Legend by Marie Lu (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011. 305 pp)

Marie Lu was born near Shanghai, China, in 1984. She attended the University of Southern California, and before becoming a full-time writer, she was an Art Director at a video game company. She lives in Pasadena with her boyfriend and three dogs.

Capitalizing on the Trend

Capitalizing on teen, angst-driven dystopian fiction, 27 year-old Marie Lu obviously had a target market for the novel, Legend. I certainly can’t blame her for exploiting the newest craze, especially since the movie rights already have been purchased from the same people who produced the poorly written Twilight franchise. For this reason, Legend came across my radar, and having a penchant for dystopian fiction, I thought it might be a fun read.

The Republic

Legend is set in a future world amid the ruins of Los Angeles in the Republic of America, a country at war with the colonies, which are east of a no-man’s-land, the vast expanse from the Dakotas to west Texas. The two teenaged protagonists are Day and June. Having both taken the government’s exam called the trial (similar to the SAT), they have ended up in dissimilar situations. Day is the Republic’s most wanted rebel, and June is a top-of-the-line soldier and servant of the Republic.

“[Someone] gets a perfect score—1500 points. No one’s ever gotten this—well, except for some kid a few years ago who the military made a goddy fuss over. Who knows what happens to someone with a score that high? Probably lots of money and power, yeah? You score between a 1450 and a 1499. Pat yourself on the back because you’ll get instant access to six years of high school and then four at the top universities in the Republic: Drake, Stanford, and Brenan…You squeak by with a score between 1000 and 1249. Congress bars you from high school. You join the poor, like my family…You fail. It’s almost always the slum-sector kids who fail. If you’re in this unlucky category, the Republic sends officials to your family’s home. They make your parents sign a contract giving the government full custody over you” (7).

In this caste society, the scores create a complete divide where the brilliant rule and the unintelligent frequent the slums where a mysterious plague kills people.

Photo by Chris Lott


Day is set on finding vials of plague cures for his family so they can survive in the lurid living conditions they’ve been forced into. June lures Day into a trap in order to catch the Republic’s most wanted criminal. Moreover, she wants to catch him for personal reasons—he killed her brother, Metias. Once lured into the trap and caught, she familiarizes herself with Day before turning him in to her superiors. June begins to wonder if Day is as bad as the Republic has depicted.

Maybe Day didn’t kill Metias, I tell myself. Maybe it was someone else. God—am I making excuses to protect this boy now?” (141)

My Complaints

Then—no surprises here—both characters end up working together, fighting the Republic, and figuring out the dark secrets their country has spawned. And, following the teen dystopian craze set in motion by The Hunger Games, they fall in love and beat the odds. Much like The Hunger Games, there is no real danger in the novel. Both characters are agile, smart, and altogether better specimens than their rivals. Unlike better novels where there is danger for the main characters—A Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings are great examples—the characters you root for are always going to survive, in very predictable fashion.

What’s more, in an act of what could be brilliant writing, Marie Lu organizes the book in alternating journal entries from the main protagonists, Day and June. However, Day’s journal entries are filled with annoying colloquialisms and clichés like “cousin”. The intention may have been to make him seem uneducated and edgy, but it was only exasperating in the end. In addition, the voices of Day and June are almost exactly the same, even with the occasional colloquialism in Day’s journal entries. If the entries weren’t printed in different type, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

Overall, I loved the plot of Legend; it interlaced some brilliant ideas. I also enjoyed the notion of the world Marie Lu created. However, with some literary missteps, the novel simply fell short for me. The lack of fear and the annoying language caused ample amounts of frustration. If you want to read a dystopian teen fiction, stick to The Hunger Games, which frankly has the same problems, but they are much less frequent.
Verdict: 2 out of 5

What do you think? Have you found annoyances in teen dystopian fiction? Conversely, did you enjoy Legend? Is there merit to this new trend?

Posted by: Andrew Jacobson 

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5 Comments Leave a comment
  • Corey P.

    Good review. I think I'll leave this one alone, as there are other (and better) books in this genre.

    I do have a question about your remarks about The Hunger Games, though – are you just referring to book one, or the entire trilogy? I ask because Catching Fire and Mockingjay are anything but predictable or lacking in “real danger.” The latter, especially, turned any expectations I had on their heads.

  • Andrew Jacobson

    Corey- I would leave this one alone, there are tons better. I'm referring to book one, as in sum, I rather enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy.

    • Corey P.

      Ah, okay. Just curious. 🙂 I like the trilogy as a whole, too. It packed a bigger punch (for me, at least) when viewed as one continuous story (like Lord of the Rings) rather than three separate stories.

  • Anonymous

    The Hunger Games is fantastic!! but i would have to say that i like this book SO much more. I find the characters more emotionally strong and less pathetic

  • Anonymous #2

    I agree with you about the similarities in the two ‘separate’ characters voices and the annoying things like ‘cousin’ in Day’s chapters, but overall I liked this book. I enjoyed the plot twist and didn’t particularly find it predictable. I would rate it 4 out of 5 starts. Great review, by the way. 🙂

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