Last week I read Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy, and I was very impressed. It’s the best dystopia I’ve come across in a long time. The world is richly-imagined, the characters are three-dimensional, the plot twists and turns, it’s just amazing.
The story follows two teenagers in the Republic of America, a nation formed from the western parts of the USA after rising seawater took over much of the country’s eastern seaboard. The remaining eastern states formed the Colonies of America, and the two nations have been at war for as long as the teenage protagonists can recall. The Republic of America has all the hallmarks of your average dystopia: a powerful, unquestioning military; obfuscated history; and a brainwashed but increasingly restless populace. The two main characters, Day and June, come from opposite ends of society. Day has been living on the streets since the age of ten, while June is slated for an impressive career in the military.
There are so, so many things I loved about this series. For a start, it’s just about the only book I’ve read that successfully juggles more than one first-person POV. Day and June alternate the chapter narration, but Lu gives them distinct voices so, even without the different fonts in the published books, it’s clear who is narrating at any given time. Day is frequently sarcastic and jaded, while June is analytical, given to making long parenthetical asides providing precise description about her surroundings and companions. This dual narration allows for some beautiful dramatic irony, ratcheting up the tension when June believes Day has committed a crime, but does not know that Day is the boy she is falling in love with, and likewise Day is falling for June without realising she is a military spy. It’s very well-done indeed.
Additionally, the dual narration allows Lu to show readers the utter poverty and generally awful treatment of many residents of the Republic of America while also allowing the reader to accompany a character on her journey from buying into the Republic’s lies to thinking for herself. One of the most harrowing moments in the series comes when Day tells June that, at the age of ten, Republic doctors performed experiments upon him before leaving him to die. June is shocked, but it’s not Day’s description that is so horrifying to the audience. It’s the fact that June thought children like Day, taken from their families for failing to pass standardised tests, were sent to labour camps. And June did not have a problem with this. Let’s back up a minute. JUNE WAS OKAY WITH TEN-YEAR-OLDS BEING SENT TO LABOUR CAMPS. This is what’s so great about having two narrators from different ends of Republic society; Lu shows us first-hand how Day has suffered, but also how June has been so protected from the suffering and brainwashed into accepting what the Republic tells her is acceptable.
June’s acceptance of things like labour camps is relatively subtle, but that is another area where this book succeeds. We’re shown the world through the protagonists’ biased viewpoints, and they do not explain or dwell on things that are obvious to them. An example of this is when June is performing research for her work in the military. She casually mentions in the narrative that she typed in her password to access the Internet after gaining clearance. The Internet. She needs clearance to access the Internet. In just a throwaway comment Lu shows how exceedingly controlling the Republic is. It’s beautiful.
Lu has clearly thought deeply about the world in which the story is set. The Republic, while recognisable as a military dystopia, has a well-thought-out history and and culture. This was, however, my least-favourite aspect of the book. I tend to have a love-hate relationship with dystopias; I love them for how they reflect aspects of our own society back at us, but hate them as I have a low threshold for violence. As a result, my favourite dystopias are those like The Hunger Games that take a particular aspect of modern culture and twist it. Lu does do this in the series, but not with the Republic. The Colonies are ruled by corporations, an act of desperation on the part of a populace who could not trust their government to keep them alive. Only later would they realise the cost of having to pay a corporation to cover things like law enforcement. Antarctica (now a temperate nation, thank you global warming) functions something like a computer game, with individuals achieving experience points for doing good deeds and losing them for committing crimes, whether or not they’re witnessed doing so. While this keeps crime down, June rightfully questions if, for instance, disagreeing with the government would affect ones XP level. I would have liked to have seen more of Colonies and Antarctican society as I find both concepts more interesting than the military rule of the Republic.
All in all, I really enjoyed this series. Definitely a 5-star read for me. Lu takes everything that makes dystopic literature so great and rolls it all into one perfect package.