I CANNOT BELIEVE THE CLIFFHANGER THIS BOOK ENDED ON…
…but that frustration aside, Bloodmarked is just as fun and amazing as Legendborn was before it. There were a few things that really annoyed me, but at the end of the day, Tracey Deonn is an amazing writer able to instill these YA novels with a beautiful amount of depth, creativity, and playfulness. In this review: Deonn’s beautiful intent as an author, my personal plot gripes, and what kept me flipping the pages.
This review spoils Bloodmarked starting from the second section.
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The shadows have risen, and the line is law.
All Bree wanted was to uncover the truth behind her mother’s death. So she infiltrated the Legendborn Order, a secret society descended from King Arthur’s knights—only to discover her own ancestral power. Now, Bree has become someone new:
A Medium. A Bloodcrafter. A Scion.
But the ancient war between demons and the Order is rising to a deadly peak. And Nick, the Legendborn boy Bree fell in love with, has been kidnapped.
Bree wants to fight, but the Regents who rule the Order won’t let her. To them, she is an unknown girl with unheard-of power, and as the living anchor for the spell that preserves the Legendborn cycle, she must be protected.
When the Regents reveal they will do whatever it takes to hide the war, Bree and her friends must go on the run to rescue Nick themselves. But enemies are everywhere, Bree’s powers are unpredictable and dangerous, and she can’t escape her growing attraction to Selwyn, the mage sworn to protect Nick until death.
If Bree has any hope of saving herself and the people she loves, she must learn to control her powers from the ancestors who wielded them first—without losing herself in the process.
THE BEAUTY OF AN AUTHOR ON A MISSION
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One of my favorite things about reading these two novels has been Deonn’s notes at the back that tie the whole thing together. Deonn is doing something amazing with these YA fantasy novels: she is making space to imagine things that haven’t often been published before–in the context of dragons and demons, yes, but also in the context of putting classically white legends in conversation with Blackness and historical (and present) white violence. Thinking about kids around the world being able to read Briana’s story fills me with happy fuzzy feelings. Ursula K. Leguin, in her 1974 speech “Why are Americans afraid of Dragons?” says it better than me:
For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it’s true. Children know that. Adults know it too and that’s precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of freedom.
There’s so much going on in Legendborn and even more in Bloodmarked. Bree is both a hero and a human. She’s overpowered, in my opinion, but her real struggle is when and how to use that power. She has teenage drama (good teenage drama) and generational grief. There are parallels to draw between her experience and Black American experiences of racism, being the ‘first,’ and the pressures of coming into power. But these are often approached through a lens of fantasy and heart-poundingly high stakes. It’s one of the things I love about fantasy—the way it can be so true and so imaginary at the same time. Because the idea that magic in literature is white is beyond silly. It’s harmful.
Finally, I love Bree’s character in particular because of how perfectly imperfect she is. Sometimes I get really angry at her for how angry she gets, but often it makes perfect sense. She’s messy, just like most of my favorite fantasy heroes. She’s allowed to just be a person.
“Because you all didn’t give me my power.” I kneel to face the streams, thrust my hands into the earth from which they came. “I did.”
Spoilers from here!
There is soooo much going in in this book. My UK paperback was around 550 pages and the type was so small it hurt my eyes. Ouch!!
From the beginning of this book, Deonn takes the already incredibly high stakes of the first book and quadrupels them. Forget about college, tests, dorm rooms. Insert about five or six independent organizations and groups of people, all with different motivations and plans, mostly trying to get at Bree.
We get it. Her life is in danger all the time. But does it have to be so chock-full of stuff? First, there’s the Order to deal with. There’re also the demons that are supposedly everywhere. Rootcrafters. Then we’re introduced to cambions and warlocks. Morgaines. Someone called the Hunter. The factions of the order that don’t agree with the Regents.
It all kind of sort of ties together in the end, but sometimes I felt it obscured the emotional center of the novel. I couldn’t understand the point of spending so much time in Arthur’s memories, or what the point of focusing on Morgaine was. And though I see why it’s important to the general arc of the story, I feel I still don’t totally get what’s going on with the demons/Shadow Court. Is this about to be a they’re really the good guys thing? Because those regular garden-variety demons we were meeting all through Legendborn were definitely inhuman creatures that fed on negative human emotion. A nice neat baddie if I ever found one.
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I was totally on board with the magic system until we started getting into the Shadow King. I like that aether/root is this mutable magical substance that can be borrowed, bargained for, or stolen (which I’d theorize Bree does a little in the end, but that’s neither here nor there). But this stuff with the shadow King’s crown and Arthur’s memories at the end didn’t really hold up, even next to that extremely forgiving magic system.
Bree also gets really, really hurt about five or six times, and by the fourth, I was just tired of it. That and Bree’s visits to Nick felt repetitive.
WHAT KEPT ME FLIPPING
“I would say you look…devourable,” he murmurs. “And that, for me, is something I don’t wish to share in mixed company. For many, many reasons.”
Sel is such a great brooding demon-boy, and oh what delicious “teenage drama,” as Aunt Lu would say. He’s got the edge, the anger, the bad-boy factor, and he and Bree are almost constantly fighting, and it’s the best, because there are maybe three pages total when they’re actually just being nice to each other. The rest of the time they’re horny or angry. Or dying and trying to rescue one another.
There’s really no better formula.
The choice to have Nick absent for most of this was…interesting. For some reason, it made me think of the season in The Vampire Diaries when Stephen is off being a ripper so Damon swoops in and takes center stage as a love interest.
Point being, it was really hard to keep the reader interested in Bree and Nick, or just Nick in general. And yet he was always there, a constant presence in Bree and Sel’s relationship, and the messiness is divine.
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