Thursday, January 12, 2012

Legend, by Marie Lu- Review

In the past year I've been on a bit of a dystopian kick. Unfortunately, when you start off with an amazing series as your intro to a genre it becomes hard for the slew of books after to compare. So, what I'm saying is, it probably wasn't the best bet to start with The Hunger Games. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but although there was a large showing of dystopian YA and middle school books at the BEA, I was largely disappointed by the ones I took home with me (Eleventh Plague, Crossed, Shatter Me, Eve). Thank god I picked up Legend too.

From 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' 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.

Like Divergent, Legend went back to the world building so lacking in many of the other dystopians out there right now. One of the reasons I think The Hunger Games is so effective is not just because it's brutal, but also because Suzanne Collins built a world that although there is a lot you never learn about it, has a structure and order that dictates how things will roll out. It also gives the reader and the characters things to fear and to fight against that feel monumental. To roam in the middle of nowhere, unencumbered by government, of some kind, or military makes books like Eleventh Plague seem more like quest stories than dystopian.

Wikipedia, that great source of not-reliable or necessarily accurate info says this about dystopia:
A dystopia (from Ancient Greek: δυσ-, "bad, hard",[1] and Ancient Greek: τόπος, "place, landscape";[2] alternatively cacotopia,[3][4] or anti-utopia) is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, various forms of active and passive coercion. Ideas and works about dystopian societies often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and humans individually and collectively coping, or not being able to properly cope with technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity's spiritual evolution. Dystopian societies are often imagined as police states, with unlimited power over the citizens.

Julie Kagawa recently posted about the difference between post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories and she has some interesting points about the two and how they're often confused. But all put together I think it paints the elements that form a really solid dystopia. A society (no matter the size really), strict rules, and some kind of regime (religious/military/government), throw in one screwed up world (generally somehow post-apocalyptic) and one character who just can't conform, equals potential for some great story telling.

Legend does this all very well, Marie Lu has constructed a strong world with lots of hints at mysteries to still be unveiled, and a handful of characters with staying power. There's a love story (dude, when isn't there?) but it doesn't overwhelm Day or June's development or the development of the story. Much has been said about Marie Lu's writing style and the book in general, and a lot of it has been gushing. I must admit that although I really enjoyed the book and think it's one of the better dystopians I've read in awhile I wasn't fainting away over how spectacular it was. And I was surprised by that since a lot of the hype was coming from sources I can generally rely on. Maybe I was just expecting to much?

I have to say the one thing that bothered me was the whole beauty thing. I know I've said it before, and I can't help but say it again- does every YA character have to be some stupendous beauty??! It's brought up several times how good looking June is,
A cracked thought hits me and I want to laugh.  If she had not led to the death of my mother and my capture, if I did not wish she were dead, I would find her absolutely breathtaking.
I can't tell what she is, which isn't unusual around here- Native, maybe or Caucasian.  Or something.  She's pretty in a way that distracts me just like she did in the Skiz ring.  No pretty's not the right word. Beautiful. 
I just feel like there can be something a bit more ingenious done with the whole looks thing. Like maybe she could be so good looking it's a problem? Like in Kristin Cashore's Fire? Or you know, she could just be average. Weird, I know, but aren't most of us after all? Wasn't Katniss?  Or maybe June could be a super star and not beautiful to boot, as in the fact that she's amazing is more important than her looks. Maybe it just rubbed my personal story trope issues the wrong way.

Altogether Legend was a solid and enjoyable dystopian read. If you're sick of all the lack luster ones out there let Marie Lu transport you out of the dystopian funk.

Legend, Marie Lu
Published by Putnam Juvenile, November 2011
Buy Legend on Amazon

4 comments:

  1. Great review. I agree. I thought Legend was way better than a lot of the dystopian books I've read lately. I think I'm going to have to get away from this genre for a while.

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    1. Yah, there are far more disappointing ones then good ones unfortunately!

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  3. I have read a BUNCH of YA dystopians this year. Many of them ran together and it's hard to distinguish one from another in my memory. This one, however, stands out. Day is a truly fascinating character and this tale would have been worth reading for him alone. But this is an excellent story and I'm really looking forward to the next in this series to see where it goes.

    Mica
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