The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

At The Break of Day (Review: Legend by Marie Lu)

Marie Lu
Puffin 2012

June is a pretty smart cookie.  Passing her government’s aptitude tests with a perfect score, she’s already part way through her university training at just fifteen. Keen to start contributing to her society’s ongoing war effort, she’s itching to join her older brother, Metias in the military but isn’t all that good at following orders.  However, when Metias is fatally injured by the infamous rebel, Day, June finds herself on her first mission.  Day’s identity is shrouded in mystery and June sets off to find and destroy him before he destroys the society she holds so dear.  Meanwhile, Day lurks near his erstwhile home, terrified that his family is about to succumb to the deadly plague that is decimating the poorer sections of Los Angeles.  Increasingly desperate to save his youngest brother he finds himself suddenly thrown together with a mysterious girl who seems just a little too good to be true…

Told in duel narrative, Legend has two strong protagonists who complement each other nicely.  June is perhaps the least accessible of the pair, conditioned as she is by the society in which she has grown up.  She is certainly a child of privilege and is highly principled, believing that the party line drilled into her by her school and government is nothing but the truth.  She’s also exceptionally smart and focussed which makes her confusion later in the novel interesting to read.  While June could have come across as a rather hard character, Lu writes her cleverly allowing cracks to appear in her fa├žade and her gentler, more vulnerable aspects seep through.

Day is more instantly likable perhaps because he’s a more familiar sort of character.  Essentially decent, his crimes are driven by his deep-seated principles.  Educated rather differently from June, Day has witnessed the realities of the society he lives in and rails against it.  His driving force, though, is his family and his determination that his youngest brother should not have to face the fate of most of Los Angeles’s poor.  His interactions with June are based around an inherent kindness which in turn makes him inherently likable.  Were Legend to be compared to The Hunger Games (and believe me, it will be… but more on that later) Day would be a sort of Katniss/Peeta hybrid to June’s Gale.

Other characters pepper the story effectively.  Metias is ever present, even when he no longer remains part of the main storyline.  The relationship between him and June is very well written and there are a couple of points where it is deeply moving.  June’s soldier friend, Thomas, is another character who is compelling; hard to pigeonhole and therefore adding unease to all of their interactions.  The elder characters in the book come across as slightly familiar.  June’s commander is a dead ringer for The Hunger Games President Coin while Chian is more than a little reminiscent of a variety of creepy, evil guys.  Still, they do add to the creeping unease that builds throughout Legend.

The world building in Legend is interesting yet incomplete.  America seems to be in the grip of a civil war with two main factions fighting against each other while  rebellious Patriots hover in the background.  This is all well and good yet few questions are answered as to why the country is in such a desperate state.  While Legend is the first book in a trilogy (of course), Lu could have answered more questions, particularly in a story that takes a while to get going.  To make dystopian visions work writers either require a plot that is so compelling readers accept the past without question (a la Hunger Games) or a storyline that sketches out, even briefly, the basis for the current society (a la Divergent).  It may seem disingenuous, even unfair, to compare Legend to the successful books in this genre that populate the shelves right now but it will be compared and as of yet it’s hard to predict how it will fare.

Regardless of the whys and wherefores, Legend does remain extremely readable.  Roughly based on Les Miserables the story certainly has legs and the placing of Day as Val Jean and June as Javert works pretty well (although I did get a little obsessed by who Eponine might be – having only ever seen the musical my knowledge of the story is sketchy and my reading was accompanied by rousing renditions of a variety of show tunes) but Lu will have to up the ante considerable for Legend to reach it’s admitted potential.  But it does have potential and I would recommend this particularly to those readers who wish to try Dystopian YA for the first time or who are missing the inimitable Hunger Games.

Legend is available now.  Thank you to the publisher for sending me this title to review.


Jillian said…
I enjoyed this as well! Glad to hear you did too.
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