These two books – both finalists in the Teen Speculative Fiction category of the Cybils Awards – have complex, multilayered, and very compelling narratives. Legendborn also won the Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe for New Talent Author Award. (And watch for the Cybils Awards winners to be announced on Valentine’s Day!)
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. Narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt.
Simon & Schuster, 2020.
Listened to audiobook on Libby.
I’d been excited about this book from the moment I heard about it, and was so excited that my hold came in the day it was announced as a Cybils finalist.
16-year-old Bree Matthews is still reeling from her mother’s sudden death in a car accident. She’s changed so much she hardly recognizes herself, but decides to go ahead with her plans to start an advanced high school program at UNC-Chapel Hill with her best friend anyway.
Then, on her first night there, she sees a demon. And one of the two people who sees it as well tries – but fails – to erase her memory of it. But the feeling triggers a memory of the hospital after the accident – someone there tried to erase her memory as well. Could these two incidents be related? When the boy she’s assigned as a mentor, Nick, turns out to have been involved in the same group, she comes up with a very risky plan to infiltrate the group to find out the truth about her mother – though being the only person of color in a very white group requires both a thick skin and making more scenes than she’d really planned for. The group claims to be descendants of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, still carrying out his mission centuries later. Will Bree be able to keep herself separate, or will she be forced to join for real? What about the increasing number of lies she has to tell her father and her best friends? Things get even more complicated when her psychologist, a Black woman who knew her mother in college, introduces Bree to traditional Black magic, Root, and warns her of the evil of the magic used by the Order. And yes, there’s some of the expected love triangle as well.
So, very intense (corroborated by my goddaughter, to whom I gifted a copy), with lots of demon-fighting, secret societies with even more secret plots, but also family and friend issues, and dealing with both the good and bad parts of being a Black teen in a racist society. It was reminiscent of Buffy with that mix of demon battles mixed with the social challenges of school and family, but with much more up-to-date racial consciousness. I am definitely looking forward to the next book!
Burn by Patrick Ness.
Quill Tree, 2020.
Read ebook on Libby
(audiobook also available.)
It’s 1957 in the tiny town of Frome, Washington. Sarah Dewhurst, whose Black mother died two years ago, is waiting at a gas station with her white father for the dragon they’ve hired to help with their failing farm – something that will make them even more outcasts than being a biracial family. But though her father tells her not to talk to the dragon, she does. Kazimir tells her that she is in danger, and though she’s not really special, she’s prophesied to save the world. He thinks, anyway – prophecies are slippery things. Meanwhile, Sarah and her almost-boyfriend, Japanese-American Jason, are definitely in danger from the openly hostile deputy sheriff.
And in Canada, Malcolm, a teen follower of a cult of dragon worshippers who call themselves Believers has been sent on a mission that will involve him killing some people to save the world from war. He’s not excited about the killing part, but thinks that saving the world will be worth it. Finally, we follow the pair of FBI investigators who are tracking the assassin while trying not to offend the Candian officials too much.
This sounds complicated enough to start with, but there are also some cold war politics and multiple universes thrown in, along with Malcolm meeting a young man who might be the one he’d want to settle down with, if only such a thing were possible. Yet somehow, Ness manages to pull all these elements together into one cohesive, action-packed whole. There is beauty and heartbreak and devastation, a very high body count, including both mass deaths and individuals we care about. All the characters are interesting and multi-faceted, and I did not lose track of who they were even with my Covid brain. I know people have been raving about Patrick Ness for years, and I had only ever read The Rest of Us Just Live Here until now. I may need to fix that. I will definitely recommend the audiobook to my son and my love.