Lu’s debut trilogy hadn’t really been on my radar until two coworkers decided to establish an impromptu readalong. Because when do I ever say no to an additional chance to read and discuss books?
I wasn’t overly impressed with Legend and would have been content to end reading the trilogy there, but shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to borrow the remaining two books and took it. And I’m actually glad I did so. Overall, the story got better as the series progressed.
Although I will try to focus here on my general thoughts of this series, this review will contain some spoilers for Legend. I will try to limit spoilers for Prodigy and Champion.
Legend by Marie Lu
Series: Legend, #1
Published: 2011, Penguin
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
June Iparis has achieved the practically-impossible score of 1500 out of 1500 on the government-mandated Trial each citizen must take at the age of 10. She’s considered to be a prodigy and the Republic of America’s most valuable asset.
Day received a failing score on his Trial, which means that his “inferior” genes are not wanted by the Republic as it continues to wage war against the Colonies, another governmental system developed in the ruined wasteland that once was the United States of America. Day was experimented on and then was supposed to be sent to a “work camp” (in actuality a death camp), but he escaped and has been actively working to thwart the Republic ever since.
The Republic, which has worked so hard to turn June into a model soldier and place Day behind bars, is ultimately responsible for bringing the two of them together. And once together, they discover that neither is able to return to his/her old life ever again.
Technically speaking, there’s nothing really bad but Legend. But there’s also nothing that really makes Legend stand out in an overcrowded field of YA dystopian novels, either. It’s a story we’ve heard over and over again about a seemingly good government full of corruption, a character who slowly realizes all the truths (s)he believes in are little more than lies, and that special someone who helps him/her make that realization.
To be fair, Lu’s debut was published three years ago now, right around the time that dystopian novels really started to take off. Much of what can be viewed as derivative and formulaic by a reader familiar with current dystopian offerings may have been more original back when the novel was first published. But reading can never occur in a vacuum, and so my knowledge of trends that have preceded and succeeded Legend has colored my reading experience somewhat.
Despite its flaws, Legend reads like a good dystopian novel should. It’s fast-paced and entertaining, with very few slower, exposition-heavy parts. Readers are told what they need to know in order for the story to progress, with more and more tidbits revealed as the story continues.It just ultimately wasn't very memorable for me.
Rating: 2 stars
Prodigy by Marie Lu
Series: Legend, #2
Published: 2012, Putnam Juvenile
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
With the help of the Patriots, a rebel group, June and Day have escaped the Republic with their lives. Their plans, such as they are, are to regroup, reassess, and find Day’s little brother Eden. But it isn’t long before they become embroiled in a new political battle, one that asks them to assassinate the Republic’s new Elector Primo so that the Patriots can install one of their own (and better, of course) men in the position.
Sensing they have little choice in the matter (and because they desperately need access to the Patriot’s resources to find Eden and heal Day’s leg), June and Day decide to assist the Patriots for now. As their new tasks force them to go separate ways, June and Day begin to question what exactly they stand for, and their commitment to one another.
In what is turning out to be a pretty typical feeling for me, I thought that Prodigy was quite a bit stronger than Legend. Or, at least, I found myself enjoying the story more this time around.
If Legend was about June and Day learning to break free from their preconceived notions of their world, then Prodigy is about them coping with the aftermath of disillusion and insecurity (and adding a ton more uncertainty on top of that). In Legend the two learn to trust one another and work together to achieve their goals. In Prodigy, because they are separated for large portions of the book, they must learn how to truly trust one another.
As one would expect, a lot of drama accompanies June and Day’s emotional and romantic journeys. On top of warring ideological beliefs, two potential love interests are unveiled. Honestly, the challenges surrounding their distinctive belief systems would have been enough, but what bestselling YA book doesn’t include some additional romantic interests these days?
Prodigy is a novel of subtleties. There is a good amount of action as well, of course, but the novel really shines in the smaller moments. Particularly powerful are the scenes where June and Day finally travel to the fabled Colonies and experience them for all they’re worth. The subtle play of emotions between June and Day, the hints of tension and unease that surround the Patriot’s assassination plot, the question of what’s happened to Eden, are where Prodigy really excels.
In this sequel, Lu not only greatly expands on her world and further defines her characters, but she has written a dystopian worth reading (not the easiest feat these days).
Rating: 3.5 stars
Champion by Marie Lu
Series: Legend, #3
Published: 2013, Putnam Juvenile
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Through his open rebellion against the Republic and his ability to sway the people to his side, Day has become a legend to his people. Ever since she scored perfectly on her Trial, June has been trained to become the Republic’s perfect little prodigy. But the Republic has undergone many changes in the past few months, including the ascendance of a new elector.
As a better Republic is in the process of being formed, June and Day must deal with some unexpected challenges, including a dangerous version of the virus that the Republic once used for experimentation on its lower classes. Now the virus has morphed and infected parts of the Colonies, which has led to a full-out war between the two sides.
It seems quite common for the final books in dystopian trilogies to deal with war, and that’s certainly true here. So much of the first two books in the Legend trilogy are about June and Day unraveling the lies that have guided their lives and figuring out just what they really stand for. Nothing like raising the stakes by forcing them to answer those questions as they deal with larger conflicts.
For the most part, though, their character development is reasonably realistic. I had issues with their youth in the first two novels; I cannot believe that two fifteen year olds would exhibit that level of maturity, even if they have had to deal with unusually difficult situations. By the end of Champion, however, June and Day very much feel like they’ve come into their own as individuals and as romantic partners.
Champion is a worthy conclusion to June and Day’s story. It’s messy and imperfect, much like their own lives over the course of the novel. People die. Causes fought for are lost. In the battle between the totalitarian-like regime of the Republic (albeit one that is in the process of changing) and the consumer culture-driven Colonies, it’s the citizens of the two nations who are really losing.
The resolutions here aren’t the easiest, perhaps, but they have a nice ring of finality. The ending and epilogue, though, they broke me. I’m not sure if it’s because I was finishing up late at night and more easily manipulated in my sleep deprived state, or if Lu truly managed to portray emotional anguish. It was rough to read, but beautifully so.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Lu’s writing and characterizations are not anything extraordinary, but there’s something to be said for consistent improvement; and that is how I gleaned my enjoyment from reading this trilogy. It’s always a nice thing to see stories become better developed over the course of a series, and, in my opinion, the series went from decent to good (perhaps even very good).
Ultimately, though, I think one’s enjoyment of the Legend trilogy will be very much based on their current feelings towards the YA dystopian genre. Those who are simply looking for an action-packed, typical sort of dystopian will presumably enjoy these, as will those more unfamiliar with the genre and current trends. For those a bit worn out from the dystopian craze and more critical of books published within this genre (like me), these may not prove to be quite as enjoyable reads.