About the Book

Title: Legendborn (The Legendborn Cycle #1)
Published: 2020
Series: The Legendborn Cycle
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: Black Girl Magic
BFF Charm: Heck Yes
Talky Talk: Modern Fantasy
Bonus Factors: Arthurian Myth, Early College, Diversity
Factor: Series Starter
Anti-Bonus Factor: Discrimination
Relationship Status: Feeling Sparks

Content Warning: The topics of slavery and the abuse that came with (whipping, rape) are depicted in Legendborn as memories—i.e., events that happened in the past—but they are no less disturbing and might be triggering for some readers. 

Cover Story: Black Girl Magic

Although this term is often used in a more figurative sense, there is literal Black Girl Magic happening on this cover, and I am here. for. it. The young woman looks like a take-no-prisoners and take-no-shit badass, with a side of sorrow in her eyes, which is absolutely accurate for the story, and the ying-yang of her arms and the different colors of magic is another awesome nod to what’s within.

The Deal:

Three months ago, Bree Matthews’s mother died, and Bree separated into Before-Bree and After-Bree. After-Bree keeps things walled up inside herself, things that threaten to overwhelm or set fire to the world.

But when Bree sees magic—real magic—happen on her first night in the Early College program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, she’s thrust into the secret world of the Order of the Round Table, the descendants of King Arthur and his knights who have sworn to protect humanity from demons. And when Bree realizes that someone from the Order might have had a hand in her mother’s death, After-Bree’s lust for vengeance threatens to break her meticulously constructed walls right down.

BFF Charm: Heck Yes

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

Bree, fueled by her grief over her mother’s death, has a tendency to do her own thing without telling others or without concern for her own safety. Part of me wanted to be there for her to pull her back from the edge, but another part totally gets the anger that comes with grief, and so wanted to support her in her efforts. (Especially when Bree recognizes the racial inequalities and white supremacy of the Order; yas, Queen, you take them down!) Bree is absolutely the kind of person who’d go into literal battle for the people she cares about, and everyone needs a friend like that in their lives. (Particularly when we’re talking about actual battles against real, live demons!)

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

You’re intelligent folk who’ve read a lot of YA, so although this is a semi-spoiler I’m going to come right out and say it (because if you read this book you’ll figure it out as quickly as I did): there’s a love triangle in this book. It’s only going to get worse before it gets better, and I have no idea how it’s going to end up. But, the dudes are total dreamboats, both, in very different ways, so I don’t envy Bree’s struggle.

That said, there is a good helping of swoon in this book before the triangle gets too messy. It’s a very sweet, very early college “we can be alone together and my parents aren’t going to freak out” swoon, but nostalgia for that kind of fizzy chemistry is all too real.

Talky Talk: Modern Fantasy

Although the lore in Legendborn is inspired by the very old myths of King Arthur and other voodoo-type magics—mixed to great effect!—Deonn doesn’t shy away from being upfront about contemporary (and in some cases, sadly much older) issues. The Order is painfully white, and on more than one occasion during the book, Bree is othered because of the fact that she’s Black and a woman, both. Deonn’s messages on classism, racism, and sexism are powerful and moving and never feel shoehorned into a book about demons and knights. I applaud her for including these topics, because they’re absolutely part of the real world, even if the “real world” in this case happens to have magical bits.

Bonus Factor: Arthurian Myth

Young cartoon blond boy wearing a red robe and yellow scarf pulls a sword surrounded by sparkles from a snow-covered fixture

I’m all about Arthurian retellings, and the more feminist or diverse they are, the better. (The Round Table was such a sausage fest!) Deonn does a great job of using the known myths to inspire the new magical system in Legendborn; I wouldn’t call it a retelling, but it’s definitely familiar to anyone who knows even the bare minimum about King Arthur and his knights. (Also, I watched Deonn’s launch Zoom event in which she talked about how it’s actually impossible to do an actual retelling of an Arthurian myth because there’s no one story that people can retell, and this blew my mind with both its brilliance and how obvious it is now that she said it out loud.)

Bonus Factor: Early College

I love the fact that Deonn set this book on a college campus; it makes the secret society themes easier to believe than if it took place in a high school setting. (Bree and her friend Alice are juniors in high school, but attending an early college program.)

Bonus Factor: Diversity / Anti-Bonus Factor: Discrimination

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

In addition to Bree’s being Black in a very white (secret) society, one of her friends is non-binary. The powers that be don’t really know what to do with either of them, and that’s both empowering—eff the system!—and unbelievably frustrating—they’re people, not something other; they don’t need to be treated any differently than anyone else because of their race or gender identification and deserve to be as respected as everyone else.

Factor: Series Starter

Stack of YA book series

I’m not sure how many books Deonn plans to include in the Legendborn series, but there’s a very large world she’s created in the first book that I’m excited to explore in however many more she blesses us with.

Relationship Status: Feeling Sparks

I’d heard you were something special, Book, but I was reserving judgment until we could get together just the two of us. I’m glad to see that the hype wasn’t undeserved; there’s definitely something exciting happening here, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Literary Matchmaking

The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising #1)

Kiersten White’s Camelot Rising series is another reimagining of Arthurian Legend with emphasis on powerful ladies and diversity, but this one’s a historical piece.

Seven Endless Forests

Another fave that reimagines Arthur and his knights as a young woman and friends is April Genevieve Tucholke’s Seven Endless Forests. (Told you I liked these stories!)

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1)

And if you’re into collegiate secret societies that mess around with demons, definitely also check out Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Margaret K. McElderry Books, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Legendborn is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.