Legendborn is about to be your new favorite book. The contemporary fantasy by Tracy Deonn puts a modern day twist on Arthurian legend. And when I say modern day twist, I mean Legendborn examines the privileged power of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and flips everything on its head in an electrifying, inventive way. The story follows 16-year-old Bree Matthews as she navigates a new setting on a college campus and the discovery of a secret society with “Legendborn” students, all while she is processing the intense grief of losing her mother. Legendborn tells an unforgettable story, and I’m so excited to share an excerpt from the upcoming novel with you.
Bree opens a door to a world of magic and intrigue. She confronts barriers of race and class, makes some messes, and works hard to investigate a mystery. Presented with this complex secret society, Bree strives to find (or make) her place. And as there is magic, that means Deonn had to craft a system. She told Nerdist, “In Legendborn, the descendants of the Round Table are fighting a centuries-long magical war, and Bree gets caught up in that. This secret order of descendants is ruled by a very ancient hierarchy of power and magic, which was a ton of fun to create but very tricky. The world-building and magic systems in Legendborn took about a year to craft and ‘stress test,’ partially because I needed everything to logically fit on top of our everyday world as a contemporary fantasy.”
She continued, “To tell the story I wanted to tell, I knew I wanted a ‘hard’ magic system overall, meaning there are strict rules, consequences, and structures that could be maintained over centuries. As a writer, all of that structure creates great opportunities for tension and character conflict, too! It helped to have a background in different forms of storytelling, like theater, video games, and oral history.”
And though Arthurian legend plays an important role in the book, that’s not where the story began for Deonn. It’s much more intimate. “A fair number of people have asked if I was inspired by the King Arthur legend, and it’s funny—I really didn’t start from King Arthur at all,” she related. “I started with my own personal experiences. When my own mother passed away, I learned that she had lost her mother at the same age that I lost her, and that the same had occurred with my grandmother and great-grandmother. So, I began writing from a place of grief, but also curiosity and mystery. I asked, ‘Why would this pattern occur in my family?'”
Deonn added, “My mother was a big SFF fan and she raised me on SFF, so as a writer I of course went to the supernatural and magical. I wanted to explore our concept of legacy, and whose lives and deaths get to be deemed ‘legendary.’ That exploration eventually connected me to the legends of King Arthur as a long-time fan of those stories, and to the setting of the American South, a place that is still asking questions about legacies of the past.”
Margaret K. McElderry Books
The long reach of the past into the present grounds Legendborn; it’s not a book that looks away from ugly realities. We see those realities and everything through Bree’s eyes. So let’s hear from Bree. This excerpt is from chapter seven. At this point in the book, Bree has just met a student named Nick Davis. While they’re walking on campus, Bree is attacked and injured by a vicious, glowing creature that only she and Nick can see. When she wakes up, she’s been mysteriously healed at the Legendborn’s manor, and Nick is by her side. Just as she begins to get answers from Nick about the Legendborn, the mage she’d encountered earlier interrupts them…
“WHERE IS HE?”
We both jump when a voice booms, the shout echoing outside the room and down what sounds like a long hallway.
Nick’s attention flies to the door, tension singing through his frame. “Shit.”
Another door slams. Hurried footsteps, and another, calmer voice intercepts the first. “Sel, wait—”
Nick glances rapidly between me and the door. “Listen to me. I assumed you were one of us at first, but if you’re telling me the truth right now and you’re not, then no matter what happens when he comes in here, do not let Sel know his mesmer failed. He’s going to try again, and you need to let him. You understand me?”
A second slam, closer this time. “No! Wha—”
“I need you to trust me,” Nick hisses. I stare, speechless, and he shakes my shoulder to get my attention. “Do you understand?”
“Stay here.” Without another word, he jogs to the door, opening it and closing it behind him.
I do not stay there.
I throw the covers off the bed. Across the room, my sneakers are perched on a stately-looking armchair. I make a beeline toward them and shove them on, but when I stand up, a wave of dizziness sends me slumping against the leather.
Sel’s cold, measured tones reach me from just outside the door. “The prodigal son returns. And with such flare.” He’s so close. Too close. My eyes dart to the open window, and I heave myself off the chair to get to it even though the floor threatens to rise up with every step. “Did you even kill it, Davis?”
“Yes, I killed it.” Nick’s voice is a taut wire ready to snap. “You want to inspect the blood on my blade?”
Sel doesn’t miss a beat. “Perhaps if you weren’t so busy playing Onceborn, leaving us to do the dirty work, you’d know that I should have been called immediately to find its Gate and close it. Or do you want more hellhounds coming through from the other side?”
I reach the window and curse silently. I’m three stories up. Wherever this museum house is, it’s surrounded by a dense forest. Even if I were on the first floor and felt steady enough to climb out, there’d be nowhere to go.
“Do you want me to pause mid-battle to send a text? What are the emojis for a hellhound? Fire, then dog?”
There’s a quick shuffle, and the third voice intervenes again. “This is not helpful! Sel, you closed the Gate. Nick destroyed the hound. That’s all that matters.”
“That is not all that matters, William. This is the fifth attack in a week. They are escalating. And getting stronger. Just last night I tracked a near-corporeal isel miles from the nearest Gate. It is my job to protect this chapter,” Sel growls. “Just as it is my job to clean up your mess tonight. William says I’m needed here?”
“She’s a human being, Sel.” I wonder if Nick is stalling, but his voice sounds too weary. Too familiar with this argument.
“She’s Onceborn,” Sel retorts. Something about the way he says “Onceborn” makes me flinch, and I don’t even know what the word means. “How did she even get wounded?”
“It was partial-corp. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“A partial-corp demon, capable of hunting—and harming—human flesh. Wonderful. And then you brought her here. Lovely.”
“Would you rather I left her on the ground, blacked out from pain?”
“Of course not. Her injuries would raise far too many questions.”
“That’s your only concern, isn’t it? The Code of Secrecy. Not that an innocent was injured!”
“The Line is Law, Nicholas.” Sel’s voice is low, dangerous. “Our Oaths come first!”
“Gentlemen!” William shouts. “Speaking of the Code, may I remind you both that these walls are not soundproofed. The more you argue outside this door, the more Sel will need to erase.”
My heartbeat speeds from a gallop to a full-on jackhammer sprint.
“Thank you, William, for that reminder.” The knob turns, and Sel sweeps into the room, face full of thunder. When his eyes fasten to mine, his forehead furrows slightly in surprise. “You.”
It’s only been a day, but I’d somehow forgotten how terrifying this boy is. Even without Nick’s height and stature, Sel’s presence fills the doorway. He floods my mind with a crackling, swirling cloud of fear—fear so palpable and alive that it holds me in place like a heavy hand. Then, I remember that a man just like him—a Merlin—lied to me about my mother’s death, and a rising rage burns that fear to ash.
“Stay away from me!” I spit.
“Hm.” Sel’s head tilts to the side. “Two nights in a row, you’ve been in the way.”
Nick pushes around Sel to look between the two of us. “You know her?” He’s quick; anything else and Sel would know I talked to Nick about the Quarry.
I slide along the wall until my back is against the window. The glass creaks against my spine, and I briefly consider whether I’m strong enough to break it. What I’d do even if I could.
“We’ve met.” Something like suspicion skates across Sel’s face, gone before it really lands. “But she doesn’t remember that.”
Sel enters the room, but Nick steps in his path and places a broad hand on the other boy’s chest, stopping him. Sel’s eyes drop to the fingers splayed against his dark gray shirt. A feral grin curves along his elegant mouth. “There may come a day when you can stop me, but you and I both know it’s not today.”
Nick’s nostrils flare, and for a brief moment I’m certain that he’s about to throw a punch. That the warrior I’d seen fighting a hellhound could easily throw Sel over his shoulder or knock him into a wall so hard it’ll leave a crack. But Sel’s fingers begin to twitch at his sides, silver rings flashing against the black of his pants, and Nick does not strike. His eyes screw shut, and he lowers his hand.
Sel looks almost disappointed, but he steps smoothly around Nick, tossing “You don’t have to watch” over his shoulder as he walks. A shadow of some emotion runs beneath the granite of his voice.
Nick meets my eyes behind Sel’s back, his earlier plea plain on his face: Don’t let him know.
Sel moves into my field of vision and peers down with a speculative gleam in his eyes. “I don’t believe in coincidences. Perhaps I should be concerned to meet you two days in a row, but no Shadowborn would have made herself as vulnerable as you have tonight, which means you must simply be . . . unlucky.” That word again, Shadowborn. When Sel says it, his face twists into a sneer.
“You are Unanedig. Onceborn.” The Kingsmage’s eyes—scientific, assessing—track every tremble of my frame. “So your body isn’t accustomed to aether. That’s why you’re dizzy.”
“Sit.” Sel’s voice rolls over me like a wave. When I don’t comply, he steps forward and that deep-down, primordial fear of him presses against me. I sit.
Nick takes half a step forward. “Minimal intervention directive,” he urges. “Just the last couple hours.”
Sel rolls his eyes. “Orders, Nicholas? As if I am not bound by the same laws you so carelessly neglect?”
My eyes fly to Nick’s. He nods as if to confirm what’s about to happen. He’s going to erase my memory again. Sel kneels in front of me, and the same heady, spiced smoke scent swirls around me, filling my nose. “Your name?” he purrs in that same rolling voice.
“Her name is Briana.” Nick gives Sel my legal name, not my preferred one.
My mind races. Last time Sel’s mesmer worked, but only for a little while. How did I break it? There was the light, then the pain in my palm—
Sel watches the fight on my face with interest. “I must admit, Briana, I’m curious. What twist of the universe has set you in my path again?” he asks, his voice quiet, wistful. “Alas, some mysteries must remain forever unsolved.”
I flinch when he reaches long fingers toward my face. It gives me just enough time to bite down on the inside of my bottom lip. Hard.
The last thing I remember is the hot skin of his palm pressed against my forehead.
Legendborn will be available wherever you buy books on September 15, 2020. Get your pre-order in now. Trust me.
Featured Image: Margaret K. McElderry Books