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Me, last year when Bookstagram blew up with 5-star reviews on a YA book about a Black girl who is somehow involved in Arthurian legends: That is a really stupid idea. No way I’m reading it.
Me, now, after reading that book: crackhead scratch WHERE’S THE NEXT BOOK? GIVE IT TO MEEEEEE….!
There’s nothing I like more than being proven wrong by brilliance, and this book is brilliant. It’s also done a bit wrong by its blurbs. If this was just the Knights of the Round Table with a Black lead, I’d have hated it. But it’s much more than that. The real story is…well, let me explain it from a personal angle.
Recently I did a DNA test and discovered, among other things, that I have significantly more European ancestry than I wanted or expected. My feelings about it are complicated, in a way that I also didn’t want or expect. My African and Indigenous ancestors are points of reverence, wisdom, and strength. My European ancestry? It’s a given that my recent Euro connections were not inspirations. They were very probably brutal oppressors at worst, and apathetic cowards at best. As a result, my life and lineage are inextricably tied to not only strength and survival but pain and cruel, thoughtless power.
This is the story that Legendborn tells, too. Bree, an early college student, is forced to face not only present reality, but her own ancestry–all of it. Her mother’s death seems to have brought on special abilities, which gets her wrapped up in the workings of a campus secret society who just happen to be the good ol’ boy stateside descendants of the Knights of the Round Table. No surprise here, but they’re the nutty descendants of former slaveowners with a fixation on racial purity and former glory. As much as I love the old stories, I hate Arthurian legend, mostly because the logical progression of them is exactly what’s presented here.
While there’s magic and monsters and sweet romance aplenty, the real story here is about looking all of your past in the face so you can choose which cycles to break and which to continue. It all forms a very clever commentary on the things that Black people must do to balance the dismantling of systemically racist structures while also acknowledging how deeply we are also connected to them, albeit unwillingly.
I’m being all deep and serious but this is also a wildly good, fun story. I spoke out loud to this book a half dozen times and cheered at the best parts.
I should have read this last year like the cool kids. I wish I could go back and read it for the first time again. 5 stars and a scabbard for Excalibur to Legendborn.
(Beautiful people! It’s not every day I write about a book I unequivocally recommend for not only reading, but buying if you can. If you believe me, consider purchasing from the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Full disclosure, we get a commission from any purchases you make at that link, which is what keeps new books piling up on the nightstand as the good Lord intended. Peace!)
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