Told from the alternating perspectives of two narrators, Legend by Marie Lu is a dystopian YA novel set in Los Angeles that focuses on June and Day, two fifteen-year-olds from wildly different backgrounds whose lives are about to collide. June is the only prodigy to have earned a perfect score on her Trial exam (taken by all ten-year-olds in the Republic to help shape their futures). She comes from a wealthy district and family, though her life hasn't necessary been "easy" -- she's been raised by her wildly capable older brother, Metias, since their parents died while she was still very young. At fifteen, June might be a little bit of a trouble-maker at her top university (having skipped several grades), but only because she's challenging herself in her own ways (scaling buildings, etc.) and she can kind of get away with it (a perfect score will make you everyone's darling). She does, however, believe in the Republic and is eager to graduate to begin her military career. Meanwhile, Day is the most wanted criminal in the Republic -- not the most dangerous, mind, but the most wanted because he constantly eludes capture. From a poor family, Day failed his Trial exam and rather than be taken off to the work camps (or meet whatever fate the failures have), he now lives on the streets with only his friend, thirteen-year-old Tess, for company. The Patriots, the enemy in the Republic's never-ending battle outside its borders, have tried to bring Day to their cause, but he's never been interested. He pulls off his own acts of rebellion against a system that has never been on his side or the sides of his loved ones -- stealing plague meds, breaking in to a bank, destroying the engines of airships. Quite a rap sheet, indeed, particularly when no fatalities seem to be associated with any of these antics. More often than not, though, Day and Tess are simply scraping by, with at least a day a week spent watching over Day's family -- his mother and two brothers -- as the military does its weekly sweeps to test for plague that only seem to crop up in the poor areas.

When Day's little brother Eden seems to have developed a mutated strain of the plague, Day breaks in to a hospital to steal plague meds on a night when Metias is part of the military force present at the hospital. Unable to locate treatment meds, Day settles for suppressants and leaps two stories to escape, only to be cornered by Metias. Day wounds Metias in the shoulder and escapes -- but later that night, June is told that her brother was killed, stabbed in the heart by Day. June is offered a chance to become a full-fledged agent and avenge her brother by tracking down Day. First, she attempts to meet with Day by spreading word that a plague cure dealer is looking for him, and then June goes undercover in the slums, hoping to make contact with someone who can lead her to Day. After a few days of nothing, June jumps in to a skiz fight to rescue a young girl (Tess) and receives a minor wound, but is whisked to safety and taken care of by Tess and Day (though she doesn't know it's Day until she's spent some time with them). Inevitably, the truth comes out, decisions are made, and what was once certainty in June's mind becomes muddled as she finds herself questioning whether Day is really her brother's killer and if the system she's believed in for her whole life is not what it appears to be. Before she can figure anything out, though, there will be tragic casualties and massive repercussions to her actions.

My reasons for disliking this book are three-fold.

1. The font style and color changes. I know I'm reading an ARC, but I'm betting this will carry to the hardcover (and someone please let me know if that's not the case). For June, the more educated of the narrators, we have a serif font and black type. For Day, the wanted criminal and kid living on the streets, we have a sans-serif font in a weird goldenrod color. That's right, color ink. Extra money was spent to make the reader wince. It's so very unnecessary. A good novel doesn't need to switch fonts or colors to indicate we have a new narrator. Distracting design doesn't help the text and, honestly, it's just not aesthetically appealing. At most, I could've tolerated the font (style, not color) switching or the annoying "DAY" or "JUNE" logos at the top of each chapter to designate the narrator, but otherwise we're left to assume one of three things for why this weird font decision was made: (A) Some high-up executive thought this would be an interesting hook for the book ("everyone loves goldenrod!") and no one else wanted to be the person to step up and explain it was a terrible idea. (B) The author/publisher does not think highly of the reader's intelligence (or visual comprehension skills, as that logo on each chapter features letters a good inch tall), and so the reader is beaten over the head with these indicators that a different person is talking now. (C) The publisher doesn't think the book can handle things on its own/doesn't think much of the author's ability to properly differentiate tones of voice and so the extra differences were heaped in as a necessary means of tricking the reader in to thinking the voices were really quite distinctive. In reality, the voices are not as different as one might wish, and both can be slightly inconsistent. I got the feeling that a little too much thought had gone in to things like "this is what a teenage boy would sound like" and the defining variation for June was a flimsy air of prejudice towards the poor that quite easily gets set aside as the book goes on.

2. I'll be honest, this isn't necessarily a criticism of the novel, but rather, it's a personal preference discovered with this novel. I just don't enjoy stories that have to do with the military. It automatically turns me off. I don't think I had totally realized this until reading Legend, so that means I felt it hard-core here. Of course, this was only magnified by the fact that the military here is so obviously evil that it's absurd. Revolutionaries and rebels, bring 'em on, but the organized body requiring utter allegiance and devotions, no questions asked when shooting ten year olds? No thanks, I'll take my chaos rather than hand over guns to folks who never question an order from obviously twisted leaders. Naturally, the evil military trope is a standard feature of many dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels, but usually we see it from the outside, so we're not privy to the intricate machinations from within. Legend does at least have this different angle to its credit, but unfortunately it didn't do it all that well -- it made things seem way over simplified and ridiculous. I appreciate the message that this book seems to send about soldiers who are much too young for these responsibilities and blindly follow orders, but I don't think there was enough follow-through if the author really wanted to make a point. (PS. Only slightly related, but I'll stick this complaint here. If your book discusses the military and you insist on labeling things with a time, location, and temperature like it's an official report, then you should be using military time. This seems beyond obvious.)

3. Inconsistencies abound, leading me to surmise that even though the military set-up and dystopian world are the best things Lu has going for her, she constantly undermines her own creation by failing to keep things believable even within the framework of the world.

To me, this final point comes through loud and clear in the romantic plotline. (And from this point on, folks, I'll be revealing information that happens deeper in the novel than the general summary has indicated, so even though I won't spoil the ending, if you really want to avoid hearing more details about Legend, then stop now.) I can accept the general idea that June might fall for Day -- she hunts him down, believing he's her brother's killer, but ultimately realizes that Day didn't kill Metias and Day can provide the answers about how the Republic is really being run that have been kept from her for her whole life. There are several other books that utilize this plot where the family member can ultimately fall for the absolved suspect. What doesn't jive is Day falling for June after June is responsible for his mother being shot point-blank in front of his house to draw Day out of hiding before Day even has a chance to give himself up when his mother's life is threatened. June didn't hold the gun or issue the order, but she is totally and utterly responsible for her death. The characters dance around this, suggesting that June isn't responsible because she didn't know they'd kill his mother -- but I'm sorry, that doesn't fly. Day had been a somewhat credible character (despite his borderline super-human abilities and handsome features that always shine through his streetlife grime) up to this point, but there's no way he'd continue to think well of June after this. It doesn't matter if she's just a girl that's been lied to by the system... she's the girl who was responsible for his mother's death. If there was ever the slim hope that Day might one day forgive her for this, it isn't going to happen in less than a week and it's almost insulting to his character to suggest he could get over it so easily.

Beyond that massive issue, there are all kinds of questionable things in this novel that cause the reader to pause and pull out of the novel in confusion. The Trial exam that every ten year old takes has those who pass and those who fail -- and the failures are theoretically shipped off to work camps, but in actuality are killed or used for medical testing. (That's right, kids, we took Fido to a farm where he can play in the sunshine!) Evidently the kids, post-Trial, sit around wondering which group they're in, but really, if that many kids are being taken off for labor camps/to be killed, there would be WAY more problems, like general populace uprising (and the people can't be *that* beaten down if they're uprising when Day is captured, so you can't fall back on that one). There's also the surprisingly lax treatment of June in school, the perfect prodigy who gets away with all kinds of unacceptable behavior. In military schools, this would be completely unacceptable. While it's supposed to suggest she thinks outside the box, it doesn't explain why she's never questioned anything the military has told her up until now. And don't get me started on the evil military where the hours are surprisingly good (June always seems to be in her apartment, zoning out and petting her dog) and yet demands that its soldiers kill civilians without a second thought. Thomas (who was mentored by Metias and has the hots for fifteen-year-old June) is a poor bad guy and if he had a scrap of decency or wasn't a robot/psychopath, would have been torn up by the role he'd played in everything. The military, meanwhile, maintains a drastic class system that keeps the poor in utter squalor, but allows for its own impressive technology. Speaking of technology -- Metias keeps paper journals to document things... and then a website to alert his sister to his discoveries? If technology is advanced enough that a hand-scan would be required for her to view the site, you can bet the military would already have figured out a way around it -- it seems the military is the only field that gets any massive technological advances, so they'd be watching their people (and totally would have searched the house and figured out his code long before June). Oh, and the whole former United States of America? Yeah, the hints suggest we'll learn more about this in future books, but obviously things have gone down and the Republic controls at least California -- but we needed a little more to go on here, otherwise we're in limbo as far as our awareness of the world. What area of the US are we talking about when we refer to the Patriots or the Republic? How many years in the future are we that technology has been at a veritable stand-still? (Oh, and unless the rest of the world has been destroyed, it's rather egocentric to think America/Republic vs Patriots conflict is the only thing that's relevant. To be honest, though, if this was supposed to be some kind of compelling history, then we really should have been given a reason to care -- as of now, it just seems like Day and June are rebelling against a government that lies to them, but there's no indication that knowledge would lead to better lives for the Republic's citizens in any tangible way.

I wanted to abandon this novel halfway through, but trudged on so I could feel like I was giving a complete and thorough opinion of the work... and so I could feel justified in telling anyone who reads this review that you should skip this one and read something like Divergent, assuming you've already read Hunger Games. I may have tried to make more of an effort if I cared about June, but she lacks any sparkle that might make her a compelling lead. The next installment will likely focus on the Patriots and uncovering more information about the former US, with a contrived plot that will temporarily drive June and Day apart before their eventual reunion and triumph in the third in this series, though "triumph" might not be Hunger Games level and might just be their continued commitment to "fighting the good fight" to provide all people with the truth. (Note: I assume this will be a trilogy, as everything seems to be part of a trilogy these days.) The most I'll do for those future books is read Goodreads reviews with spoilers to confirm my suspicions, but I definitely won't be taking the time to read them myself. I had such hopes for an interesting new perspective in the large field of dystopian novels out there, but even if the setting is slightly new, there's not enough of an appealing and intriguing story to back it up -- and without that, any book would be doomed.

PS? You never win points with the reader by abandoning your dog and shrugging it off.

No comments: