A dystopian retelling of the classic novel, Les Miserables.
This is what the blurb of this book tells potential readers. Much to my disappointment, there were no moments of spontaneous singing nor did the main characters burst into song about dreaming a dream. There wasn’t a single flag bearer in sight urging everyone to hear the people sing.
Instead, Legend is dystopian literature at its best. At first glance, it may seem like another young adult novel whose characters are no different from other characters in the more highly-publicised dystopian novels like The Hunger Games or Divergent series. It would be easy to lump June Iparis, the main female character, with the Katniss Everdeen’s and Beatrice Prior’s of the book world. Indeed, the three share many similarities: attractive (of course) standouts, smart, naturally gifted in some form of weaponry and with the ability to attract multiple members of the male species at a time (insert eye roll here).
However, read past the first couple of chapters and the novel immediately distinguishes itself from its peers. The plot is well-developed and airtight. There are dark undertones to this novel that, with the state of the current world we live in and America especially, seems eerily relevant and prophetic. It tells the story of a divided country whose people have forgotten that they were once the all-powerful United States of America. Instead, two countries – who are perpetually at war with one another- have emerged: the Republic and the Colonies.
The novel is set in a distorted version of Los Angeles, a city that has been ravaged by floods and other natural disasters. Our heroine June is one of the ‘elites‘ and is the Republic’s darling. She is considered a “prodigy” having scored a perfect 1500 on her Trial, a test that all children in the Republic have to take when they turn 10.
In contrast, we have the boy known as Day, the Republic’s most notorious criminal who exists to wreak havoc on its plans, especially the plans dealing with warfare. Day failed his own Trial exams and was thought to be sent to labour camps along with other children who failed, only to find out that labour camp is just another name for death.
Their paths cross when Day is accused of murdering June’s brother during Day’s botched attempt to steal a cure for his brother’s plague. The murder of her one remaining family sends June into revenge mode and she goes undercover in the poor sector of the city to smoke Day out.
As this is a young adult novel, one can forgive Marie Lu for putting the romantic elements front and centre so quickly in this book. Its my opinion that this book would have been stronger if she parked that for at least one book more and allowed the connection to develop slowly towards its inevitable conclusion. I think putting the love story on display so prominently only distracted from the main plot, which was really quite good. Besides I think that the book already packs an emotional punch without it, with its elements of family, true friendship, sacrifice, and fighting for what you believe is right even when you seemingly fight alone.
This novel is not afraid to go graphic in its description of some of the violent scenes, which really surprised me. I suppose the young adult genre has changed a lot since I was a young adult and its now commonplace to have kids reading about people getting shot in the head or a mob full of people being gunned down. Then again, I think it would have been impossible to tell this story without showing the violence, a symptom of the corrupt nature of the current Republic.
Its interesting to note that a common theme in these dystopian novels seem to be segregation. In Hunger Games, they were separated into Sectors. In the Divergent series, teenagers were grouped according to their dominant abilities. The main message seems to be that segregation is the root of all evil. When one person or group starts taking it upon themselves to judge other people’s worth based on a set criteria, well, we all know what happened during the Holocaust.
There are so many story arcs going on in this book that makes me wonder how Marie Lu is ever going to tie up all the loose ends. At the same time, I cannot wait to see how she develops these storylines and what other revelations are in store for Day and June. The combination of an alternate-universe America and the prospect of future rebellion as June and Day work to expose the corruption of the system will win the acclaim of fans of the dystopian genre everywhere. Overall, Legend is a fast-paced, well-written and, dare I say, legendary start for what promises to be an epic trilogy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.