When the lead sentence in a novel reads “My mother thinks I’m dead,” you’ve got a pretty good idea there’s a lot of exciting action in store for you. And so it is in Legend, the first entry in Marie Lu’s award-winning young adult trilogy.
A militarized nation engaged in perpetual war
Legend is one of the more prominent examples of the flood of dystopian novels for young adults that have appeared in recent years. Lu’s protagonists, far-future teens Daniel Wing (known as “Day”) and June Iparis live in what today is Los Angeles. The state of California is part of the Republic, a nation that covers much of the American West. Dominated by the military and governed by the Elector Primo who is now in his eleventh term, the Republic is engaged in perpetual war with the Colonies, a more advanced nation somewhere to the east.
Legend (Legend Trilogy #1) by Marie Lu (2011) 318 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Razor-sharp class distinctions
Class distinctions in the Republic are razor-sharp. A wealthy elite rules through the military, often serving as high-ranking officers. The vast majority of the population is desperately poor. Every year, a new strain of a horrific disease known as the plague ravages poor neighborhoods. Vaccines are available only to the elite. At age 10, every child in the Republic is subjected to the Trial, which measures intellectual ability, physical prowess, and emotional stability. Only those with superior scores are admitted to high schools, universities, and the military and thus gain the opportunity for advancement.
Far-future teens on opposite sides of the class divide
At age 15, June and Day dramatize the contrast between rich and poor. June, daughter of a wealthy family and younger sister of a captain in the military, is a prodigy. She’s the only person ever to have achieved a perfect score in the Trial. However, June is something of a rebel. “The Republic’s favorite little prodigy is in trouble again,” she notes as she heads off again to the dean’s office at her university.
By contrast, Day’s score was abysmal. His mother and two brothers live on the verge of starvation and are constantly at risk of succumbing to the plague. Having gone into hiding to sabotage the military, Day is the most wanted criminal in the Republic. “I’m not the most dangerous criminal in the country, but the most wanted,” Day reflects. “I make them look bad.”
We know that June and Day will meet. But how? That’s the story. And it’s a very good one. Legend is a great way to start a trilogy.
About the author
Marie Lu was born in China but has lived in the United States since the age of five. She writes for young adults. The Legend Trilogy is her most popular work and will soon be adapted into a film.
For further reading
I’ve included Marie Lu on my list of Six new science fiction authors worth reading now.
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
You might also check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site.
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