Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review: Legend by Marie Lu

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.

Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.*

“Legend” is a book that’s been getting a lot of airplay over at Goodreads for being a “good” dystopia. What does “good” dystopia mean? Presumably that it doesn’t revolve around true love and sticking it to the society (oh, pardon, Society) for no other reason than because it stops you from being with the one you care for. (Which is, you know, legit, but not solid enough motivation for the long run.)

In terms of providing solid writing and powerful characters, “Legend” definitely delivers. Day and June, the two protagonists whose eyes we borrow throughout the book, are very well drawn, and you can easily relate to them. The plot moved at a fast pace, the stakes kept getting bigger and bigger, and by the end, you could not tear me away from the Kindle.

I especially liked June, because of how she handles everything. Throughout the book, she systematically has all her supports taken out - her brother, their childhood friend, the boy she might come to care for, and many more - and yet she approaches all these challenges with a quiet determination to get through to the end. It’s admirable that she manages to retain her focus, even when she hurt.

I also liked Lu’s take on the “Nice Guy” problem - you know, when a guy would rather try to earn a relationship by being a friend first, but would not ever put his own feelings at stake. I like how she handled that - very nicely done. June faces the double whammy of being female and a very popular figure in the Republic, so some very problematic expectations were leveled at her, but she manages those too.

However, I really think that “Legend” works better as a sci-fi, or maybe even as an alternate-universe piece than it does as a dystopia. I just don’t think it manages to explore dystopian trends well - the world is sketchily drawn, with the same standard “evil government” elements thrown in. There’s not really an explanation why the Republic came to be, or what is the bigger conflict besides those two people.

Then again, this is a criticism that can be leveled at most, if not all, YA dystopias nowadays. Moreover, the book is told from the viewpoints of June and Day, which means that we only know as much as they do. Some worldbuilding fails, like the Trials and the genesis of the Republic, can be attributed to them being unreliable narrators.

Ultimately, “Legend” isn’t really a book about the individual standing up against a repressive society, as much as it is a character study about grief, family and conformism. As such, it wins on every level.

*Image and synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.

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