As a part of SYFY-at-large, we FANGRRLS have dedicated ourselves to shining a spotlight on the trifecta of genres — sci-fi, fantasy, and horror — and any stories that manage to bust those super-tired tropes that have dominated narratives in the past. There may be no better title poised to do that than Tracy Deonn's Legendborn, a new YA contemporary fantasy that puts a refreshing twist on classic Arthurian legend with a lot of Southern Black girl magic to boot.
After her mother dies in an accident, 16-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.
To celebrate the release of Legendborn (out today!), SYFY FANGRRLS asked Deonn to list a few of her favorite contemporary fantasy reimaginings — some of which lent a little inspiration to her own fantastically magical novel.
The Grey King - Susan Cooper
"I had to list this one first because it was the first contemporary fantasy novel that I’d ever seen take on Arthurian legend, and it’s near and dear to my heart. But, real talk? This is a little bit of a bait and switch recommendation because this book is actually the fourth book in a five-book series. Sorry! I promise it’s worth reading through the first three to get here. By the time you reach this novel, you're quite deep into the lore Cooper has developed around the secret magic community called “the Light” that fights back the evil in the world. The Grey King is unique in the series in that it is set in Wales, which allows it to really dig into books' Arthurian backbone. This series, and this book, in particular, explores the darker sides of humanity, as well as the harsh consequences, brought about by both the Light & the Dark sides of magic—rich territory. I do love complexity on both sides of an ancient war. This book is also when we meet Bran Davies! He is not only my favorite character in the series, but he is probably one of my favorite characters in all of literature. In my book Legendborn, Nick's last name (Davis) is a nod to Bran."
A Song Below Water - Bethany C. Morrow
"This book is a must-read of 2020. The core of A Song Below Water is Black sisterhood, and what it means to be family by choice and via shared lived experiences. It takes place in a modern-day Portland, set in a world of supernatural beings that include elokos, gargoyles, and sprites — but only Black women can be sirens. The novel is told in alternating POVs from the perspectives of two teenage girls bonded together through love and resilience: Effie, whose childhood haunts her, and Tavia, a siren who must keep her voice secret. The incident that gets the story rolling is one that resonates deeply with me — a young Black woman named Rhoda is murdered, and the churning, evolving story about Rhoda plays out through public discourse in a way that is unfortunately too familiar. This book is literary, lyrical, frank, mythical, and timely — the exact list of reasons that I keep turning to this genre!"
Lore Olympus - Rachel Smythe
"First, if you haven’t heard of Webtoons yet, let me be the one to introduce you! Webtoons is a mobile app and platform that hosts free webcomics; there are a variety of genres of comics on this app, ranging from romance to action-adventure to slice of life. Lore Olympus is an Eisner-nominated, visually stunning Persephone and Hades retelling set in a modern-day Olympus. Rachel Smythe is the creator, author, and illustrator of Lore, and her use of color blows me away in every episode. Hades is a sweet, misunderstood god of the Underworld and Persephone is a young goddess with lots of ambition. Beyond the lovely art, comedy, and fun romance, however, is Smythe’s smart, sensitive integration of important topics in character-based storylines. Through the stories of gods, goddesses, and nymphs, Lore Olympus tackles mental health, trauma, harassment, emotional and physical intimate partner abuse, and sexual assault. It’s also in development for a TV show, so you’ve got time to catch up before it hits screens!"
A Blade So Black - L.L. McKinney
"Black Alice in Wonderland meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What more is there to say? This book is first in a trilogy about a cosplaying, geeky, teenage Black girl named Alice living in Atlanta, who finds herself fighting Nightmares in a modern-day retelling of the Lewis Carroll classic. It’s a contemporary fantasy with whimsy and danger both. Alice is all of the things I needed to see Black girls being as a geeky teen growing up in the South myself. She’s clever, capable, and handling herself well in a magical portal Wonderland in one moment, but wrestling with what it means to be a good daughter the next. I love the rich real-world allegory of the Nightmares from Wonderland, and I also kinda fell for Alice’s mentor and love interest, Addison Hatta, as soon as I met him."
Destroyer - written by Victor Lavalle, with art by Dietrich Smith and Joana Lafuente and cover art by Micaela Dawn
"I could say that this graphic novel is a Frankenstein retelling, but in some ways, it feels a bit more like a Frankenstein sequel. In this story, the last descendant of Victor Frankenstein is a Black woman named Dr. Jo Baker who uses the work of her family legacy to resurrect her young son after a police shooting. I love the premise here because it immediately addresses the context and repercussions of this specific type of violence — and pushes them to the next logical step for a scientist with Jo’s capabilities. Things get even more interesting when Frankenstein’s original monster returns with his own mission and need for revenge. Destroyer is a great 'What if' that lives alongside our current world, and I love a story that embraces a Black woman character who is in turns brilliant, sympathetic, horrifying, and caring."