Black Girl Magic: The Gilded Ones and Legendborn

I recently picked up two YA fantasies featuring young Black female protagonists, which you can clearly see on these two stunning covers.  Yay for representation!

The Gilded Ones

by Namina Forna

At 16, Deka discovers she is an alaki, a female descendant of demons and an outcast among her people. Her golden blood gives her special longevity, but also condemns her to death under the law. She is saved when she is recruited to join a new special alaki force to fight the monsters that threaten the land. But as she grows stronger, she must grapple with her loyalty to a country that hates and fears her as well as the world-changing significance of her unique powers. Who are the real monsters here? 

This recent release is an above average YA fantasy. I wasn’t too impressed with it at first, given its typical YA first person, present tense narration from a girl with special powers and a special destiny.  But after Deka reaches the alaki training grounds the story really picks up, and turns out pretty fast paced with some good twists. 

It also has an interesting setting and good characters, even a few memorable ones.  There is a bit of romance but it is not really a focus and even seems a bit tacked on.  If I had to sum up this book in a phrase, I’d go with “fighting the patriarchy,” which is a pretty awesome premise for a novel.

This book could read as a standalone, but there seems to be at least one more coming out, which I would definitely be willing to check out.

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Legendborn

by Tracy Deonn

Brianna Matthews is a 16 yr old Early College student at UNC-Chapel Hill, still reeling from the death of her mother, when she gets mixed up with a secret society: they are the heirs of King Arthur and his knights, dedicated to protecting humans from demon incursions.  So demons are real, and so is magic, and what does this society have to do with the death of her mother?  Bree will go to any length to find out, but her own abilities are bringing up more questions than answers while putting her, and the people she cares about, in danger. 

This is the kind of book that makes me despair as a writer because I will never write a book as good as this one. 

So, Legendborn could also be described in the same way as The Gilded Ones above: first person, present tense narration from a girl with special powers and a special destiny.  And it is solidly YA, with many familiar tropes.  However, it manages to have way more depth, intertwining stories about Arthur and Round Table, the history and legacy of slavery in North Carolina, Black spiritualism, modern college life, and loss and grief.  Not to mention the twist at the end is even more spectacular and feels very earned.

The world building is amazing, with multiple magic systems.  The characters are wonderful, plus there is great representation in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation.  And if you have a thing for emo boys, as I certainly did in my teenage years, there is a character you will absolutely love.

In short, this is one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve read in a while and I neeeeed the next one ASAP. I highly recommend it!