Like every other industry, publishing is susceptible to fads. The success of The Hunger Games all but guaranteed a run on dystopian thrillers in which teenagers save the world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even Bram Stoker jumped on a bandwagon created by Carmilla, the vampire novella published 10 years before Dracula, and whose plot would have seemed incredibly derivative had it not come first. In other words, the fact that a book bears a passing resemblance to a blockbuster hit doesn’t make it a bad story on its own terms.
Such is the case with Legend. In her first novel, author Marie Lu has created a darkly sinister world, made all the more disturbing by the hints of our world that peek through. The United States has shattered, and the Republic is fighting the Colonies in an endless war. June is 15, and a military prodigy. In a world where children grow up fast, she has always been ahead of the curve. When her older brother is murdered, she joins his military unit with one mission: find his killer.
All of the evidence points to Day, the Republic’s most wanted criminal. Day is also 15, and is as opposed to the Republic as June is dedicated to it. When June finally corners him, she learns that the situation—and the Republic—may not be what she thought.
For a book to hold its own in a comparison with The Hunger Games, it has to be something special, and Legend certainly is. From page one, Lu has crafted a story that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go until the end. June and Day stand on opposite sides of nearly every issue, yet the reader roots for them both—for Day to escape, and June to learn the truth. Like most good dystopian fiction, the government looms heavily over the Republic. There’s a real sense of menace there, not only for the main characters but for the society as a whole. The narration and point of view flips back and forth between June and Day, with June’s chapters printed in black ink and Day’s in gold. It’s a gimmick, but it helps to emphasize the divide between the two characters.
As with many dystopian books, I found myself utterly absorbed in the world itself. What happened to divide the United States? How were so many freedoms we hold dear taken away? Some of these questions may be answered in the second book of the trilogy, due out in January 2013; others will likely remain the subject of speculation. Either way, Lu has created a world that will keep the reader musing long after the last page is read.
Legend by Marie Lu; G.P Putnam, c2011