolutely adore characters who think outside of the box. It's clear that he is always using his environment to his advantage, from setting a dust bomb off and using the crowd as a distraction (p. 90). The thing I love most about Day is his humility. He is constantly complimenting others in his head, admiring the work that they do. He is always willing to learn from others, although he has a rough relationship with education/academia. It's great to see a character who wants to learn that isn't in the conventional setting.
Second, let's talk about June. Of course you know what I'm going to say. I adore June. She's confident, independent, and of course a smart-ass. Of course I find it easy to relate to a cheeky heroine. She quickly calls out her school's secretary for sucking up to her brother, Metias (p. 21). I find that upon the plot twist at the end of the book, we really get to see June's true character shine. We learn about what she stands for and how far she is willing to go. She serves as a great example for those coming from a place of privilege that go out of their way to fight injustice.
Perhaps it's because I've read this whole series at least three times already, but I found the side characters to be rich and interesting. They don't get that much page time, but in only so many words Marie Lu is able to make them come to life. I find that this is easily done by giving each character a motive and the audience can see how they go about achieving that motive.
I will admit, the word-building is subpar in Legend. The lore does get more complex in the later books, but even I can acknowledge that it does feel superficial in the first book. In Day's world of the slums, there are only odd skitz fights and dilapidated bars. I found that Marie Lu does make a commentary on eugenics and how it affects disabled people, however she doesn't take the opportunity to explore racial issues.
Every Republic citizen is required by law to take a trial at the age of ten. Their score determines their job opportunities and education. If one does not pass their trial, they're sent off to labor camps. As one can see, this could easily be seen as a commentary on eugenics and how it interacts with ableism and classism.
A lot of main characters who are in power throughout this series are people of color, which is great. But I would've thought that the racism from one hundred years before would've leeched into the Republic's trials. I find this racism-free utopia to be completely unrealistic. I would chalk this up to coincidence, but if one is writing a dystopian book, I'd expect for the piece to comment on the injustices of the world.
It feels off to write a book that is similar to atrocities that happen today and not bring up the issues of race. I understand that I am one reader with one opinion, so take mine with not just a grain of salt but a gallon of it
I only know that this book was mean to be a twist on the tale of Les Miserables, which it certainly isn't but it was still entertaining, even if it didn't meet Marie Lu's intentions.
Okay, so once we unpacked all of that...the book is a great, entertaining read. Eleven year old me believed that this was the height of literature. Do I still think that now? No. I recognize that the prose is simple, but simple isn't bad. The book was told in a fast paced, mystery, dystopian, YA-esqe style that kept me up at night because I just couldn't put it down.
I'd recommend this book to
YA dystopia fans
readers trying to find good 2012-2014 YA
young teens who want a fun, quick paced red
CW: violence, murder, torture, bombing, beatings, public execution