Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is one of those books that I wish had been out when I was a teen, because it would have blown teen me’s mind. The opening book of a modern Arthurian series, Legendborn follows the story of Bree Matthews, a 16-year-old Black girl who, in the wake of losing her mother, starts attending a residential “early college” programme at UNC-Chapel Hill. On her first night, Bree’s world is turned upside-down when she witnesses a magical attack and learns about a secret society of students, known as the Legendborn, who are descended from Arthurian knights and destined to protect the world from magical incursions. Bree decides to try her hand at joining the Legendborn in order to find out the truth behind her mother’s death, and magic, mystery, and romance ensue – but as well as being a high-stakes fantasy yarn, Legendborn also takes a close and uncompromising look at structural racism, both in the fantasy genre and in U.S. history and society.
While Deonn has created a highly compelling and original story, readers who are looking for books like Legendborn have plenty of options to tide them over while they wait for the second installment in the series. Here are some of the best books like Legendborn with Arthurian themes, determined teen girl heroines, or mythical connections that Legendborn fans can dive into.
A Universe of Wishes Edited by Dhonielle Clayton
This anthology by We Need Diverse Books collects several brilliant SFF stories, set in myriad worlds with a host of fascinating protagonists. A Universe of Wishes gives the reader a taste of fantasy or sci-fi works from authors such as Samira Ahmed, Mark Oshiro, Kwame Mbalia, and Zoraida Córdova, weaving diverse tales about teens and young adults who explore space, wield magic, and fall in love.
The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
Princess Guinevere has arrived in Camelot to marry the young King Arthur – at least, that’s what most people think. Camelot is in danger from forces inside and out, and Guinevere is in fact a changeling with a fake name and backstory, sent in by the wizard Merlin to protect the king. A twist on Arthurian legend with an interesting heroine, The Guinevere Deception is an ideal read for Legendborn fans.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Readers who like powerful, complex heroines will love The Gilded Ones. Set in a terrifying dystopian fantasy society, this novel explores religiously motivated misogyny and violence, as well the resilience of the young women that the system victimises. Deka, like all girls, must be bled when she turns 16 to prove her purity – but when her blood runs gold instead of red, she discovers she is an Alaki, a being with supernatural strength and powers considered demonic by the intolerant society she inhabits. Deka is rescued from the persecution meted out by her village, but is still in danger when she is brought to the kingdom’s capital to join a group of Alaki super-soldiers.
Avalon High by Meg Cabot
Meg Cabot is most famous for her series The Princess Diaries, but she takes a different angle on royalty and high-school drama in Avalon High. Ellie, a new arrival at the titular school, slowly begins to realise that her classmates – and perhaps she herself – are following in the footsteps of Arthurian figures, parallelling a legendary history that might lead to disaster for all of them.
Once and Future by A.R. Capetta and Cori McCarthy
Once and Future takes on corporatism and colonialism through King Arthur as a teenage girl refugee in space, which is potentially one of the best premises for a book I’ve ever seen. Ari Helix is on the run from the evil Mercer corporation, when she encounters the wizard Merlin. Merlin has been aging backwards as he travels forwards through time, and is now a teenage boy instead of the elderly wizard we all know from legend, but his quest is the same – he must help this latest incarnation of Arthur defeat the evil that exists in the universe, and bring peace and harmony.
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
Deonn references Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence as a major point of inspiration for Legendborn, and although the series began in the ’60s, it still holds up today. Over Sea, Under Stone is the first installment, following siblings Simon, Jane, and Barney as they go on holiday in Cornwall with their parents and their great-uncle, Merriman Lyon. The children find an old manuscript, which they realise is the first clue in their quest for the Holy Grail.
The Wicker King by K. Ancrum
The Wicker King is a fascinating but tough read, exploring the boundaries between fantasy, daydream, and mental illness. Best friends August and Jack have a richly imagined fantasy world that they have build from childhood, but August begins to realise that Jack is losing the ability to tell the difference between imagination and reality. August believes that Jack can be saved if they complete the quest in their fantasy world, but in doing so, both boys may be destroyed.
Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
One of the weirder, darker books by the queen of children’s fantasy, Hexwood blends magic and sci-fi. Ann Stavely, a teenage girl, starts hearing four distinct voices in her head, and notices mysterious activity at the nearby Hexwood Farm Estate. As she tries to unravel the mystery, Ann discovers that Earth has drawn the attention of the Reigners, immensely powerful, Arthurian-inspired beings who oversee the entire universe.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
While Ace of Spades is a contemporary high-school thriller rather than a YA fantasy, it tackles secret societies, structural racism and white privilege with a similar frankness. Described as Gossip Girl meets Get Out, the story follows Devon and Chiamaka, the only Black students at an elite private school, who decide to fight back after they are targeted by a racist conspiracy.
The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill
Thirrin, a warrior princess of the remote Northern kingdom of the Icemark, must take up arms to protect her people from destruction. Allying with sentient leopards, werewolves, and even vampires, as well as a young warlock, Thirrin is half-Arthur and half-Merida, and a great heroine for young readers.
This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
This new novel from the author of the fantastic Cinderella is Dead follows the tale of another fascinating heroine, Briseis, who has magical powers that allow her to control plants. Legendborn fans will love the interplay between the real world and the hidden world of magic, and the plot focusing around family legacies waiting to be uncovered.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Technically one of Pratchett’s children’s books (honestly, the only difference was that he used chapters when writing for kids), The Wee Free Men is the first installment in the Tiffany Aching sub-series that exists as part of the wider Discworld universe. Tiffany is a young girl living on the Chalk, mourning her beloved grandmother, and dreaming of becoming a witch, when her home and family come under threat from the malevolent Queen of the Elves. Armed with a frying pan and the friendship of the Nac Mac Feegles, Tiffany has to rescue her younger brother and save her world from the fairy folk.
Hollow Pike by Juno Dawson
This dark fantasy story from Juno Dawson deals with witches, magic and murder in rural England. Lis has recently moved to the countryside, but her new start is interrupted by repeated threatening dreams. Part fantasy, part horror, part thriller, Hollow Pike is a tense and spooky read.
Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas
If you loved Legendborn for the retelling of Arthurian myth, Lost in the Never Woods takes a similar contemporary look at a more recent but no less influential story, Peter Pan. The second novel from Cemetery Boys author Aiden Thomas, Lost in the Never Woods tells the story of Wendy, who tries to uncover the mystery of missing children that has plagued her town for years.
Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard
Drawing on Greek myth rather than Celtic legend, Oh My Gods is a funny fantasy story that follows Helen, a young half-mortal, half-god who has recently moved in with her Greek god dad and older siblings. Helen has to grapple with school, friendships, romance, and the chaos that comes with living alongside ancient deities.
YA has always been the best place to find stories that mix fantasy and contemporary, myth and high-school drama, and while Legendborn is a unique take on Arthurian legend, there are stories that fill a similar niche. Readers who are looking for specific recommendations can also check out Book Riot’s TBR service, where our resident bibliologists will match you with your next perfect read.
If you’re looking for more fantasy recommendations, browse our list of 15 Fantasy Books Like Throne of Glass. If portal fantasy is your thing, add some of the books from our 50+ Must-Read Portal Fantasy Books to your reading list.