I've heard that Marie Lu was inspired by Les Miserables and wrote Legend to see if a story like this would translate well into a more modernized (or in this case perhaps even futurized would be appropriate) setting. While I am not overly familiar with Les Miserables, I feel that Legend is an absolutely fantastic novel that is definitely worth your time and attention.
Now, let me tell you why...
The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias' death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.
Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.
The first thing that needs to be said about Legend is that I love the dual point-of-view and the reason for that is not the different font colors. It's not even simply getting the two different perspectives, which I usually view as a plus anyway. What makes the dual point of view in Legend so captivating and vital is that the way that the plot is structured allows the reader a before and after of the events of the story. We see Day's love of his family. We see June and Metias' closeness and affection as brother and sister. And we feel each character's grief, shock and panic as their world is torn apart.
The novel puts the reader in a position of being an investigator, or perhaps even a member of a jury depending on one's perspective. While the plot unfolds we continue to receive new facts and make new discoveries, both about the characters and the world they inhabit and each of their individual situations and goals. And we are subtly offered the chance to weigh in and to take a side, or to simply stay neutral and see how the tale will flesh out.
The book is broken into two parts and by the time that we get to the second odds are that each reader's mind will be relatively well set one way or another -- only to be further rocked with more revelations and ultimately a thrilling conclusion that both allows Legend to be a novel in it's own right and to set it up so that a sequel can be written. To say I was well pleased with the plot structure is an understatement. I thought that the overall execution of plot, pacing and revelation -- the art through which we learn of this place and its secrets -- was expertly crafted. I was never bored and my mind was constantly reeling, although never to a point that I was ignoring what I was currently reading. Brilliant.
Of course all the fine plotting and pacing and world building and overall scheming means nothing if the characters do not make the reader care. Fortunately, despite their repeatedly stated super-intelligence, I found June and Day equally compelling and my heart went out to each of them in their own way.
Life on the streets and knowing a great deal more about the truth of the Republic then most has turned Day into a young man with a strong knack for survival. I like the fact that Day clearly had his own code of morals and that Marie Lu took the time to make it clear to the reader at every opportunity that Day did the things he did for the good of him, his family, Tess, etc. His compassion, general sense of honor and sense of remorse when something bad happened kept him a very human character to me, despite his smarts and the very inhumane world that he inhabited. I was immediately intrigued and ultimately smitten. Nice work here.
June made a fantastic parallel and was a terrific heroine. Rich and accustomed to luxury and comfort, we see her misbehaving during the beginning of the tale and watch her slowly become truly aware of the world that she lives in as she experiences loss and witnesses losses that happen to others. I like the fact that for once in a YA it was actually the female protagonist who needed to go through a tremendous amount of change of any real fashion, that she had to reevaluate her perceptions of the world so that she could actually get to the truth of the thing that she had to learn the truth about. (Her brother's murder.) The fact is, this book is very much about falling to the earth and rising up again on an internal level as far as June is concerned and I think Marie Lu did a great job of pulling this off. It could also be pointed out that perhaps Day represents street smarts or 'working man' intellect whereas June represents academics and how it can blind us to the world.
The rest of the characters were good but I do wish they'd been given a little more meat / depths / development. I didn't get a strong enough overall sense of the villains reasons for what they were doing, the purpose of the experiments going on, etc. and that can be problematic. Hopefully this will be addressed more carefully in the next book. A powerful connection to the villain(s) of a book is every bit as important as a connection to the hero / heroine. The fact that I am flatly referring to characters as villains rather then antagonists further emphasizes my lack of connection with them. (I don't want to use exact names, either, since it could ruin someone's experience with the book.)
The love story here was very smartly done. And no, that's not said tongue in cheek as a mockery of the characters' intelligence. There is time and effort taken during the early stages of the story to show Day and June's lives before they intersect, and part of that is showing the reader each character's romantic background (or relative lack thereof). I think this was very clever and that, yet again in parallel, this allowed the story to progress as it did.
I felt that the attraction between the characters, especially as the story progressed and facts came to light, was very believable and that it made sense. There was no instant sense of "this is the love of my life!", which would not have worked here. Instead, the characters do feel a sense of attraction, a certain draw toward each other, but it takes time for them to react to and act on it. And even that does not immediately seal their complete loyalty to each other or make them give up on their individual goals.
What I really like about the love story in Legend is that the way that the characters come together and are pushed apart -- yet still within enough proximity for the story not to go flat -- allowed the romance / attraction to grow alongside the characters themselves as individuals. What they feel for each other does not control the entire book, but works alongside, and sometimes even against, everything else that is going on. The last thing I will say is that I liked the fact that their feelings for each other, in my opinion, drew out the best in each of them. This is not always the case in a YA love story and I was glad to see that it was so here.
Is it a safe bet to say that I loved Legend? Absolutely. So much of the story hinged on whether or not June and Day were interesting, likeable and able to be related to. And for me they were. I have heard some complaints that their intelligence was unbelievable, or that if they were so smart they should not have made the mistakes that they did. But this, in my opinion, assumes that intellect makes someone immune to human error. And that intelligence is an overall and generalized thing. As I said earlier, there are different ways in which someone can be smart. On the other hand, I will say that the amount of intelligence the characters truly possessed, based on an evaluation, was questionable. That sort of testing is generally too rigid and I think that Marie Lu did the right thing in how she made June and Day have distinct strengths and weaknesses despite their "smarts".
So, is Legend worth your time? I think so. If you like a love story with people coming together from two completely different lives, practically two different worlds, you will probably love this just as much as I did. I can say with great confidence and certainty that I am anxiously awaiting the next book!