There were two big problems with my experience reading Legend: first, I should have read it five years ago; second, I listened to the audiobook, which was so perfunctorily narrated that the cheesy-ness of the line reading just emphasized how pedestrian the prose and dialogue are. I don’t listen to a lot of audiobooks, but I had hoped to make more of a habit of it since my current job is well-suited for listening to them while I work. Unfortunately, I think there is something to the idea that reading words aloud gives them the florescent light treatment — prosaic writing becomes extremely apparent.
But back to when I said I should have read this five years ago. It would have been much more well-received then, when the rash of YA dystopian books was in full bloom. The problem with it now is how thoroughly mediocre it is on its own merits. It coasts completely on the good will of other, similar books, where a boy and a girl from different worlds (take that word selection as metaphorically as you would like) end up falling in love and teaming up against some kind of fascist, totalitarian regime. For extra bonus points, have one of them start from poverty and be fully versed in oppression by the regime, and have the other one grow up within the regime and be some combination of idealistic, naive, willfully ignorant, classist, and sheltered. Add a dash of bad weather and/or a pandemic, and it’s even better if a bunch of the bad stuff was Made in a Lab.
I’ve just described Legend, but also at least a dozen other books from this genre, so what makes Legend actually stand out is how unabashedly it borrows from the collective dystopian subconscious without really giving itself other distinguishing features or really bothering to flesh out the world building. We accept the world as it’s presented because it’s a stock trope world at this point, but there was not a thing to explain to me, a person who lives in Los Angeles, why it’s suddenly a place with diametrically opposed weather patterns to what we get here. Like why it’s now humid and prone to hurricanes (for the uninitiated, the likely worst-case dystopian outcome for Los Angeles is arid desert.) The hurricanes, I guess, can explain the giant lake that almost touches the ocean but is also in the middle of the city, but downtown Los Angeles is about 20 miles away from the ocean so that would be a pretty decent-sized lake, and you still haven’t properly explained the hurricanes in the first place to me so I don’t like swallowing that B -> C when A ??? B. I know that shit gets to be weird and wrong in dystopians as par for the course, but I would like some explanation behind shit that I know to be outrageously implausible.
Another thing that became standard for these books is that the first book tells you that the totalitarian regime is a thing that is, and then the later books in the trilogy unravel more of how it came to be as the rebels dismantle it. Interestingly, the series that spawned the genre, The Hunger Games, didn’t really indulge in this backward-reveal. It told you right at the beginning that there was a war, and from it emerged the Capitol, and it explained why the Hunger Games were a thing. It seemed like all of the series that followed thought that reveals and twists were a way to distinguish themselves — everyone loves a good twist! — but when the pattern became obvious, what you ended up with was a bunch of books that, again, just politely ask the reader to suspend their disbelief — or at least their curiosity — about a government and way of living this obviously toxic, while people still accept it. If I had read Legend earlier, this would have been less of an issue, but now it’s just an old trick and I don’t feel like waiting for another book or two for things to “become clear.”
So, the bottom line is, this was a totally boilerplate YA dystopian that is competently plotted but not interesting enough on its own, outside of the milieu of the genre, to really merit a read.