I very much enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy when I read it six years ago, mainly on the strength of the two excellent main characters, June and Day. I am not a huge fan of dystopian novels, but this series stood out to me in the sea of YA dystopias.
So I was very pleasantly surprised to see a new installment in the series, Rebel, which takes places 10 years later following Day (now going by Daniel) and his brother Eden’s adventures in their new home of Antarctica. But this one turned out to be a mixed bag for me, and I’m not sure I would recommend it unless you are already a fan of Legend.
Eden and his friend Pressa are at the heart of the story; they are the new generation of the post-war era, and in many ways like a new version of June and Day. Eden is part of the “establishment” (the upper levels of Antarctica) as June was, and Pressa comes from the Undercity similar to how Day came from the streets. However, I never found them as compelling as June and Day. If Pressa had some chapters from her perspective, I think she would have felt like a more fully-realized character.
I also missed June’s perspective, though I enjoyed the chapters from Daniel. It is a very satisfying story for June/Day shippers like myself. The development of the relationship between the brothers Daniel and Eden was also really nicely done, and that bond was something that I never realized was missing from a lot of the books I read. Plus, I also liked the villain, Dominic Hann, who really ends up being more of a grey character.
Antarctica is a very interesting place, governed by a system that works like a video game. Doing “good” things gets you points that allow you to level up, getting more privileges in society, while doing “bad” things decreases your level. However, I wish the story would have shown more of the flaws in the system rather than telling. The scene with Eden’s classmates works towards this a bit, but we don’t really get to see from the undercity perspective at all. What is it that is really keeping the undercity people from moving up in this supposedly merit-based system? For example, we don’t find out until ¾ of the way through the book that it’s illegal for groups of citizens to protest in public, after the people are already doing this.
I was pretty harsh on Champion for its biological mumbo jumbo regarding plague cures, and I’m sorry to say Rebel has a bit of a similar problem: for a sci-fi book, it’s not very interested in accurately describing the engineering behind Antarctica’s level system. When discussing how to reset the Ross City’s level system using Hann’s machine, Eden says:
“It’s the machine that’s complicated to put together. Not the signal. Once you understand how it works, you can run another signal through easily. I watched them test one, and it took a matter of minutes.”
Huh? I supposed I should ask my husband for accuracy, but this does not sound like something a computer programmer would say, even to a non-programmer. Is he saying that it is the hardware that is complicated, not the software? That seems…unlikely. Sure, it may not take long to upload the code to the computer, but how long did it take to write the code?? The Antarctic level system is a complex system with a lot of rules, all of which would have to be programmed in, including the changes that Eden wants to make. Eden does it in no time at all, which I can tell you is not realistic, even for someone as talented as Eden.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Rebel, but I did struggle a bit to finish it because it dragged in places. I think it would have been better served as a novella.