African Americans battling dark powers! Books and one TV show

As Tracy Deonn is a friend of mine, I’m really glad I loved her YA fantasy LEGENDBORN: The Legendborn Cycle Book 1 (cover by Hillary Wilson).

Sixteen year old protagonist Bree starts the book in a crappy place. She’s attending some accelerated education at UNC (Deonn’s a graduate and a local resident) to get away from home because the trauma of her mother’s accidental death has become unbearable. One night, at a college party, she witnesses a supernatural manifestation; Selwyn, a teen mage, promptly wipes the witnesses’ memories, but Bree doesn’t wipe. Worse, she remembers a similar, more successful attempt to wipe her mind in her mom’s hospital room. What’s the connection?

Trying to find out introduces Bree to the Legendborn, descendants of the Round Table (Selwyn is a “Merlin”). They form the Order, dedicated to fighting the forces of Shadow when they intrude into reality. Striking up a friendship with Nick, the descendant of Arthur himself, Bree winds up apprenticing herself into the order and competing for one of the coveted squire ranks. It’s not easy. Selwyn suspects she has a hidden agenda. Although Nick is charming, the order is very white and some of them don’t think Bree belongs. She also learns she’s inherited some form of Rootcraft from her mother, and the Order doesn’t like independent practitioners. The rootcrafters Bree meets don’t like them either, seeing their magic as a perversion of the natural order. Someone in the Order is unleashing attacks from within, putting Bree, Nick and Selwyn in peril mortal along with the others.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like but they were strictly personal taste. The Order’s magic, as one character notes, is so organized and orderly it’s almost science and that’s a minus for me (the root casting is less orderly and more interesting). And there’s a lot of “explain the magical world to the newbie” exposition which I only like in very small doses. Despite those the book is still very entertaining. At its heart it’s a character story — Bree starts with a boatload of pain and an uncertainty where she belongs in the world and ends finding a place and a role she couldn’t have anticipated. While I did half-suspect a key reveal, I did not realize the way in which Deonn makes it entirely plausible.  It’s also good on the ethnogothic elements as Bree grapples not only with the Order’s racism but North Carolina and UNC’s ugly history in that regard.

Like Abbott, ABBOTT: 1973 by Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivela works much better as a blacksploitation-style crime thriller than a fantasy. It’s a year since the previous book and Elena Abbott is living with her lover Amelia and working for the city’s top black newspaper. When someone launches a hardcore race-baiting campaign against black mayoral candidate Coleman Alexander Young (not named that I noticed, but he was real), Abbott goes into overdrive and discovers mobsters in bed with the current mayor want to keep him in office. She’s not down with that.

A further complication is that instead of dealing with the racist owners at her last job, Elena’s stuck with a new, sexist publisher. He doesn’t like that she smokes or swears, doesn’t think she dresses like a lady and in general she’s not “respectable” enough to suit him. Unfortunately that plotline gets changed by the fantasy stuff. In the first book, Elena discovered she’s the Lightbringer, a Chosen One destined to stand against the evil shadow entities known as the Umbra. It wasn’t that interesting in the first book; here it’s just plain bad. Umbra mage appears, gloating that his invincible power will crush Elena like a bug; things look grim for a couple of panels, then Elena gets glowy and blows up the bad guys. That’s all there is to it. I’m not sure I’ll try for V3.

The CW’s NAOMI (2022) stars Kaci Walfall as the brain and comic-book nerd Naomi McDuffie (the last name is a tribute to the late comics writer Dwayne McDuffie), who unusually for teenage superheroes is happy, well-adjusted and surrounded by friends and loving adoptive parents. But then things get weird — she sees what appears to be Superman flying overhead (annoyingly they never explain “the Superman incident”, a local tattoo artist turns out to be Thanagarian, and Naomi herself is manifesting super-powers. It turns out that on a parallel world her birth parents were among the 29, metahumans created by a freak cosmic accident; her adoptive parents took her to their current Earth to hide from Brutus, the evil meta who killed most of the others. But wouldn’t you know it, he hasn’t given up searching for Naomi, because as the child of two of the 29, she’s potentially a world changer.

This comic-book adaptation by show runner Averna DuVay was well done with some great one-liners but didn’t quite work for me. As I keep mentioning, teenage drama is a tougher sell for me than when I was younger and right after finishing The Aliens Are Here the trope of an alien chosen one in exile is too fresh in my mind (e.g., I Am Number Four).  I’m not personally disappointed it got the axe along with Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow and Charmed, but at the same time it’s a shame a show with such a strong black cast couldn’t keep going (this relates to Warners looking to sell the CW network).

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

 

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