Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn was one of my biggest positive surprises of 2021. It was my vote for the Lodestar that year (though it’s hard to complain too much about a loss to the also-excellent A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking), and it saw Deonn in my top two for the 2022 Astounding Award. Point is, it was a fantastic book. So it comes as no surprise that I picked up its sequel Bloodmarked as soon as my library could get me a copy.
[Note: This review contains massive spoilers for Legendborn. Do not read if you have even the tiniest bit of spoiler-aversion unless you have already read Legendborn.]
Bloodmarked picks up shortly after the events of Legendborn, which see Black teen Bree Matthews entangled with a secret society descended from King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And as if her romantic attachment to Nick—a descendent of Arthur himself—doesn’t pose enough trouble in a society consisting largely of the wealthy and the racist, the shocking conclusion reveals that the rape of one of her enslaved ancestors has led to Bree herself being Arthur’s descendent and inheritor of his supernatural abilities. Oh, and also there’s a traitor in their midst who has kidnapped Nick, and the demon apocalypse is coming. No pressure.
As you might imagine, Bloodmarked has a lot to live up to. Its predecessor was action-packed, with all the wonder of discovering a magical new world and the weight of generations of trauma suddenly revealed to a teenage lead. And there’s really no way to replicate a book so driven by the power of new discovery, which meant that Bloodmarked needed to forge its own path rooted in characterization and expansion of scope.
Fortunately, it inherited some pretty compelling characters from its predecessor. Even with Nick temporarily out of the picture, the main cast is easy to cheer for, and Bree is a terrific lead with a ton to process and even more to do. Combine that with Deonn’s engaging writing style, and Bloodmarked was easy to devour in what felt like no time at all.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case in situations like these, the expansion in scope was a mixed bag. It will come as no surprise that there were new betrayals from new associates, which were plenty exciting even if they weren’t especially shocking. And a foray into the magical world beyond the Arthurian Order and the fragments passed down from Bree’s own ancestors was fascinating and generally a whole lot of fun.
But Bree spent so much time running from her enemies that the story simultaneously felt repetitive and that it didn’t have room to breathe. So much of the middle of the book was dedicated to an unexceptional love triangle and to reestablishing the undeniable dangers of racists intent on grabbing maximum power for themselves. The quality of the writing kept it from feeling like too much of a slog, but it just didn’t build that much on what was already established at the start.
But the bloat of the middle sections was most clearly apparent at the end, when so many aspects of both Bree’s and Arthur’s histories came together for the series’ second big finish. Unlike in the first book, which had painstakingly traced Bree’s history to set up a twist that was shocking and heart-wrenching even as it made the other pieces all fall into place, Bloodmarked left much more for the closing chapters. The result was a mixed bag of genuinely powerful revelations with others that felt confused and underbaked. Perhaps some of those can be attributed to middle book syndrome, with a lot of the working out of the conclusion left for the third entry. But the future setup wasn’t sufficiently balanced with the here and now, leading to a book that didn’t end with the same punch as its predecessor.
Ultimately, Bloodmarked is an entertaining book that’s well worth the read for anyone attached to the characters introduced in Legendborn. But it is not able to live up to the incredibly high standards of the series-opener, leading to a book with some excellent moments alongside others that felt repetitive or underbaked. It won’t change the minds of those who weren’t convinced by the opener, but it provides an adequate bridge to the presumed capstone while giving series fans another fix of Bree and her fellows.
Recommended if you like: the first book, and wanted to know what happens next.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Cool Weapon, Shapeshifters, and Features Mental Health, and it’s also a 2022 Release by a BIPOC Author. You could call it Urban Fantasy, depending on how expansive your definition is, but it doesn’t take place in a large city, and the author has argued the series is Contemporary Fantasy and not Urban Fantasy.
Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.