Legend by Marie Lu
Imitation is allegedly the sincerest form of flattery. And in entertainment, it makes sense. I mean, if something makes money, you’re gonna rush to production to make as many knockoffs as possible. And teen dystopia is hotter than Hansel right now. And I read a metric fuckton of it, and I love it. I really honestly truly do. It’s almost always the same formula.
A teen is forced to compete in some sort of trial/challenge/game to determine their place in a fascist government over force where there’s distinct social schema. They inevitably fall in love with their heterosexual opposite, but there’s usually someone else to form up the love triangle/quadrangle/rhombus. They discover they’re special and they, the teen, are the ones to overthrow the government.
Now, that sounds like it’s boilerplate, but there’s a lot of fucking room there. I loved the Hunger Games series. Divergent started out good and fell apart. Same with James Dashner and the Maze Runner series. Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker series and Chuck Wendig’s Heartland trilogy take shit to a new level of astonishing. And I still don’t think I can separate Hugh Howey the person from Hugh Howey’s Wool series enough to say I liked it. If we were in elementary school, he’d get a valentine, but I wouldn’t write anything on it. I’d purposely skip wishing him a Happy Birthday on Facebook.
Marie Lu’s Legend series is a copycat. It’s Hunger Games adjacent. It really leans heavy on the lovestory, and the two leads — June and Day — go full on Twihard. It’s sad, because it spoils what could have been interesting. Plus, Day’s got the worst fucking nickname this side of Buck in Left Behind (who was named because he “bucks tradition.” I just got CANCER and DIABETES from that bullshit.) The world flooded and what’s left of the United States has been divided along the Rockies by a wall. The Republic controls everything with an iron fist, and children aged 12 are forced to take the Trials, which places them in advanced schooling for military positions. June’s a prodigy, the first one to get a perfect score on the Trials, and as such she’s been blasted through the training. Her brother is murdered, supposedly by Day, a criminal who wreaks havoc on the Republic by stealing food and medicine, blowing up their airplanes and destroying shit. So June goes undercover to capture Day, and it becomes West Side Story.
Lu doesn’t spend enough time worldbuilding. It’s sort of patchwork set pieces to build her moon-y love story. Which is the weakest part so it’s hard to love the story as much. These two epic heroes — teenagers in an adult world — hinge on everything. It’s a bit far fetched and makes the story less satisfying.