[Book Nook] Tracy Deonn’s ‘Legendborn’ Celebrates Black Girl Magic in an Epic Debut

Book Nook is a little corner of Screen Queens dedicated to books. From book adaptations to book reviews this will be a place for readers of SQ to engage with the oldest form of entertainment, the written word.

Title: Legendborn

Author: Tracy Deonn

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

We have all seen (or read) our fair share of reimaginings about Arthurian legend. Some have been successful at reinterpreting the heroic tales to emphasize certain themes, others, well…they were attempts. Tracy Deonn has done something that most writers perhaps dread, and that is set themselves up for the challenge of reimagining mythology that is so pervasive in popular culture, and folks, she did what she had to do.

This review will dive deeper into what is so wonderful about this novel; a start to a thrilling new YA series. So, if you are intrigued, please continue reading. However, I am neither as good a writer as Deonn nor as compelling, so please find the nearest book shop and buy Legendborn. It is one of the must-reads of 2020!

Legendborn follows Bree Matthews as she sets off to partake in a program for high schoolers at the University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill. It’s through this program for young bright students (like Bree) where she is able to run away from the hurt of losing her mother. Bree is hardened and ready to detach completely from the pain, that is until she meets a mysterious young man with alluring eyes and dark hair, with trouble written all over him. Just as he, Selwyn, manifests from the shadows itself, Bree (unknowingly) is about to dive head first into a world of magic and demons.

Deonn takes on a couple of familiar narrative tropes such as the “chosen one” and “hidden magical worlds” but subverts expectations at every turn. Woven within a narrative that would sit alongside the likes of Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, and City of Bones, Deonn reimagines the narrative to uplift a heroine we rarely see grace the pages of such a story, and that is a Black girl.

The heart of this novel is Bree, and oh is she a delight! A headstrong, gifted, and talented young Black girl who is haunted by her past, but there still remains a light within her that propels her forward. Deonn’s writing is explosive and propulsive. It is impossible to lay the book down for long and part of the reason is Bree. Deonn so perfectly captures the voice of a young Black girl who is simultaneously being eaten away on the inside from her own insecurities, and on the outside by a thinly-veiled racist environment. Yet, the resilience that is so deeply burrowed into her DNA is what shields her and motivates her. Bree is a heroine that is not only discovering what it is to be a warrior or a hero, but she is on the path to claiming her heritage and her Black girl magic.

Character art courtesy of TracyDeonn.com

The story on its own is very exciting. Partway through you will get a good understanding of how the cookie will crumble, but the journey of this novel isn’t so much about getting to the destination. Instead, the excitement lies with the exploration of Bree’s purpose and destiny. Deonn’s ability to take on familiar tropes and themes from Arthurian legends and repurpose them to write a complete coming-of-age narrative with a healthy dose of Black girl magic is mighty impressive, and exactly what is needed. To reinterpret a famous myth one must have a purpose for it and Deonn certainly does. The story is lively with great attention to detail involving Bree’s surroundings and the monsters she faces. The characters that surround her are colourfully portrayed, each feeling like truly realized individuals. The story also has its fair share of romance and friendships that allow us to explore the people that matter to Bree and how they impact her life. Finally, it is an incredibly effective personal drama, with lots of heart. Tears will be shed.

As I mentioned, Deonn’s writing is truly key, it is electric and engaging. It is as if she knows exactly what words to use to incite our hunger and forces you to devour the novel faster. By the time it’s over, there isn’t a need to resign yourself to sadness. No, you pick up the book and start at Chapter 1, again. It’s addictive, passionate, and most of all, a testament to how powerful, heartbreaking and beautiful the resilience of Black women is. Deonn is not shy to express her admiration and sorrow for Black women who have endured so much, and still have to (as seen through our protagonist). It is in this seemingly ordinary YA adventure that we are given a deep dive into the mind and heart of a Black woman. A real-life hero.

Purchase Legendborn at your local bookshops or find an online vendor here.

by Ferdosa Abdi

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