I can write rants. I can write gushes. It’s the books in the middle that are tricky. The books that leave you with a lukewarm feeling; that feel like eating oatmeal tastes Legend is a solid book. Not awful, but not riveting. For me, that encapsulated the experience I had reading Legend.
I read Legend six years too late. Penguin, and Lu, published this book at the height of the dystopian craze. Everyone craved it; everyone read it. I missed the train and, now, the market has been supersaturated. Maybe that’s why Legend didn’t enchant me. Or perhaps I expected more after Leigh Bardugo, one of my favorite new authors, recommended Lu’s writing. Unfortunately, Legend relied on a number of tropes I’ve seen one too many times. I expect it’ll make a great film, and perhaps the following books will build on the outline she’s created, but I expected more.*
*I will say I enjoyed Legend more than Divergent and, perhaps, if I’d read it at a different time, it would have sat with me better.
Plot and World:
Set in a future society, built from the fractured United States, called the Republic, Legend splits its narrative into two points of view: June, a prodigy, whose family has served their government and benefited from it, is tasked with bringing in the most notorious criminal in the Republic after her brother’s death. Day is a mastermind born far from the well-cared-for capital, whose circumstances force him to risk his life to care for his family.
Legend’s best features are it’s structure and pace. She integrates needed information well with an ever-moving plot. Given the subject-matter, and the knowledge protagonists are always the heroes, the plot-twists can largely be predicted from the beginning. Of course the wealthy-prodigy June discovers the government’s duplicitous actions.
The world functioned more as a backdrop, which is disappointing. The best in the dystopia genre, and perhaps fiction as a whole, uses world to create tone and suspense. The world carries a hefty part of the message After all, the underlying question in all dystopias is: How did they get there? What could cause this? What’s happening now?
These questions are pushed to the side. For that reason, one might argue Legend falls more in the action-thriller category than dystopia.
The author drops mentions of a war with colonies and a network of rebels within the Republic throughout the novel but the story features June and Day’s relationships more than their interaction with the world around them. Still, the end opens more room for a more prominent role for the world in the following books.
Genius characters rarely convince me of their, well, genius. There’s a fine line to walk here. Too much demonstration, the book gets bogged down in terminology and theory, but without some strategic thinking it feels a lot more like the author is telling us the characters are brilliant.
In fact, not until the end do the characters pull some serious strategic moves. Some of them disappoint. Time dedicated to explaining how characters solved problems, or to them working through unexpected obstacles, would have been welcome. The circular logic of “geniuses solve problems because of their genius” doesn’t play well, and other times their solutions felt a little too convenient. Unfortunately, these can’t be explained without spoilers– but let’s say the characters’ actions did not mesh well with what we knew about the world and what we knew about them. However, given Lu wrote herself into a corner, she managed to move the plot forward with minimal damage.
Characters do have an emotional arc– one more than the other. But, we’ve seen these arcs before. The drawn to each other, genius characters who fell on opposite sides in a cruel, seemingly arbitrary world. One has lost their family and has had their revenge co-opted by the villains, while the other plays the shining hero Robin Hood type trying to save theirs. It was, okay. Just okay.
Okay enough to pick up the next book? We’ll see.
Three stars out of five to Legend.