Review of CHAMPION by Marie Lu

Champion concludes the Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu, and if you’ve read and enjoyed the first two entries, then you’ll want to read this final installment. It’s a fitting and satisfying conclusion to the series, though Lu’s unwillingness to take many risks inhibits it from soaring to great narrative heights.

Once again, readers are treated to the alternating dual-POV protagonists of June and Day, and once again they must deal with their personal drama as well as the pressure of being heroes to the people of the Republic of America. One of Lu’s strengths is her ability to keep the plot moving and keep the characters moving through different settings–the narrative never feels stagnant like Insurgent/Allegiant or even to some degree Mockingjay. Another strength is that the protagonists have distinctive voices and views of the world; by now we’ve come to like them and enjoy their relationship, so we genuinely hope that they succeed. The strongest part of the book for me was the final chapter. I won’t give it away, but I do wish the rest of the book–and series–had the same dramatic tension and sense of unfulfilled longing.

Unfortunately, the book has its faults. Like its predecessors, the actual writing itself doesn’t stand out. In this entry more than the others, Lu relies too much on repetitive cliches. Both characters must have felt shivers run down their backs a million times. Sometimes the protagonists’ inner voices have too much distance and introspection to be realistic. In one scene, during the heat of battle in which she’s forced to kill, June reflects on how she doesn’t believe in killing and how she finds the situation undesirable–when she should be so full of adrenaline that she shouldn’t be reflecting at all, but rather relying on primal instinct. It’s as if Lu is worried the reader won’t understand her characters’ true natures unless she spells them out.

While not quite a criticism, another issue is the lack of risks the book takes. Scenes of physical intimacy between the protagonists are stripped bare of any detail, which makes sense given the target demographic, but why include them at all, then? Reading scenes that are obviously dancing around their subject matter feels like a cop-out. The final chapter and a half proves that Lu can shake up the repetitive formula of the trilogy, but most of the book feels like she’s going through the motions of presenting readers a safe and satisfying conclusion. Much of the book consists of quickly-plotted action sequences, and that’s fine, but during some of those, through Lu’s use of drawn-out moments of danger and the too-frequently-used single sentence paragraph shocker line, I didn’t feel like the characters were in real danger; instead it felt like the author was trying to trick me into being nervous. I think most young readers would rather see their favorite character challenged in a more meaningful way than a fist-fight with the boring and cliche-ridden lead villain at the climax to the final battle.

But, I don’t want to complain too much, because this whole trilogy is a great read. It’s well-plotted and its world feels fresh and imaginative. The characters are memorable–not just the two protagonists, but some of the side characters too, in particular Anden, the young Elector Primo who faces impossible challenges. Marie Lu has created a dark and broken world that is nonetheless filled with hope thanks to some of its extraordinary young people–and one can only hope that her message of empathy, love, and cooperation is heard loud and clear by all future leaders of our real world today.

3 out of 5 stars

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