Raised on basketball and football since birth, a sport like tennis actually never found its way to my lane as a child in a city with few tennis courts. In the years most of us develop our deepest admiration of a sport, my knowledge is deep in one league I still love, and another, well, another I managed to fully abandon just recently. I find myself wishing I could go to a store that offers returns and exchange NFL knowledge for another sport that were a better fit. If ever such a magical store existed, my eye would be on tennis. With a newfound interest but hopelessly meager knowledge in the sport, a new YA fantasy adventure arrived at just the right time in my life, and that’s Legacy and the Queen. Written by former pro athlete-turned-writer Annie Matthew, and published by Kobe Bryant’s multimedia company Granity Studios, the book follows a young Black girl named Legacy. Legacy, who grew up in the outer provinces of the magical kingdom of Nova, is on a meteoric rise to stardom through the nation’s biggest pastime.
Tennis is everything in the land of Nova. Those from the provinces (“provis,” as they’re called derogatorily) play with tattered rackets outside their impoverished homes, while the capital city trains privileged athletes with magic and unlimited resources as it uses the sport to unify its nation. That nation is united under a council, most notably led by Silla, a woman nicknamed “the Queen” as she united the lands in a centralized, powerful city. When Legacy Petrin, a 12-year old girl from the provinces, finds herself with the opportunity to compete in the capital’s tennis tournament, she is plunged in a political revolution that’s far deeper than tennis. And if it sounds familiar then you are likely acquainted with The Hunger Games as the most recent — and most popular — iteration of the story, and the similarities snowball from there.
Where Legacy and the Queen separates itself is in the world it builds, complete with fantastical animals, mystical recipes, and inner magic called “grana” that align Legacy closer to Harry Potter than the YA sports psychology drama that lives underneath. Legacy’s training camp is like a small Hogwarts with tennis as their Quidditch. New to the capital and painfully different, she’s an ostracized, friendless fish out of water whose only motivation is to save the province and orphanage from where she came. It’s not until she meets Javi and Pippa — two other outcasts in their own right — that Legacy finds herself with the support she needs to have a true shot to save her friends and family.
Many of the themes covered are based in the perspective of an athlete as Legacy struggles to control her emotions and leverage them to positive effect on the court rather than allowing those emotions to backfire inward. Our story’s pacing makes a few economical decisions by explaining its simpler themes in conjunction with the complicated landscape of the fantasy world being built; perhaps the most apt example is having the explanation of emotions’ interconnectedness (anger can be based in love) explained through a combination of inner magic, your tennis racket, and the ingredients that form its strings. In that light, Legacy and the Queen would have been better served by either 300 pages rather than 200, or a narrower world that fits more squarely in the real estate given, but the explanations may be useful analogies to younger readers who need it and don’t offer too much of a distraction.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) September 7, 2019
Overall, Legacy and the Queen is a motivational, magical adventure with goodhearted characters and a familiar dystopian feel. The story is wrapped in a notably beautiful package complete with a soft felt cover, string bookmark, and artwork that make it a charming gift. It is best befit for kids who live at the intersection of sports and fantasy adventure as a relatable introduction to deeper dystopia novels, which, given an ending suitable for sequel, I imagine Legacy and the Queen hopes to become.
For this reader, it serves as a gateway to more tennis, as anyone with Legacy’s passion is bound to prove contagious. I may have grown up without much access to tennis, but having lived in my current city the last 10 years I learned a fun fact: New York has over 300 public tennis courts. More realistically, maybe I’ll just start by watching the next Grand Slam. You can find Legacy and the Queen at your local indie or on Amazon.
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