Dystopian setting. Badass fighting heroine. Love triangle. I just described the entire Young Adult Fiction shelf at the library/bookstore, didn’t I? Okay, so there may be nothing incredibly original about Marie Lu’s popular trilogy—Legend, Prodigy, and Champion—but that doesn’t mean that Legend, and it’s subsequent books, isn’t enjoyable.
Legend takes place in a dystopian future where the United States is split into the Republic (i.e. the West Coast basically) and the Colonies (the East Coast). The Republic is ruled by an Elector and a Senate, with the Elector holding most of the power through a powerful military. Children, when they come of age, undergo a series of tests known as “trials”. These trials allegedly determine their aptitude and therefore their social status. For some people, like the female protagonist June, this isn’t a bad thing. June comes from a wealthy family who lives in a sanitary and safe district. She aced her trials, which landed her a premium spot at one of the Republic’s universities, and she has a promising career ahead of her.
Day, the male protagonist of the story, is the opposite of June. He comes from a family in a poor district, where disease and crime abound. He failed his trials, and narrowly escaped being killed because of it. Now he’s a criminal, a rather famous one, trying to support his mother and two other brothers. Though his background is very different from June, he soon finds that they have more in common than they realize when the death of June’s brother and only living family member throws them together. The Republic tasks June, it’s star prodigy, with tracking down Day, the Republic’s most infamous criminal, whom June believes is responsible for her brother’s death. But once June tracks down Day and spends some time away from her sheltered view of her country, she starts to realize that the Republic may not be all that it seems. Now in doubt of whom she can trust, June sets out to find the truth about her government, her brother’s death, and the criminal she’s becoming increasingly fond of.
Dystopian novels are all the range in the Young Adult genre, and not without reason. Dystopian settings provide a unique canvas for examining questions about governments, societies, and morality. Lu’s interpretation of a possible future for America is very interesting, with the East and West of the country divided, society divided into poor and rich sections, much like in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Like many Dystopian novels, the government is portrayed as untrustworthy, an oppressive “Big Brother” entity. But even though this context is not an original setting for a story, Lu’s characters thrive in the story she’s given them. June and Day are typical YA characters, but their story is enjoyable. And, when the reader gets to the end of Prodigy and into Champion, Marie Lu will throw her readers an unexpected curveball in dystopian fiction—the characters are going to support the government instead of overthrow it!
Reform, not revolution. That is the most original aspect of Marie Lu’s trilogy. I recently finished the third and final book of the trilogy, and I quite enjoyed it. Lu’s characters are well-rounded and very human. They make mistakes, they fight for the people they love, etc. Lu asks interesting questions about how to structure societies, choosing the lesser of two evils, the benefits of reform over revolution. And the story is engaging. This isn’t a groundbreaking book series, but it is very enjoyable, especially for readers who are enjoying the current popularity of dystopian fiction.