A copy of a copy of a copy, now with more gimmicks.
Legend by Marie Lu
June Iparis wants to find the Republic’s most-wanted criminal Day, even though no one knows what he looks like, and avenge her brother’s death. Day wants to remain a vigilante while keeping his family fed and plague-free. Both youngsters are beautiful and exceptionally smart and athletic, so naturally they will develop The Hots to complicate their situation.
Reading this book was like hopping into a fully-loaded Lamborghini and being unable to get it started, listening to the engine whine as it tried to turn over instead of flipping into a full-throated roar, until it begins to disintegrate around you. First I lost a mirror, then the muffler hit the pavement, then all four wheels went at once.
The beginning of the book was exciting and set up a morally complex, high-stakes plot with a lot of potential. June was an interesting character, Day was an interesting character. I believed in the exceptional nature of both, as a result of both genetics and hard work. They lived in a dystopia with a lot of dirt for digging into. They had many fully-formed relationships and attachments beyond the one that eventually formed between them. So why then, halfway through the book, did I find myself wondering why I didn’t like it more? Why did I spend the next quarter mentally picking it apart instead of enjoying the story, before losing interest entirely and skimming the last quarter?
I’m going to go with a list:
- Gimmicks. This book is loaded with visual gimmicks that became distraction while reading. Gold, sans-serif, space-age-inspired font for Day’s sections. A more traditional font for June. Gigantic 24-point headers screaming JUNE or DAY to indicate shifts in point-of-view. The well-designed Republic emblem on the cover felt like it was mocking me for thinking the Republic in the book would be as thoroughly considered as its logo. The brushed-steel texture of the cover and chrome-finish gold of the flaps on the jacket. I understand why each of these aesthetic choices was made, however at some point someone should have realized it was too much and dialed it back. The overwrought design of the book as object wound up highlighting the under cooked story.
- June and Day sounded like the same person. They thought the same, fought the same, and mostly talked the same with only superficial deviations. Perhaps this explains the headers and font disparity, but that is something that needed to be fixed at a writing level. Not a visual one.
- Eureka moments. Several complex plot threads were unraveled by a character glancing at something and suddenly understanding everything behind it. Enormous logical leaps were taken, but the reader was not along for the ride. Saying “oh they just knew because they were super smart” is lazy writing. It’s a cheat. There are many possible explanations and these developments were not well-supported.
- The lady doth protest too much: I liked June as a character at first. She was tough, ambitious, focused, smart, and rebellious in an oddly patriotic way. There was a lot of potential there. As the book wore on she kept having to go to these formal events, and described her dresses in lavish technical detail even as she complained of being forced into them. That doesn’t wash. It irked me that as an acknowledged military prodigy she would not wear her uniform to state occasions as all the men and higher-ranking women did. She started the novel with a rebellious, “I know best” spark that quickly fizzled.
- The Republic is a military state, but they let a fifteen-year-old girl stroll about as she pleases sending guards away and meeting with prisoners alone.
- The scenes on the street were strongest, but they were weakened by the lack of detail in the Republic. A civil war was hinted at and other factions mentioned, but never explained. The dirtiness of the streets was not contrasted with cleanliness or opulence in June’s world at military school. The ball was dropped. I can only assume that Lu expected to have a trilogy to flesh things out.
Readers, if you’ve read any good dystopian fiction lately won’t you give me a recommendation in the comments? I’m dying for it.