Sometimes it’s nice to be late to a new series. I enjoyed Legendborn so much that I was very happy I borrowed its sequel, Bloodmarked, at the same time. Tracy Deonn bottles lightning again in this novel: it’s everything you might want a sequel to be. If Legendborn scratched my itch for nostalgic YA fiction but with better diversity and racial awareness, then Bloodmarked doubled down on the itch-scratching while truly establishing the Legendborn Cycle as a titanic, powerful, and truly memorable fantasy series.
Spoilers in this review for the first book but not for this book.
Bree Matthews discovered at the start of her first year of Early College that an ancient Order descended from King Arthur’s Round Table exists and fights demonic creatures. Oh, and she herself is the descendant of King Arthur, whose spirit has awakened within her so she can lead the Order in a climactic battle against the Shadowborn. The existing power structure of the Order isn’t thrilled by this news, mostly because Bree is a young, Black woman and they are a bunch of racists. And there’s also a lot of politics at play. So on the one hand, Bree has a bunch of demons trying to kill her and plunge the world into darkness, and on the other hand, the so-called good guys want her locked away too.
Bloodmarked immediately opens up the world and lore of this series in all directions. We learn more about the Order itself and its precarious politics, including how little agency Bree has despite nominally being the king. Deonn also takes us beyond the supernatural elements present at UNC–Chapel Hill, establishing that there is far more out there—rootcrafters as well as more morally grey establishments, such as power brokers—than either Bree or the reader could anticipate. I get serious Supernatural vibes, but with better outcomes for the racialized characters.
Race (and also gender) remains at the centre of this story, but it is truly amplified here. Bree faces misogynoir from the white men (and women) who control the Order. So many of them—and even some of her allies—dismiss the idea that race is a factor in her treatment, yet it seems clear to me that if Bree were a white girl, the Order’s Regents would work a lot harder to co-opt her rather than take her off the board. Deonn explores complex issues of intergenerational trauma and the fact that different people with similar marginalizations may disagree on a path forward towards justice.
It ultimately comes down to power. Bree has very little social capital, yet she still has raw power, and that’s why people are afraid of her potential for disruption. The question remains: can she harness this power, wield it, or will it end up wielding her?
The climax of this book shocked me, and I say this even though I saw it coming from miles away. There was some pretty obvious foreshadowing earlier in the book (and even back at the end of Legendborn), yet Deonn somehow lulled me into … I don’t know, a kind of sense of security that she wasn’t going to go down this route? Maybe I had told myself it would feel too trite, too expected, and so convinced myself it wasn’t going to happen—except when it did, my doubts or worries were blown away by how Deonn pulls it off.
In the same way, I really enjoy how Deonn handles the love triangle (if that is even the right shape to describe it) that is often a prerequisite of these kinds of YA fantasy novels. There is a lot of nuance and depth to the feelings of all three people involved, resulting in a situation that goes far beyond “woe is me, for I am not like other girls and thus have two equally bland and uninteresting boys pining after me.” I mean, it’s true, Bree isn’t like other girls—but Sel and Nick aren’t like other boys either, and all three are complex, messy characters.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Bloodmarked took all the good stuff from Legendborn, turned it up to eleven, and left me wanting more, more, more. I’ve gone from, “this was an enjoyable YA fantasy experience” to “this is among the foremost fantasy series I’ve read” (YA or otherwise). I’m going to be talking about this series for a long, long time, and recommending it to others, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.