Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Legend's Been Told Before

9. Legend by Marie Lu

I gobbled down Legend today, but the aftertaste isn't very satisfying.

Day is a renegade criminal from the slums, the most wanted man in the Republic, and he's only fifteen. June is a military prodigy, the daughter of a wealthy family, and, at fifteen, graduating from the Republic's most prestigious university. A terrible crime is committed and June is sent to track Day down. Can you guess what happens next?

Every aspect of this novel is perfectly orchestrated. It's a stunning facsimile of a YA dystopian novel. But it doesn't ring true. Why? The two-dimensional characters. The insultingly simple language. The predictable plot.

The last element I could have (and have in the past) forgiven. There's nothing wrong with borrowing an old plot. Shakespeare did it. Suzanne Collins did it. The trick is to infuse new life into it, to use language layered with meaning, o create characters that think and react like real people, to add quirky details that are familiar and yet new. Lu does none of these things.

Her language is deliberate-and calculated. She writes in short, plain sentences and favors declarative, cliffhanger chapter endings. She uses (and overuses) familiar slang and cutesy, affected slang ("goddy" is one of Day's refrains). I will say this is more of a personal turnoff. I read for language and there's not a lot to savor here. Lu keeps pages turning, action happening, and allows little or no verbal excess. I know many writers who would count that as a success, so it's not necessarily bad form. I just think, it's not the worst thing if teens happens to pick up some new vocabulary from their pleasure reading.

Toward the end of the book, June says to Day, "sometimes it feels like we're the same person born into two different worlds." Well, it felt like that to me too. Both protagonists are classic rebels-they hate authority, but they never kill an innocent, and always do the right thing. Where's Beatrice from Divergent or Katniss from Hunger Games? What about a protagonist who has a dark side, who maybe even likes the danger? These characters are so flat, their responses are predictable in advance, not because the reader knows them well, but because they play so neatly into an established type. I can imagine June behaving exactly as Day does in his situation and vice versa. And I don't care. The minor characters are equally vapid. That's the death knell for Legend, as far as I'm concerned.

A blurb on the back describes Legend as a "romantic thriller." The description is more than apt, and if it's the sort of thing you'd like, be my guest. But if you like your romance tense and your thrills gritty, go read Divergent instead.

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