This is a much-acclaimed first novel, including being a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award. Legendborn is now also nominated for a Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book (presented by the World Science Fiction Society, the same group that gives the Hugo Award).
The novel deftly weaves traditional fantasy based in Mallory’s King Arthur with her invention of a more esoteric old magic shared by Black women. Deonn’s version of women’s magic, unsurprisingly, was learned during slavery and passed down in secret. But her Round Table is almost unrecognizable; a hierarchical secret society resulting from careful cultivation of wealthy blood lines. The author’s world-building is excellent, infusing both types of magic with her own creative mix of old and new ideas.
Legendborn is essentially a love story between a privileged Black girl who has been denied her magical heritage, and a white boy who doesn’t want his own very privileged magical station. It is an exploration of race and privilege, providing mild instruction for the reader on the annoying effects of subconscious racism. But it also has demonic enemies, magic rituals, and teenagers with what amount to magical superpowers. It is a gripping magical adventure with fighting, suspense, friendship, and betrayal.
Sadly, though the ending is not too much of a cliffhanger, the end of the book is clearly not the end of the story. It seems to be the beginning of a series, but I couldn’t find even a title for a second book.