Bree Matthews is a lot of things in this fantasy young adult work from Tracy Deonn. She’s Black. She’s young (and graduated early from high school to be accepted into an early college program at UNC-Chapel Hill). She’s grieving the recent death of her mother and the anger of a life unlived. But she is also so many things not easy to check off a list.
On her first night on campus, she and her roommate BFF Alice join a party at the quarry, a dangerous prospect on its own that becomes all the more dangerous when mystical creatures show up and maybe magicians(?) rescue the college crowd. Equally terrifying is the ride back to campus in the back of the police car. Filled with warranted resentment of the ongoing racist behavior encountered too often and too freely as Black person in America and very much in unprocessed pain from the death of her mother, Bree barely holds her feelings in check when summoned to the Dean’s office. Not expelled but stuck with a babysitter upperclassmen, Bree is prepared to lose Nick Davis at every possible opportunity. Until the mystical beasts return and it becomes very obvious that something else is at play on the UNC campus. The unseen world hiding in plain sight is the world of the Knights of the Round Table and Nick just happens to be the future King Arthur.
This fantasy world of LEGENDBORN is overlaid on an abundantly real one. For as many instances of hidden power, wild hellbeasts, Merlins, and battle there are also the all too real experiences of racism, casual sexism, grief, and the abuse of slavery. Deonn writes a convincing world in which all of these elements are connected and heroes (not just the legendary) are celebrated. A diverse cast of characters – Black, POC, bisexual, queer, and nonbinary – works to show that anyone can be heroic.