LEGEND by Marie Lu opens with high stakes and high suspense and remarkably manages to build up from there in an action-packed thrill ride that kept me hooked from page one.
The story is told by one of two main characters who alternate each chapter, Day and June. Day is a criminal, a poor kid from the slums rebelling against the system and currently the government’s most wanted. June is a prodigy, the only one to ever receive a perfect score on her aptitude tests, graduating from college at 15. She hails from the wealthy elite and breaks every rule she thinks is irrelevant.
The first chapter is a “Day” chapter where he’s keeping watch over his family’s home waiting for a plague patrol to finish their inspections so he can drop off some supplies and get out before he’s caught. He gives some back story as his wait stretches on and on, as the patrol enters his house and what would be a normal inspection turns into something new: a family member does indeed have the plague, but a new strain. The second chapter is a “June” chapter where she is caught breaking the rules, again, and due to her smarts and her family background, her crimes are swept under the rug, again. An orphan with only an older brother to care for her, she is left on her own in their apartment that night while her brother, a well-respected Officer in the Army, goes on a mission at the local hospital.
The two characters’ worlds collide as Day rashly raids the hospital for plague medicine at the same time that June’s brother arrives for his mission. During Day’s escape, he stabs the brother with a knife. When June is told of the incident, we discover that the brother actually died from his stab wound. June is elevated to agent level and assigned the task to bring Day in. Maybe her brains and youth will catch the elusive Day. June is on a mission of revenge and enters the slum world undercover. But when Day and June actually meet, he’s rescuing her from a mob and their attraction is instant.
The tension: Will June actually turn Day in? Will June and Day actually fall in love? As a government conspiracy starts to rear its head, how will loyal June adapt? Can she put aside her upbringing and patriotism for love and the possibility that what she thinks she knows is wrong? As families are put at risk, the stakes inch ever higher. As Day and June fall more and more in love, the stakes raise some more. As the government officials start realizing June might be on to them, as Day faces execution…the suspense builds and builds in heart-pounding action all the way til the last page.
I read this book in a day and I highly recommend it for lovers of the YA genre. It is very much like DIVERGENT/INSURGENT though has more of the political underpinnings earlier in the story as well as the action and physical prowess of the two protagonists which reminded me of THE HUNGER GAMES. In my opinion, it’s “better” than DIVERGENT/INSURGENT but not as good as THE HUNGER GAMES in how it gripped me with the characters, their emotions, the stakes, and the tragedy that strikes them.
I was intrigued when I picked the book up in the store and saw that the story was narrated in the first person by two protagonists. Being a YA novel I assumed that these two characters would eventually fall in love and this story-telling approach would allow access to each character’s inner thoughts. Having each chapter alternate between the two characters helped build tension and suspense over the course of the novel as I, the audience, became privy to secrets and actions that would effect the other protagonist. It was one of the aspects I most enjoyed in reading LEGEND. It’s like reading TWILIGHT and MIDNIGHT SUN together in the same book.
Compared to other YA novels I’ve read, LEGEND doesn’t dwell in a lot of the angsty emotions of teenage-hood. There are not a lot of love moments between Day and June. Most of the novel is plot driven. They meet quickly, their attraction is immediate, their connection seems undeniable, yet they don’t have much of a “relationship” emotionally or physically. The characters, though, are very strongly defined by Marie Lu and are consistent in their behavior, even when they are being erratic. What Lu deftly does is use the assumption of their love and delays their relationship with each twist in the plot. It drives up the suspense (and is also utterly annoying as a reader!) Like a soap opera where two characters make puppy-dog eyes at each other for years and then finally get together only to be separated by an ocean immediately afterward.
One of the characterizations I most enjoyed was June’s OCD calculations of time and space as she assesses her surroundings. She is truly a perfectionist whereas Day has more of the natural charisma and innate ability. It plays well between the two and helps to distinguish their voices and actions from chapter to chapter. I also like how the publisher printed each chapter in different fonts and colors to signify a “Day” or a “June” chapter.
The only real negative to reading LEGEND is that it follows fairly consistently the “dystopian” model of the YA genre and while I didn’t see specific plot twists occurring, the broad strokes of the story were predictable as was the love story progression. Overall, though, Marie Lu accomplishes a very nice read and characters that have stayed with me since I closed the book. Can’t wait to read the next one!