I just finished Legend (Putnam 2011) by Marie Lu. It was legendary.
This was as fun as a book about plague-riddled slums can be. Day is a stereotypical folk hero much like Robin Hood – no one knows who he is, but he shows up to do things like disable government airplanes and rob banks to fight an oppressive system. No one knows who he is or even what he looks like [insert your favorite superhero comparison here]. He also has a tendency to mock the soldiers he bests, which really irks those in charge. June is a military prodigy. She had a perfect score on her Trial, and she is moving through military school with a quickness. She’s basically that kid who is getting her Harvard PhD at 15. Their worlds collide when June’s older brother Metias is murdered and Day takes the blame. June is promoted by Metias’ commander so that she can hunt Day down, a job she gladly takes. Though she has prodigious tracking skills, she actually stumbles on Day by accident when he rescues her from a rioting mob. It seems that all the elite military training in the world won’t teach you the unspoken rules of a street fight. When June figures out that the boy who rescued her is actually Day of all people, she has a hard time reconciling the hardened criminal she’s heard about for years with the boy who bandages her stab wound and takes care of Tess, an orphaned street girl a few years younger than he is. Nevertheless, after she follows him one night when he goes to check on his family, she reports his location and theirs to her superiors. She soon finds out that her government isn’t as trustworthy as she thought they were and that her opinion doesn’t matter as much as she thought it did. After discovering some Deep, Dark Government Secrets that Metias had uncovered, she changes sides and helps Day escape, though at a significant price. (Sorry for spoiling anyone who did not see that coming a million miles away.)
This was really good as far as current teen dystopians go, possibly my favorite since The Hunger Games. It’s not as gripping, but it’s hard to top mandatory televised wholesale murder of children for keeping me on the edge of my seat late into the night, ignoring empty cupboards and the laundry hamper so that I can find out what happens next. Instead, this government is secretly spreading and curing plague in the poor sectors of town, using the fear of it to keep the less fortunate squarely under its thumb. They’re also using slum residents as human guinea pigs in labs while pretending that they’re in labor camps. It’s still government-mandated murder, but much more insidious. The worst offenses also occur off-page, so you lose some of the urgency that HG sports. Legend leaves itself open to at least one sequel, and I am glad because there are loose ends that I need to follow up on (ahem, Eden). However, if this is the only book in the series that is ever published, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger that makes me shake my fist at the heavens in frustration. I liked that the chapters alternated viewpoints so that we saw both sides of the story, but I did not appreciate Day’s chapters being printed in gold type. It was difficult to read by the harsh fluorescent lighting in the gym, and it slowed me down. Frustrating. Sometimes I needed to read faster than that. I never really understood why they changed the type color for his sections in the first place – I kept waiting for some revelation that made gold type the obvious choice, and I never saw it (I suppose I could have missed it if it came up during a particularly exciting part where I was exclusively focused on plot, though). If the designers felt that it was necessary to change the color to help differentiate his sections (already in different fonts and with running headers telling you who is speaking, which seems sufficient to me), why the designers chose such a difficult color is beyond me. It matches the cover, but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to strain my eyes. I’m already blind, people. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I read a galley proof, so this may change in the final edition or it may be easier to read on the paper in the hardcover book. If it’s the same, you’ll need to resign yourself to crows’ feet as you squint at Day’s chapters. There’s probably an expensive cream made from sheep placenta or something that you can use to fix them later. This is not to be missed.