Dystopian novels abound, but it’s taken me a long time to find one that captured my interest as much as The Hunger Games. And here it is: Legend by Marie Lu. It is a fast-paced blend of action and science fiction, with characters to root for: 15-year-old Day, an outlaw fighting the government, and 15-year-old June, a brilliant soldier hired to hunt down Day. It’s the first in a planned trilogy, and even if the writing is not as stellar as The Hunger Games, it’s still an exciting read.

The futuristic story is set in Los Angeles in the Republic of America, ruled by a dictator who wages war against the eastern Colonies. The poor live in plague-stricken slums, and the rich live sheltered and apart, in a society where the highest calling is to serve the military. At age 10, every child is tested, and those who score well go off to military school while those who fail are dispatched to labor camps or worse.

June is the only person to have earned a perfect score, so she is trained in an elite military school and given every advantage. Day, meanwhile, failed his test and ran away, living in the shadows so he can watch over his family and launch attacks against the repressive Republic.

Their two fates collide after June’s brother is killed in an attack led by Day. June is sent to track him and bring him to justice. The story, told in alternating chapters by June and Day, has plenty of action to keep you turning pages, but there’s also a sweetness and complexity to both characters that saves them from being superhero caricatures. Eventually romance blossoms between the two, but their different causes ensure that they’ll be ripped apart – even as they learn devastating secrets about their families and the Republic.

I can’t wait to read more when Lu’s second installment, Prodigy, comes out on Jan. 29, 2013.

Erin Recommends: Legend