When Instagram raves about a book, it’s hard not to give into the hype. Influence is strong over there and when people are telling you to read a specific book because it was incredible, it’s hard to ignore. This goes double when friends who don’t have a bookstagram account are telling you to read the book as well.
To be honest, I have a vague understanding of Arthurian legends. I know about King Arthur and the Round Table, Merlin, the Guinevere and Lancelot debacle, and Excalibur, but I don’t remember much else. But you don’t need to remember everything because this book turned those stories on its head. And it gets a definite twist.
After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.
I really enjoyed this one. I felt like Tracy Deonn really took her time to write this story and putting together this beautiful world that exists within the real world. It’s obvious from the way it’s written that a lot of research went into it. Everything from how King Arthur made his way to the Americas to even Bree’s family lineage all the way back to enslavement were well executed and breathed a real feeling into it. While King Arthur might be legend, this story really brings that legend to life.
The real world components of being a young Black girl living in the American South and going to UNC – Chapel Hill felt very realistic, which is really nice because sometimes with urban fantasies, it’s like the characters live in some sort of vacuum. I loved that the real world was still very much real despite the Arthurian legends coming true. Bree had to face scrutiny and discrimination because of the color of her skin and her background. You can see that she has her guard up for some people, but when she takes her guard down, she’s loyal and sensitive and the fact that she’s struggling with her mom’s death really hit me in the heart gut.
It also dealt with grief, which as a young person asks a lot of questions. I love that Bree mentioned her “before” and “after” version and how after-Bree can sometimes lash out or cry while thinking about her mom. It felt like her mother was very much a part of the story despite her not actually being there. I can only imagine trying to go through this by herself. She has her dad and her best friend, Alice, there by her side, but I completely understand that there are some things you have to go through alone. I wanted to just hold her hand and be there for her as she did it.
But let’s talk about the actual Arthurian tale. I liked how Tracy Deonn created this magical lineage for the Knights of the Round Table. And I loved the whole secret society component. I’m a huge fan of secret societies in schools, so when I read this one had one, I was totally in love with the book! It then blew me away by having a competition for squire positions and scions! I love complex magic systems and while it does take me a second to figure it out, once I figure it out I love it. It always surprises me when YA Fantasy books don’t go deeper into the magic worlds or the world building, but I felt like Tracy Deonn put a lot of care and work into the magic as much as the rest of the story.
For most of the story, I couldn’t figure out how the legend connects with Bree’s magic. One’s this really old tale from Western Europe that made its way to America through the colonies while the other was created in America while through the struggles of enslavement. Even the mention of root magic vs. aether made me think that maybe they’re not connected. That was until they were and that reveal probably made the most sense. OMG! When it finally comes together (and it will. Trust me), it just made sense.
There were some YA tropes that I wasn’t a huge fan of. Things like how Bree just accepted this Arthurian world existing below the grounds of her university. I also wasn’t a fan of the weird love triangle vibes between her, Nick, and Sel, but I also figure this is a nod to the original love triangle in the story despite the fact that there was no Guinevere bloodline. And the pacing was a bit off for me. However, these tiny little things are really me nitpicking because the story makes up for all of it.
This story was emotional and beautiful. While it reads like a YA story, it didn’t lack in heart and beauty. I absolutely loved the characters in the story, how inclusive it was, and the big surprises waiting for you at the end. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Arthurian tales, secret societies in school, the chosen one, competitions, and coming-of-age.