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Table of Contents
About The Book
An Instant New York Times Bestseller!
Winner of the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe for New Talent Author Award
Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.
After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.
The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.
She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.
A CAROLINA FIRST-YEAR sprints through the darkness and launches himself off the cliff into the moonlit night.
His shout sends sleepy birds flying overhead. The sound echoes against the rock face that borders the Eno Quarry. Flashlights track his flailing body, all windmilling arms and kicking legs, until he hits the water with a cracking splash. At the cliff line above, thirty college students cheer and whoop, their joy weaving through the pine trees. Like a constellation in motion, cone-shaped beams of light roam the lake’s surface. Collective breath, held. All eyes, searching. Waiting. Then, the boy erupts from the water with a roar, and the crowd explodes.
Cliff jumping is the perfect formula for Southern-white-boy fun: rural recklessness, a pocket flashlight’s worth of precaution, and a dare. I can’t look away. Each run draws my own feet an inch closer to the edge. Each leap into nothingness, each hovering moment before the fall, calls to a spark of wild yearning inside my chest.
I press that yearning down. Seal it closed. Board it up.
“Lucky he didn’t break his damn legs,” Alice mutters in her soft twang. She scoffs, peering over the edge to watch the grinning jumper grasp protruding rocks and exposed vines to climb the rock face. Her straight, coal-black hair lies plastered to her temple. The warm, sticky palm of late-August humidity presses down on our skin. My curls are already up in a puff, as far away from the back of my neck as possible, so I hand her the extra elastic band from my wrist. She takes it wordlessly and gathers her hair in a ponytail. “I read about this quarry on the way here. Every few years kids get hurt, fall on the rocks, drown. We’re sure as hell not jumping, and it’s getting late. We should go.”
“Why? ’Cause you’re getting bit?” I swat at a tiny flickering buzz near her arm.
She fixes me with a glare. “I’m insulted by your weak conversational deflection. That’s not best-friend behavior. You’re fired.” Alice wants to major in sociology, then maybe go into law. She’s been interrogating me since we were ten.
I roll my eyes. “You’ve best-friend fired me fifty times since we were kids and yet you keep rehiring me. This job sucks. HR is a nightmare.”
“And yet you keep coming back. Evidence, if circumstantial, that you enjoy the work.”
I shrug. “Pay is good.”
“You know why I don’t like this.”
I do. It’s not like I’d planned to break the law our first night on campus, but after dinner an opportunity had presented itself in the shape of Charlotte Simpson, a girl we knew from Bentonville High. Charlotte popped her head into our dorm room before we’d even finished unpacking and demanded we join her for a night out. After two years of EC, Charlotte had officially enrolled as a Carolina undergraduate this year and, apparently, she’d turned party girl somewhere in the interim.
During the day, the Eno River State Park is open for hiking, camping, and kayaking, but if you sneak in after the gates close like all the kids here have, it’s probably-to-definitely trespassing. Not something I’d normally go for, but Charlotte explained that the night before the first day of classes is special. It’s tradition for some juniors and seniors to host a party at the Quarry. Also tradition? First-year students jumping off the edge of the cliffs into the mineral-rich lake at its center. The park straddles Orange and Durham Counties and sits north of I-85, about twenty-five minutes away from Carolina’s campus. Charlotte drove us here in her old silver Jeep, and the entire ride over I felt Alice beside me in the back seat, shrinking against the illegality of it all.
The jumper’s unfettered laughter crests the cliff before his head does. I can’t remember the last time my laugh sounded like that.
“You don’t like this because it’s”—I drop my voice into a dramatic whisper—“against the rules?”
Alice’s dark eyes burn behind her glasses. “Gettin’ caught off campus at night is an automatic expulsion from EC.”
“Hold up. Charlotte said a bunch of students do it every year.”
Another jumper sprints through the woods. A deeper splash. Cheers. Alice juts her chin toward the other students. “That’s them. Tell me why you want to be here?”
Because I can’t just sit in our room right now. Because ever since my mother died, there’s a version of me inside that wants to break things and scream.
I lift a shoulder. “Because what better way to begin our adventure than with a pinch of rebellion?”
She does not look amused.
“Did someone say rebellion?” Charlotte’s boots crunch through the leaves and pine needles. The sharp sound stands out from the droning background of crickets and the low bass thump pulsing our way from the party’s speakers. She comes to a stop next to me and brushes her auburn ponytail away from her shoulder. “Y’all jumpin’? It is tradition.” She smirks. “And it’s fun.”
“No,” damn near leaps out of Alice’s mouth. Something must have shown on my face, because Charlotte grins and Alice says, “Bree…”
“Aren’t you pre-med or something, Charlotte?” I ask. “How are you this smart and this bad an influence?”
“It’s college,” Charlotte says with a shrug. “?‘Smart but a bad influence’ describes like half the student body.”
“Char?” A male voice calls out from behind a raggedy holly. Charlotte’s face breaks into a wide smile even before she turns around to see the tall red-haired boy walking toward us. He holds a red Solo cup in one hand and a flashlight in the other.
“Hey, babe,” Charlotte purrs, and greets him with a giggling kiss.
“Char?” I mouth to a grimacing Alice.
When they separate, Charlotte waves us over. “Babe, these are new EC kids from back home. Bree and Alice.” She curls around the boy’s arm like a koala. “This is my boyfriend, y’all. Evan Cooper.”
Evan’s perusal takes long enough that I wonder what he’s thinking about us.
Alice is Taiwanese-American, short, and wiry, with observant eyes and a semipermanent smirk. Her whole MO is dressing to make a good impression “just in case,” and tonight she chose dark jeans and a polka-dotted blouse with a Peter Pan collar. Under Evan’s scrutiny, she pushes her round glasses up her nose and gives a shy wave.
I’m five-eight—tall enough that I might pass for a college student—and Black. Blessed with my mother’s cheekbones and curves and my father’s full mouth. I’d pulled on old jeans and a tee. Shy isn’t really my thing.
Evan’s eyes widen when they take me in. “You’re the girl whose mom died, right? Bree Matthews?”
A trickle of pain inside, and my wall snaps into place. Death creates an alternate universe, but after three months, I have the tools to live in it.
Charlotte jabs Evan in the ribs with her elbow, sending him daggers with her eyes. “What?” He puts his hands up. “That’s what you sai—”
“Sorry.” She cuts him off, her gaze apologetic.
My wall works two ways: it hides the things I need to hide and helps me show the things I need to show. Particularly useful with the Sorry for Your Loss crowd. In my mind’s eye, the wall’s reinforced now. Stronger than wood, iron, steel. It has to be, because I know what comes next: Charlotte and Evan will unleash the predictable stream of words everyone says when they realize they’re talking to the Girl Whose Mom Died.
It’s like Comforting Grieving People Bingo, except when all the squares get covered, everyone loses.
Charlotte perks up. Here we go…
“How are you holding up? Is there anything I can do for you?”
The real answers to those two questions? The really real answers? Not well and No. Instead I say, “I’m fine.”
No one wants to hear the real answers. What the Sorry for Your Loss Crowd wants is to feel good about asking the questions. This game is awful.
“I can’t imagine,” Charlotte murmurs, and that’s another square covered on the bingo board. They can imagine it; they just wouldn’t want to.
Some truths only tragedy can teach. The first one I learned is that when people acknowledge your pain, they want your pain to acknowledge them back. They need to witness it in real time, or else you’re not doing your part. Charlotte’s hungry blue eyes search for my tears, my quivering lower lip, but my wall is up, so she won’t get either. Evan’s eager gaze hunts for my grief and suffering, but when I jut my chin out in defiance, he averts his eyes.
“Sorry for your loss.”
And with the words I most despise, Evan hits bingo.
People lose things when they have a mental lapse. Then they find that thing again from the lost place. But my mother isn’t lost. She’s gone.
Before-Bree is gone, too, even though I pretend that she’s not.
After-Bree came into being the day after my mom died. I went to sleep that night and when I woke up, she was there. After-Bree was there during the funeral. After-Bree was there when our neighbors knocked on our door to offer sorrow and broccoli casserole. After-Bree was with me when the visiting mourners finally went home. Even though I can only recall hazy snippets from the hospital—trauma-related memory loss, according to my father’s weird, preachy grief book—I have After-Bree. She’s the unwanted souvenir that death gave me.
In my mind’s eye, After-Bree looks almost like me. Tall, athletic, warm brown skin, broader-than-I-want shoulders. But where my dark, tight curls are usually pulled up on top of my head, After-Bree’s stretch wide and loose like a live oak tree. Where my eyes are brown, hers are the dark ochre, crimson, and obsidian of molten iron in a furnace, because After-Bree is in a constant state of near explosion. The worst is at night, when she presses against my skin from the inside and the pain is unbearable. We whisper together, I’m sorry, Mom. This is all my fault. She lives and breathes inside my chest, one heartbeat behind my own life and breath, like an angry echo.
Containing her is a full-time job.
Alice doesn’t know about After-Bree. Nobody does. Not even my dad. Especially not my dad.
Alice clears her throat, the sound breaking like a wave against my thoughts. How long did I zone out? A minute? Two? I focus on the three of them, face blank, wall up. Evan gets antsy in the silence and blurts out, “By the way, your hair is totally badass!”
I know without looking that the curls springing out of my puff are wide-awake, reaching toward the sky in the night’s humidity. I bristle, because his tone is the one that feels less like a compliment and more like he’s happened upon a fun oddity—and that fun oddity is Black me with my Black hair. Wonderful.
Alice shoots me a sympathetic glance that Evan misses entirely, because of course he does. “I think we’re done here. Can we go?”
Charlotte pouts. “Half an hour more, I promise. I wanna check out the party.”
“Yeah! Y’all come watch me shotgun a PBR!” Evan slings an arm around his girlfriend’s shoulders and leads her away before we can protest.
Alice grumbles under her breath and takes off after them, stepping high over rangy weeds at the edge of the tree line. Fall panicum and marestail, mostly. My mother had called the stuff “witchgrass” and “horseweed fleabane” back when she was alive to call out plants to me.
Alice is almost to the trees before she realizes I’m not following. “You comin’?”
“I’ll be there in a sec. I wanna watch some more jumps.” I jerk a thumb over my shoulder.
She stomps back. “I’ll wait with you.”
“No, that’s okay. You go ahead.”
She scrutinizes me, torn between taking me at my word or pushing further. “Watch, not jump?”
“Watch, not jump.”
“Matty.” Her childhood nickname for me—Matty, short for my last name—twists at something deep in my chest. Old memories have been doing that lately, even the ones that aren’t about her, and I sort of hate it. My vision goes fuzzy with the threat of tears, and I have to blink Alice’s features into focus—pale face, glasses perpetually sliding to the tip of her nose. “I… I know this isn’t how we thought it would be. Being at Carolina, I mean. But… I think your mom woulda come around to it. Eventually.”
I cast my gaze out as far as the moonlight allows. Across the lake, treetops are the shadowed fringe between the quarry and the murky sky. “We’ll never know.”
“Always a but.”
Something hard slips into her voice. “But if she were here, I don’t think she’d want you to… to…”
“To become some other person.”
I kick at a pebble. “I need to be alone for a minute. Enjoy the party. I’ll be there soon.”
She eyes me as if gauging my mood. “?‘I hate tiny parties—they force one into constant exertion.’?”
I squint, searching my memories for the familiar words. “Did you—did you just Jane Austen me?”
Her dark eyes twinkle. “Who’s the literary nerd? The quoter or the one who recognizes the quote?”
“Wait.” I shake my head in amusement. “Did you just Star Wars me?”
“Nah.” She grins. “I New Hope’d you.”
“Y’all comin’?” Charlotte’s disembodied voice shoots back through the woods like an arrow. Alice’s eyes still hold a pinch of worry, but she squeezes my hand before walking away.
Once I can no longer hear the rustle of her shoes in the underbrush, I release a breath. Dig out my phone.
Hey, kiddo, you and Alice get settled in okay?
The second text had arrived fifteen minutes later.
I know you’re our Brave Bree who was ready to escape Bentonville, but don’t forget us little people back home. Make your mom proud. Call when you can. Love, Dad.
I shove my phone back into my pocket.
I had been ready to escape Bentonville, but not because I was brave. At first I’d wanted to stay home. It seemed right, after everything. But months of living under the same roof alone with my dad made my shame intolerable. Our grief is for the same person, but our grief is not the same. It’s like those bar magnets in physics class; you can push the matching poles together, but they don’t want to touch. I can’t touch my dad’s grief. Don’t really want to. In the end, I left Bentonville because I was too scared to stay.
I pace along the cliff, away from the crowd, and keep the quarry to my left. The scents of damp soil and pine rise up with every footstep. If I breathe in deeply enough, the mineral smell of ground stone catches at the back of my throat. A foot over, the earth falls away below my feet and the lake stretches out wide, reflecting the sky and the stars and the possibilities of night.
From here, I can see what the jumpers were working with: whatever cleaved the dirt and rocks to form the quarry had dug at a thirty-degree angle. To clear the face entirely, one has to run fast and leap far. No hesitation allowed.
I imagine myself running like the moon is my finish line. Running like I can leave the anger and the shame and gossip behind. I can almost feel the delicious burn in my muscles, the rush sweet and strong in my veins, as I sail over the cliff and into emptiness. Without warning, the roiling spark of After-Bree stretches up from my gut like a vine on fire, but this time I don’t shove her away. She unfurls behind my ribs, and the hot pressure of her is so powerful it feels like I could explode.
Part of me wants to explode.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
A wry voice from behind startles me and sends a few birds, hidden in the canopy above, squawking into the sky.
I hadn’t heard anyone approach through the underbrush, but a tall, dark-haired boy leans casually against a tree as if he’d been there the whole time; arms over his chest and black combat boots crossed at the ankles. The boy’s expression is lazy with disdain, like he can’t even be bothered to muster up a full dose of the stuff.
“Forgive me for interrupting. It looked like you were about to jump off a cliff. Alone. In the dark,” he drawls.
He is unsettlingly beautiful. His face is aristocratic and sharp, framed by high, pale cheekbones. The rest of his body is borne from shadows: black jacket, black pants, and ink-black hair that falls over his forehead and curls just below gauged ears bearing small black rubber plugs. He can’t be more than eighteen, but something about his features doesn’t belong to a teenager—the cut of his jaw, the line of his nose. His stillness.
The boy who is both young and old lets me study him, but only for a moment. Then, he levels his tawny gaze in challenge. When our eyes meet, a stinging shock races through me, head to heels, leaving fear in its wake.
I swallow, look away. “I could make that jump.”
He snorts. “Cliff jumping is asinine.”
“No one asked you.” I have a stubborn streak aggravated by other stubborn people, and this boy clearly qualifies.
I step to his right. Quick as a cat, he reaches for me, but I twist away before he gets a grip. His eyebrows lift, and the corner of his mouth twitches. “I haven’t seen you around before. Are you new?”
“I’m leaving.” I turn, but the boy is beside me in two steps.
“Do you know who I am?”
“I’m Selwyn Kane.”
His gaze sends tiny, invisible sparks of electricity dancing across my cheek. I flinch and throw my hand up between us like a shield.
Fingers, too hot, too strong, instantly close around my wrist. A tingling sensation shoots down to my elbow. “Why did you cover your face?”
I don’t have an answer for him. Or myself. I try to yank away from him, but his hold is like iron. “Let go!”
Selwyn’s eyes widen slightly, then narrow; he is not used to being shouted at. “Do you—do you feel something? When I look at you?”
“What?” I pull, but he holds me tightly without effort. “No.”
“Quiet!” he orders. Bright indignation flares in my chest, but his unusual eyes rake across my face. Snuff it right out. “Strange. I thought—”
Suddenly, shouts break the night, but this time they’re not from the cliff jumpers. We both twist toward the forest and beyond it, to the party in the clearing. More yelling—and not the happy, drunk kind.
A low growl close by my ear. I jump when I realize the sound is coming from the demanding boy whose fingers are still locked around my wrist. As he stares into the trees, his mouth curves into a satisfied smile, exposing two canines that nearly touch his bottom lip. “Got you.”
“Got who?” I demand.
Selwyn startles, as if he’d completely forgotten I was there, then releases me with a frustrated grunt. He takes off, speeding into the woods, a silent shadow between the trees. He’s out of sight before I can form a response.
A jarring scream echoes from the party on my left. Raised voices ring out from the cliff jumpers on my right, who are now sprinting for the clearing too. Blood freezes in my veins.
Heart pounding in my chest, I race to the trailhead to follow Selwyn, but once I’m under tree cover, the ground is barely visible in the darkness. Three steps in, I trip and fall hard into bramble. Branches scrape my palms and arms. I take two shaking breaths. Let my eyes adjust. Stand. Listen for the sounds of yelling undergraduates. Then, adrenaline shooting through my veins, I jog half a mile in the right direction with quick, careful steps, wondering how the hell Selwyn could move so fast through the woods without a flashlight.
By the time I stumble into the clearing, the party is chaos. Undergrads push against one another to run down the long narrow path toward the cars parked at the gravel lot. Beyond the trees, car engines growl to life in a rolling wave. Two guys struggle to lift the kegs and push them onto truck beds while a small crowd beside them tries to help “lighten” the barrels by drinking straight from the hose. Beside the fire, a circle of twenty kids cheer while holding Solo cups and cell phones high in the air. Whatever or whoever they’re looking at won’t be Alice. She’d try to find me, like I’m trying to find her. I reach for my phone, but there are no missed calls or texts. She’s got to be freaking out.
“Alice!” I scan the crowd for her, for Charlotte’s ponytail and T-shirt, for Evan’s red hair, but they aren’t there. A half-naked, dripping-wet undergrad girl shoves past me. “Alice Chen!” Campfire smoke billows thick in the air; I can barely see anything. I push through sweating, churning bodies, calling Alice’s name.
A tall blond girl scowls when I shout too close to her face, and I scowl back. She’s beautiful the way a well-maintained dagger is beautiful: sharp, shiny, and all angles. A bit prissy. Absolutely Alice’s type. Damnit, where is she—
“Everybody out ’fore someone calls the cops!” the girl yells.
I glance up right as the Solo cup–carrying circle parts. It only takes a second to see the cause of the screams from earlier and the reason why someone might call the cops: a fight. A bad one. Four drunken, enormous boys are rolling and swinging in a pile on the ground. Probably football players right out of preseason and fueled by adrenaline, beer, and who knows what else. One of the giants has another’s shirt in his hand, the fabric pulled so taut I hear the seam rip. The third is on his feet, rearing back for a kick to the fourth boy’s stomach. It’s like watching gladiators brawl, except instead of armor they’re covered in layers of muscle and have necks as thick as my thigh, and instead of weapons they’re swinging fists the size of award-winning grapefruits. The hurricane cloud of dirt they’ve created has put so much smoke and dust in the air that I almost miss the flicker of light and movement above their heads.
There! There it is again. In the air above the boys, something is shimmering and dancing. A greenish-silver something that swoops, dives, and flickers in and out of transparency like a glitching hologram.
The image pulls at a string of memory. The shimmer of light… and the very feeling of it, punches the breath right out of my lungs.
I’ve seen this before, but I can’t remember where.…
I turn, gasping, to the student beside me, a wide-eyed boy in a Tar Heels T-shirt. “Do you see that?”
“You mean the jackasses fighting over nothing?” He taps his phone. “Yeah, why do you think I’m filming?”
“No, the—the light.” I point at the flickering. “There!”
The boy searches the air; then his expression turns wry. “Been smokin’ something?”
“Come on!” The blond girl pushes through the circle of spectators, standing between the fighters and the crowd with her hands on her hips. “Time to go!”
The boy beside me waves her away. “Get outta the shot, Tor!”
Tor rolls her eyes. “You need to leave, Dustin!” Her vicious glare sends most of the gawkers running.
The something is still there, beyond the blond girl’s head. Heart hammering, I take in the scene again. No one else has noticed the silvery mass hovering and flapping above the boys’ heads—either that, or no one else can see it. Cold dread creeps into my stomach.
Grief does strange things to people’s minds. This I know. One morning a couple of weeks after my mother died, my dad said he thought he could smell her cheesy grits cooking on the stove—my favorite and my mother’s specialty. Once, I heard her humming down the hall from my bedroom. Something so mundane and simple, so regular and small, that for a moment, the prior weeks were just a nightmare, and I was awake now and she was alive. Death moves faster than brains do.
I exhale through the memories, shut my eyes tight, open them again. No one else can see this, I think, scanning the group a final time. No one…
Except the figure on the other side of the fire, tucked between the trunks of two oaks.
He glares upward, his expression calculating. Irritated. His sharp eyes watch the there-not-there shape too. Long fingers twitch at his sides, silver rings flashing in the shadows. Without warning, through wisps of smoke rising in eddies and waves over the campfire, Selwyn’s eyes find mine. He sighs. Actually sighs, as if now that the hologram creature is here, I bore him. Insult spikes through my fear. Still holding my gaze, he makes a quick, jerking motion with his chin, and a vicious snap of invisible electricity wraps around my body like a rope and yanks me backward—away from the boy and the something. It pulls so hard and so fast that I nearly fall. His mouth moves, but I can’t hear him.
I resist, but the rope sensation responds, tight pain in my body blossoming into a single utterance:
The word materializes in my brain like an idea of my own that I’d simply forgotten. The command brands itself behind my eyes and echoes like a bell rung deep inside my chest until it’s all I can hear. It floods my mouth and nose with dizzying scents—a bit of smoke, followed by cinnamon. The need to go saturates my world until I’m so heavy with it that my eyelids drop.
When I open my eyes again, I’ve already turned to face the direction of the parking lot. In my next breath, I’m walking away.
Reading Group Guide
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By Tracy Deonn
About the Book
Sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews changed when she lost her mother in a tragic car accident three months ago. Since then, she’s been building a wall, one that blocks her childhood memories and imprisons her emotions. To escape her childhood home, the place where her mother’s memories are bound, she attends the early college program at UNC-Chapel Hill. It’s the perfect getaway until Bree witnesses a magic attack: a half-corporeal demon feeding on the negative energy of fighting students. Although a mysterious boy, Selwyn Kane, tries to wipe her memory of the event, Bree remembers and resolves to learn the mystery behind what happened that magical night, especially after she discovers she’s had her memory wiped once before, on the night her mother died. On a quest to find the truth about her mother and magic, Bree enters a hidden world that lurks right under humanity’s nose, a world where demons are a constant threat, and descendants of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are called on to defeat them. With the help of a self-exiled descendant, Bree is pulled further into this world and must decide how far she is willing to go. She must figure out if she will run from the Legendborn, from the truth, and from her history, or if she is willing to fight a war that isn’t her own.
1. After the passing of her mother, Bree puts up an internal wall. How does this wall both help and hinder her throughout the novel? What are some walls you put up to protect yourself? Is there a time when some of those walls have come down?
2. How would you describe Bree’s friendship with Alice? Use the text to support your answers.
3. Bree learns that all Arthurian legends can be traced back to the Order, as members had a hand in the stories that spread around the world and a “pen in every text from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Tennyson.” What does this statement suggest? What does it tell us about how history is often preserved and recorded? How could this relate to your national history?
4. As the new Pages get the tour of the house, Tor gestures toward Bree while stating that the chapter is welcoming its most diverse Page class. What is the social definition of the word diversity? How might Tor’s comment suggest a superficial definition of the word?
5. Scions pay a heavy price for their service: because the binding occurred centuries ago, they have no choice but to heed the call, whether they want to or not. Do you think it’s fair to be beholden to something your ancestors decided centuries before you were born? Explain your answer.
6. The Unsung Founders Memorial is UNC-Chapel Hill’s way of acknowledging the history of enslavement and the slave labor that built the university. What is the history of the land you now occupy?
7. Nick explains that, for a long time, the men in the Order would eliminate daughters to force the Call to the next heir. What does this say about the Order and patriarchy?
8. Patricia takes Bree on a memory walk, a sort of time-travel into the memories of the ancestors. If you had the opportunity to go on a memory walk, who would you walk with and why? What would you want to learn?
9. Patricia says, “‘Everything has two histories. Especially in the South.’” What does she mean by this? How does it relate to United States history?
10. Consider the magic of the Legendborn versus the magic of Rootcrafters. How are they similar and different? Do you think one is better than the other? Support your answers with details from the text.
11. Bree walks with her ancestors and eventually houses a few within herself. How is intergenerational connection important to the story? How is intergenerational connection important in your life?
12. Mariah says, “‘This is the South; there are a lot of unsettled Black folks in the ground.’” What does the word unsettled mean in this sentence? What do you think Mariah means by this statement?
13. Discuss the chapters’ chant alongside Bree’s heritage, and how some Order members treat her. “When the shadows rise, so will the light, when blood is shed, blood will Call. By the King’s Table, for the Order’s might, by our eternal Oaths, the Line is Law.”
14. Analyze the quarry scenes at the beginning and end of the book. What does the cliff symbolize?
15. Although Bree loves Nick, there is a figurative and literal spark between her and Selwyn. What might this mean for the future of their collective and individual relationships?
16. The southern setting is critical to the narrative’s progression. How does the setting enhance the story? Do you think this story could be as effective if transferred to another university or state? Explain your answers.
17. Who or what is After-Bree and Before-Bree? How are they different? How are they alike?
18. Legendborn is infused with magic, but there are also conversations about racism and whiteness, including tokenism, microaggressions, and enslavement. What does this add to the story? What topics did the novel make you think more deeply about?
19. Therapy is an important part of Bree’s journey. How might stories like Legendborn be therapeutic?
20. In interviews, the author said she collaborated with a Welsh language and medievalist consultant for the Welsh terms used throughout the book. Do you think the inclusion of this language enhances or detracts from the story? Explain your answer. If you could collaborate with someone in a specialized field to write your own story, what would it be?
1. Black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins says there are controlling images—the Mammy, the Jezebel, the Sapphire—that often confine Black women and girls. Research these images and create a text using a medium of your choice that discusses how the Order attempts to confine Bree and how Bree pushes past those boundaries. Consider creating a written piece, artwork, podcast recording, or other form.
2. Read Arthurian legends and compare them with the mythos of this story. Stories and concepts to consider could include the following: the Knights of the Round Table, the Holy Grail, Excalibur, the Battle of Camlann, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Le Morte d’Arthur, or Lancelot and Guinevere. After reading, use the legends as a foundation for your own short story.
3. Bree winds up on campus through UNC-Chapel Hill’s early college program. Although the author acknowledges that there is no such program at the university, these programs do exist across the United States. Find a program that looks interesting and weigh the pros and cons of attending such a program as a high school student. Prepare an argument to present your case.
4. A major part of the story revolves around the racial history of UNC-Chapel Hill. Research the racial history of a local university or a university you want to attend. Some questions to consider:
How has the university grappled with its racial history?
What are the current demographics of the university, and how have those demographics changed over time?
What are the demographics of the faculty and how have they changed over time?
On which Indigenous lands does the university sit? Does the university acknowledge the Indigenous lands they occupy?
5. The Order’s hierarchy is arranged like that of the medieval feudal system. With a partner, research the feudal system, and create a chart that shows the hierarchy of the Legendborn characters.
6. The Legendborn belong to a secret society. Explore the history of one secret society and present your findings to the class. For ideas, consider the following societies: the Order of Skull and Bones, Freemasons, Rosicrucians, the Grand Orange Lounge, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Ancient Order of Foresters, the Flat Hat Club, Quill and Dagger, Seven Society, Order of Gimghoul, or Wolf’s Head. Consider the differences between society and community when studying one of these groups, and discuss when presenting your findings.
Guide written by Stephanie R. Toliver, an assistant professor of Literacy and Secondary Humanities at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her scholarship centers the freedom dreams of Black youth and honors the historical legacy that Black imaginations have had and will have on activism and social change.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
- Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (September 15, 2020)
- Length: 512 pages
- ISBN13: 9781534441606
- Grades: 9 and up
- Ages: 14 - 99
- Lexile ® HL730L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
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Raves and Reviews
“A King Arthur reimagining that adds seats to the roundtable, inviting new readers to find themselves within its lore, Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn braids southern folk traditions and Black Girl Magic into a searing modern tale of grief, power, and self-discovery.”
– Dhonielle Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Belles
"Legendborn is an enthralling, standout modern fantasy about history and power, and Deonn is an author to watch."
– Kiersten White, New York Times bestselling author
"Legendborn is intoxicating, electrifying, and resonates with a deep understanding and vulnerable adoration of what it is to be a Black girl searching for the magic of herself. Tracy Deonn captivates you from page one with her perfect pacing, exhilarating plotting, and a command of storytelling that cannot be ignored. This book will hold everything you are hostage until, page by page, you discover how it has actually set you free."
– LL McKinney, author of the critically acclaimed Nightmare-Verse series
"Legendborn is a thrilling and tense fantasy that weaves Arthurian adventure with southern Black culture into a story that had me shouting. It will hook readers from the very beginning and leave them breathless until the final, mind-blowing revelation."
– Kwame Mbalia, New York Times bestselling author of the Tristan Strong series.
“Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare and Kiersten White, Tracy Deonn's unique reimagining of Arthurian legend is full of magic and heart. A brilliant debut!”
– Ashley Poston, National Best-Selling Author of Geekerella
"Legendborn is a remarkable debut that should firmly place Tracy Deonn on every fantasy and contemporary YA reader's radar. Deft and insightful blending of Arthurian legend and Southern Black American history make for an engrossing tale of mystery, romance, and finding your place in the world?—an absolute must-read!"
– Alyssa Cole, award-winning romance author
Sixteen-year-old Black whiz kid Bree Matthews battles grief and demonic forces on her college campus.
After her mother dies in an accident, Bree begins a residential program for enterprising teens at her mother’s alma mater and, soon after her arrival, witnesses a magical attack that triggers hidden memories about the evening her mother was killed. Haunted by the fact that their final conversation was an argument, Bree begins a redemptive quest to uncover the connection between her mother’s death and the university’s secret society, the Order of the Round Table, joining their ranks as an initiate and unwittingly stumbling into a centuries-old supernatural war. While competing in the tournament that determines entry to the society, Bree discovers the truth about her heretofore unknown magical abilities, unwinding a complex history that showcases the horrors chattel slavery in the American South perpetuates on the descendants of all involved. Push through clunky expositions and choppy transitions that interrupt the cohesion of the text to discover solid character development that brings forward contemporary, thoughtful engagement with the representation, or lack thereof, of race in canonical Arthurian lore and mythologies. Representation of actualized, strong queer characters is organic, not forced, and so are textual conversations around emotional wellness and intergenerational trauma. Well-crafted allusions to established legends and other literary works are delightful easter eggs.
Don’t look over sea or under stone, this is the fantasy novel for all once and future fans of suspense-filled storytelling. (author's note) (Fantasy. 14-18)
– Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2020
*DEONN, Tracy. Legendborn. 512p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Sept. 2020. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534441606.
Gr 8 Up–In Deonn’s rich and explosive debut, readers are introduced to a meticulously-built world of magic with roots in Arthurian legend and traditions of the African American South. After her mother’s death, Bree enters an Early College program, despite still processing her grief. It’s not long before she’s pulled into a secret society, and is pushed by circumstance into dangerous tournaments to go from Page to Squire all while watching her back for the demons who would kill her. This book discusses pertinent topics such as institutional racism, intergenerational trauma, and feminism with grace and a natural, unforced style. Readers will delight in a delicious love triangle that promises to get more delectable with a sequel. Though heavy at times with exposition, the novel provides plenty of scenes rife with action and emotion. Deonn pulls off a surprise ending that will urge readers to start from the beginning, to collect the clues laid along the way. VERDICT A promising series debut perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. This book underscores the movement for more inclusive versions of traditional Western narratives, and will be a favorite of contemporary fantasy readers. Highly recommended.–Abby Hargreaves, DC P.L.
– School Library Journal STARRED REVIEW, July 2020
The African diaspora blends with Arthurian legend in Deonn’s dynamic YA fantasy debut, reminiscent of City of Bones. On her first two nights at the University of North Carolina’s Early College program, 16-year-old Bree Matthews, who is Black, witnesses otherworldly demonic attacks that most other students can’t see. When a strong mage’s attempt to alter Bree’s memories fails, she recovers the recent events alongside a brief recollection from the night of her mother’s death, three months prior—a fragment that she realizes another mesmerist sought to hide. Convinced the campus incidents have something to do with her mom’s sudden end, Bree persuades peer mentor Nick to help her infiltrate the magical Order of the Round Table, the historically white, deeply racist secret society that he was born into, and which is committed to hunting the demons. Bree struggles as the Order’s sole Black member and page, but outside Black female practitioners offer help via a different means of magic, and Bree must decide which path will give her the most answers about both her mother and herself. Though hazy exposition initially slows the narrative, Deonn adeptly employs the haunting history of the American South (“the low buzzing sound of exclusion”) to explore themes of ancestral pain, grief, and love, balancing them with stimulating worldbuilding and multiple thrilling plot twists. Ages 14–up. Agent: Penny Moore, Aevitas Creative. (Sept.)
– Publishers Weekly, August 3, 2020
Awards and Honors
- Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List
- Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers Nominee
- Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award Master List
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle List High School Title
- Capital Choices Noteworthy Books for Children's and Teens (DC)
- Blue Hen Book Award Nominee (DE)
- Black-Eyed Susan Book Award Nominee (MD)
- High School Sequoyah Book award Master List (OK)
- Green Mountain Book Award Master List (VT)
- ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults - Top Ten
- Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults - TOP TEN
- TAYSHAS Reading List Top Ten Title (TX)
- Cybils Award Finalist
- ALA/YALSA Teens' Top Ten List
- Isinglass Award Nominee
- Arkansas Teen Book Award Master list
- New York Public Library 50 Best Books for Teens
- ALA Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent
- North Star YA Award Finalist (ME)
- ALA/YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, Top Ten
- Garden State Teen Book Award (NJ)
Resources and Downloads
High Resolution Images
- Book Cover Image (jpg): Legendborn Hardcover 9781534441606
- Author Photo (jpg): Tracy Deonn Photograph by Kathleen Hampton(0.1 MB)
Any use of an author photo must include its respective photo credit
More books in this series: The Legendborn Cycle
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