Legend is a gripping dystopian thriller from beginning to end. Lu's debut novel is a brilliant start to what promises to be a well written, exciting trilogy.
What was once the City of Los Angeles is now the Republic, while the eastern portion of the continent is known as the Colonies. Much of the Republic is flooded and lies in ruin, with decaying high rises, impoverished people and frequent plagues. Run by an aging presidential leader, Elector Primo, the Republic is at war with the Colonies.
Daniel Altan Wing, who goes by the name of Day, is 15 years old and leads the life of a fugitive - that of the Republic's most wanted criminal. Day is wanted for numerous crimes including assault, arson, theft, and destruction of military property. He's highly intelligent and physically gifted. But Day apparently failed the Trial - a test taken when you are 10 years old and designed to determine your fate in life. If you pass the test depending upon your score you continue on to high school and university or college. If your score is low, you join the poor, working in the power plants or water turbines. If you fail, you are sent to the labs to be examined for genetic imperfections. You never see your family again.
Day failed his trial but he managed to escape the labs and has been on the run ever since. His mother believes he is dead. But Day is very much alive and when he sees his family identified as suffering from the plague, he breaks into a hospital hoping to steal plague cures. Things don't go as planned and Day ends up injured and confronting Captain Metias Iparis as he escapes. He wounds Iparis and disappears into the slum sector of Los Angeles.
In contrast to Day, June Iparis, is 15 year old prodigy of the Republic. She and her family are wealthy citizens, her parents having been medical researchers. After the death of her parents, June lives with her brother Metias, in an apartment in Los Angeles. June achieved a perfect Trial score and is about to graduate from Drake University, the most prestigious in the Republic. But when her brother, Metias is killed by outlaw Day, June asks and receives permission to hunt him down and capture him. June succeeds but not before she gets to know Day who not only saves her life but also is not as malicious as portrayed by the Republic.
In an attempt to understand why Day doesn't match what the Republic has portrayed him as and to discover if his claim that he did not kill Metias is true, June hacks into the Republic's databases and reviews her brother's diaries. She makes a shocking discovery that forces her to make choices she never ever would have considered.
The characters of Day, June and Metias are well drawn and supported by a small cast of secondary characters equally well portrayed. Day is a likeable hero and underdog and it's easy to root for him. He challenges June to think more deeply about what she is being told by the Republic. Even when she betrays him, Day is still good to the core, refusing to hate her for what she's done. June, in contrast, although as intellectually and physically gifted as Day is, must grow emotionally and morally.
Although 2011 will definitely be remembered for its focus on dystopian fiction, Lu's effort is by far one of the best published that year. The story, told in the alternating points of view of June and Day and easily distinguished by the change in font and colour of text, is fast paced, with a strong plot line. It will be interesting to see where Lu takes the story from here, since this book could easily stand alone.
It's too bad such a great book has such a shoddy, and to put it bluntly, lame book trailer. PenguinUSA ought to have done a much better job on this one. Shame on them.
Legend by Marie Lu
New York: G.P Putnam's Sons (Penguin Group)