Jan 6, 2012

Review: "Legend" by Marie Lu

Warning: This review may does contain spoilers.

Dystopian sci-fi has really been on fire for the last few years, and Legend by Marie Lu is one of the newest installments to the genre. I actually stumbled onto this novel on Amazon, while searching for new dystopian novels. The premise sounded pretty good, so I decided to ask for it as a part of my Christmas book bundle.

Available on Amazon for $12.23
And I was not disappointed.

Legend is set in a far future America, ravaged by natural disasters (go figure), that has split into the Republic of America and the Colonies. The Republic is ruled by an "elected" Elector Primo, and the entire society is severely weighed toward militaristic. There is little to no equality among the people, with the small upper class being extremely wealthy and practically everyone else living in the slums.

However, all children from both classes are forced to undergo the "Trial," which is a supposedly fair test of intelligence, physical strength, and mental stability. The children who score very highly get their choice of university and occupation. Those in the middle ranges get to go to college, but don't end up in the most lucrative positions. Those in the lower ranges end up in the slums.

Those who fail get carted off to "labor camps."

Oh, and did I mention they take this "Trial" at age ten?

So, like usual, you have the dystopian totalitarian-style government that wrongs the majority of its people, torments them with poverty and militaristic police, and kills off any dissidents without a second thought.

Standard setup, yes, but Lu executes it well.

It's her characters, however, that really shine. The novel centers around the pampered military prodigy, June, and the young master criminal, Day, who get caught up in each others' lives when Day is accused of murdering June's brother, Metias, during an attempted theft of a cure for the plague that has sickened his younger brother.

From here, everything quickly spins out of control for both of them. Day's slum-dwelling family is forced to watch as the youngest brother gets sicker and sicker, and Day struggles to find a way to get the cure for him. His plight is compounded by the fact that he can't visit them in plain sight. His mother thinks he's dead, and there's a massive price on his head as the Republic's most wanted.

Meanwhile, June, shell-shocked by her brother's sudden death (and thus, the death of her only guardian), ends up recruited by her brother's former commander. She is graduated early from her university and immediately sent on a mission to track down Day. She also finds herself having to fend off advances from her and her brother's closest friend, Thomas, who continually attempts to get closer to her despite her rejections.

If there's anything I can say about Lu's story, it's that it never stops going. There are no pauses in the plot, no point at which the action wanes. As soon as her characters and story are set in motion, they just keep speeding up right until the end.

As expected, June and Day end up meeting in the slums while June is undercover, neither knowing who the other is. They gradually strike up a friendship (and, this being YA, a budding romance), and it's striking even to the reader (well, at least to me) how alike they are. Both highly intelligent. Both cunning. Both physically skilled. They see details in the same way. They dissect situations expertly. They're basically exact counterparts of one another, which I was quite happy to discover because it really makes Lu's points about their society come across loud and clear.

After their meeting, a rapid set of events unfolds, wherein June realizes who Day is, gets him captured, and then suddenly stumbles upon the truth about their society: those who fail the Trial don't get sent to labor camps. They get experimented on and killed. And not only that, but Day, who supposedly failed his Trial, actually got a perfect score (where June was supposed to be the first one ever to do so). They only claimed he failed. Why?

Well, June never discovers the reason herself, but it's heavily implied that they sent Day to die because they found him too "rebellious." Because the only thing more dangerous than a "dumb" rebellious boy from the slums is an ingenious one.

On top of all that, June realizes that her brother--who uncovered the truth--was actually killed by the military (read: his own "friend," Thomas) for doing so, and that Day was just set up to take the blame. And if that wasn't bad enough, the government also killed her parents after her father, a medical doctor, uncovered the truth about the ever-lasting and evolving  "plague": that it is purposefully given to the slum-dwellers in order to test it as a viable weapon for the war against the Colonies.

 Horrified by the government and what she's done, she sets up a plan to break Day out a prison before his execution. And, of course, she succeeds (or else this novel would be very sad and probably be a stand alone).

At the end, you're left with the quite the setup: Day's sick brother, Eden, who's been infected with a mutated plague, has been carted off to the front lines for military "uses." June and Day, now both fugitives, are on the run, and their only hope for survival may be the Colonies that the Republic has fought so hard to destroy.

So, my overall impressions of this story are quite good. It is predictable at times, but then again, it is YA, so you can't expect it to be overly complicated. The characters are a shining point for Lu, and I can't wait to read some more of their adventures. Her setting, while "standard" for a dystopian story, is well-designed and believable. And really, you can't ask for much else.

Although, I should mention something that really got me: the book design. If you buy this book, buy it in print. The design of this book extends beyond the cover. The fonts for June and Day's POVs are different, and Day's chapters are actually printed in a shade of gold. It's quite pretty and very different from your average book.

So, to read or not to read? I say read it. You certainly don't stand to lose much, and it's a fairly entertaining story. I can't wait to read the sequels.

Rating: A-

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