Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This second volume of the Legendborn Cycle deepens both the worldbuilding and characterization, and gives the protagonist a satisfying arc. Bree starts the book an immature 16-year-old who has just been handed a great deal of power she has no idea what to do with, and ends as a young woman who has reclaimed both herself and her power and charted a new path.
This is a sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque retelling of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, with thousand-year-old demons breaking through to our world and the Legendborn there to repel them. Only in this case, Buffy--or Bree--is a young African-American girl who was not supposed to inherit the spirit of Arthur, and only did so because two hundred years ago a white man who held that spirit raped and impregnated his slave, and Bree is their descendant.
This book fully explores the ramifications of this plot twist, including the Regents of the Round Table rejecting and imprisoning Bree because of who she is. She manages to escape, but they keep pursuing her, and she knows they will never accept her. At the end, when she breaks free of everyone who has been trying to control her, she makes a bargain with an ancient demon called the Hunter to teach her to use her power.
"I am asking you this for me!" I say. "And I will not escape you to return here." My laugh is sour, sad, both. "Because nothing I do will ever be enough for them. The Regents made sure of that when they put me on display in Arthur's possession, dangerously out of control and powerless at once. I used to think I shouldn't be here, but now I know I can't. And maybe I don't have to be. This world wants my suffering, and I cannot keep giving it to them."
The book ends with Bree going off with the Hunter, to both learn her power and help him regain his demon throne. She is hoping this bargain will also save Selwyn Kane, the Merlin who has been trying to protect her throughout the book and in doing so has nearly succumbed to his own demon. (There is a love triangle in this book, unfortunately, but it's better written then most.) It's a very fat book at 550 pages, but with the plot twists and character growth contained therein, I think it's earned its thickness. It's also an excellent example of how a writer other than a white man can take a classic idea and really deepen it with contemporary social justice themes. Personally, I have discovered many treasures by taking chances on writers such as these, and this book now joins them.
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