Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. New York : Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020.
Discover a world of hidden magic only 40 miles away from Alamance County in Legendborn, a retelling of Arthurian myth that takes place on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. It was written by Tracy Deonn, a North Carolina author who graduated from UNC herself.
This young adult contemporary fantasy follows 16-year-old Bree Matthews who enters UNC’s early college program after her mother’s untimely death. Juggling chemistry homework, her relationship with her grieving father, and a changing friendship with her roommate, Bree also discovers that her mother’s death may not have been an accident. There is magic on UNC’s campus, magic that only Bree and a secret society of rich white kids can sense. After seeing this magic in action, Bree knows there was something mystical surrounding her mother’s demise. She just needs to discover what. Infiltrating the secret Order of the Round Table to find out more about her mother, however, Bree finds herself doing even more. Soon she is fighting demons alongside the descendants of King Arthur and his knights and learning that magic at UNC goes back farther than she ever imagined.
Legendborn is engaging and fast-paced. More importantly, it is deeply relatable. Despite the book’s fantastical elements, the story remains rooted in Bree’s grief for her mother. The book describes Bree’s ever-changing emotions in tangible ways that resonate with readers who know what it is like to lose a loved one. Bree’s loss is central to her coming of age story;the more Bree understands her family history and the connections between her, her mother, and generations past, the more she understands herself and what she is capable of doing now.
Through Bree’s fierce narration, readers also viscerally feel the way that race relations in the American South effect life in North Carolina today. Bree explains what it feels like as a young black person to be surrounded by old southern architecture that proudly announces it was built without the intention of ever letting negros inside. Readers see and feel what it means to Bree to see the Confederate statue on the center of UNC’s campus as she risks her life to save her school, her country, and the world. Tracy Deonn then deftly interweaves this history into Legendborn’s magic system. Just as the Order of the Round Table cannot separate their magic from their Arthurian ancestors, Bree’s magic comes from her African American heritage, a heritage that allows her to accomplish incredible things.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is a fun, accessible read full of magic, adventure, love, loss, and triumph. The novel is sure to be a hit with fans of The Hunger Games and Shadow and Bone. The book also deserves its Coretta Scott King Award for its portrayal of real American history as more powerful than legend in shaping the present of North Carolina. Readers should keep a look out for the sequel, Bloodmarked, coming out this November.
Rebecca Zimmerman is the Children’s Librarian Assistant at Graham Public Library. Contact her at email@example.com or 336-570-6730.