Legend by Marie Lu
Day is a wanted criminal. On the run, Day spends most of his time thinking of schemes to bug the Republic, while keeping his true identity secret. Never far from his thoughts though is his family, who struggle under an oppressive regime. When his youngest brother contracts a new deadly plague, Day desperately breaks into a hospital in order to find a cure, but instead winds up with more than he bargained for. Believing her brother to have been murdered by Day, June chases him down, scenting him out as she has been taught. Yet, Day is not what she expected and the questions he asks, about their society and their lives create a world that June is unsure of.
I have had a fascination with North Korea for a long time, especially in regards to the people who live in a continual state of lies and brainwashing. And don't mistake brainwashing for something as simple as trying to teach children your own agenda. This is an entire society that literally functions off lies. From education to God to how the outside world is, this kind of society exists in a bubble. Having read countless interviews with the people who leave such a world behind, they often have a very difficult time adjusting to life outside. In South Korea, North Koreans are seen as burdensome, often needing government assistance when it comes to education, employment, health care, and mental health care. Of course, what would you be like if you discovered that the president of your country really isn't a god, that your “enemy” countries are actually friendly, that there are rich and poor, that you do not have to rat out your neighbor or live in fear, that no one will send you to a labor camp simply because you did not cry loud enough at a state funeral.
This is the world of Legend. As with a few books I have read lately, chiefly You'll Like it Here (Everybody Does) and Divergent, this is an area of fascination. World's cut off from society and unaware of the outside world. A world that, from the reader's point of view, is so obviously unhinged. The difference for me was that in You'll Like it Here (Everybody Does), the characters were simply bystanders to this strange place. In Divergent, the characters were a part, but were too reactionary and did not see a reason for change, believing their way of life to be perfect. Legend's characters were instigators. Even June, who believes her world to be rosier than reality, is still a character who seeks out truth, if only to satisfy her own curiosity. Day knows there is a better life to be had outside of the Republic, but refuses to join the Patriots for reasons that I imagine would be pointed out in book 2, Prodigy.
This isn't to say that there aren't a few problems with the book, but honestly, after having just finished the angst ridden Insurgent, the world building alone made this books ten times better for me. True, Day and June have almost indistinguishable characterization and abilities, but I think I would rather that than the lovesick Tris any day. Besides, at least the characters in Legend know there is an outside world even if what they have been taught about it is a lie. The Divergent Tris, for all her supposed curiosity, never once even considered a world outside her doors. Weird.
I do have some expectations for book 2, first and foremost being expansive world building that was sorely lacking in this rather small volume, but rest assured, I will be reading that second book. Very soon.