Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend--Marie Lu
November 2011 by Putnam Juvenile
320 pages--Goodreads

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. 

A bunch of my students love this series, so I figured I'd check Legend out.  Sadly, it was not as good as I had hoped it would be.  

I think I've finally figured out why most of the dystopian novels published in the last few years disappoint me:  they tend to use dystopia as a setting rather than as a social critique.  When I read a dystopia, I want the novel to hold up a mirror to our own world, to show the dangerous potential of where we could go, or to exaggerate our society's flaws so we can more easily see how they are problematic.  Books like Legend just use dystopia as a cool setting where the young heroes can be pitted against impossible odds.  That's just not as compelling to me.  

Additionally, the world building is too sparse.  Even ignoring the lack of social commentary, the setting is vague.  We never see how or why the Republic is a dystopia; we just have to take the synopsis's word that it is.  I need to see how the government is repressive.  What do they do that is so awful?  Since no one knows about the plague cause, that isn't enough.  What started the war between the Republic and the Colonies?  What happened to the United States to cause it to break  into factions?  Why would people start revolting at Day's arrest?  He's not a Robin Hood or a Mockingjay figure, and there's almost no evidence of repression, so the riot seems to exist solely to prick June's conscience.  More detail about the world will probably be revealed later in the series, that's too late.  You can surprise me later, but you must sell me on the world in the first book. 

INSTALOVE.  Seriously?  A military girl working undercover and a rebel criminal living on the streets should both be much much much slower to trust and should not start making out with each other a day after they meet each other.  I can accept descriptions of Day's gorgeous eyes and June's stunning beauty.  I'll just roll my eyes and move on.  But their relationship is way to serious given the time frame. 

June and Day's personalities and voices are not distinct.  Aside from their differing circumstances, either character could be narrating at any given time.  If you are going to use two first-person narrators, their voices need to be clearly different from each other.  As similar as the two characters are, they should not be identical. 

Lu gets points for allowing Day to be vulnerable enough to cry, but those points are cancelled out by Day telling June, "Sorry.  I couldn't help it," to explain why he kissed her.  You'd better help it, Bucko.  Even if you are not in control of your feelings, you are certainly in control of your actions.  Words on even the hazy end of the victim-blaming spectrum are not romantic.

Despite all it's flaws, Legend is a decently enjoyable read.  The mysteries, despite the bland world, are intriguing.  The writing is fast-paced.  The plot is exciting, and the book draws you in from the first line.  Legend gets a low 3.

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