Author: Marie Lu

Publication: 2011, G.P. Putnam

Pages: 305

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  The Republic of America is a harsh, dictatorial country made up of what used to be the western states of the US – though the citizens of the Republic have no knowledge of this history.  In the Republic, every kid has to go through the Trial when they’re 10 – a complicated test that determines everything about their future – whether they go on to high school and eventually college, get a job, or get shipped off to a labor camp.  Only one person in Republic history has ever achieved a perfect score on the Trial.  June has raced through high school and college and at 15 has been inducted as an agent in the Republic’s army.  Her first mission: to investigate her brother’s murder.  The suspect is 15 year old Day, one of the most notorious criminals in the Republic.  But from the start, something about this case doesn’t feel right.  Before long, Day will challenge all of June’s long held beliefs, forcing her to choose between loyalty to her country and loyalty to her conscience as they race to uncover some of the most deeply guarded secrets in the Republic.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Legend is one of those books that just has a very cool vibe.  It’s not that the voices are especially hip – though they do feely intensely authentic.  It’s more that the action, scenery, and characters all come together to draw you into an intense story about two teens standing up to the power of a totalitarian government.

Lu takes on a difficult task here, writing in alternating first person perspectives.  One chapter is from June’s point of view, the next from Day’s.  It would have been easy for one of the characters to overshadow the other, making the book feel off- kilter, but Lu does an amazing job of bringing both characters to life and giving them two distinct voices.  It was easy to know which character I was following even without reading the chapter header.   Having both main characters in first person made for powerful reading, especially once they came together.

The city of Los Angeles and the government of the Republic has been created in vivid detail – from the half-flooded, dirty slums to the high rise apartments with livestock living on the terraces.  I loved the many little details Lu put into building a picture of the Republic.  Every song people sang was an anthem to the government, every movie a piece of propaganda.  The country’s top university sends all its graduates to the military.  People’s futures are determined at age 10 through a test that makes the SAT sound like a cakewalk.  The Republic felt like an all too real place, clear enough in my mind to make me very uncomfortable.

What I Liked the Least: The soldiers and police of the Republic were too universally corrupt, ruthless, and unemotional.  I would expect a certain level of corruption and violence from them.  It might even be the norm.  But Lu goes too far in demonstrating just how heartless the guardians of the Republic can be.  In one scene near the end of the book she describes a police officer beating a nine year old boy and demanding food and money from the kid’s family over a minor incident.  It felt unnecessary.  I already knew how corrupt the Republic was by that point.  I didn’t need it drilled into my head anymore, and would have preferred a brief reference to a soldier or cop acting with even a trace of humanity.  It would have added an extra layer of complexity to the story.

***spoiler alert*** At the end of the book June has to break Day out of prison.  I won’t go into any details here, but I felt like the escape was too quick and easy.  More to the point, June is portrayed as an incredibly intelligent and creative person with some serious skills under her belt.  Granted, Lu throws a lot of obstacles in her path, smashing all her carefully laid plans for the escape.  But even so it felt like June took a very seat-of-her-pants approach to the whole thing, only succeeding because of luck and the sacrifice of others.

How Good was the Action?  Lu’s accomplished something very rare for a book written by a woman, featuring a female lead with strong romantic elements.   She’s taken what could have been an emotion-driven story with the occasional touch of action and turned it into a kick-ass romantic thriller.  The fights and chases are done in glorious blow-by-blow detail and Lu doesn’t skimp on the blood.   She finely balances the action and the characters’ emotional reactions to the violence going on around them, and makes each scene tense enough to draw you in and invest you in the outcome.

How Engaging was the Story? Very.  June and Day were so authentic, and their stories so powerful, that I wanted to know more.  And by constantly flipping back and forth between them I was always on tenterhooks, having to wait a chapter to find out what happened next.

Overall Assessment: Legend is a fun read with some great characters and a handful of intense action sequences, but it’s also the kind of novel that will make you think.  It will make start asking questions about what’s worth fighting for, and when it’s time to start questioning the things you believe to be true.  Those are hefty topics, but Lu handles them with style and grace, weaving them into what is otherwise a kick-ass, romance-laden thriller.

Profanity: None

Sex: There’s a brief kiss or two, but nothing more serious than that.  At one point June and Day also share a bottle of wine.

Violence: Yes.  There are some fairly bloody fights, with people getting stabbed or having their arms broken.  There are some fairly graphic beatings and a sobering scene in which a prisoner gets tortured.  It’s not gory, but there are just enough details to make you queasy.

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