Author M J Conlon has a special place in my mind, going way back to 2019’s release of The AHKH Resurrectionist Chronicles. The setting in theory wasn’t super original, but the way it was played was. The main character, in this case a disabled former Army Ranger, finds himself uploaded in a game with a chance to have his consciousness moved to a clone upon arriving at a new planet far far away. Only a very small number of players can “win” a chance to be reincarnated, however, and the game has significant pay-to-win elements that give the aristocrats an advantage. I loved the setting, I liked some of the plot threads, hated the editing, and ultimately waited for more.
Well, more never came, but I got to read the next best thing. As the story goes, Mr. Conlon wanted a Young Adult story with a strong female character that his teenaged daughter could relate to, and as such wrote the Legacy Systems Trilogy. Books 1 and 2 are out already; I was lucky enough to receive an Advance Review Copy of book 3 when I reached out to the author and told him he needed to give it to me or else. I expected him to say “or else what?” but he was just super humble and let me have the copy.
These stories, as a whole, improve upon everything I liked about the first book of this author’s that I read. While I am not a Young Adult, and don’t necessarily connect with the MC as a result, I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for her. Mostly, though, I was there to see how this brutal game world treated another potential player.
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The Apocolypse has hit Earth, and Zera Bellthorne finds herself uploaded into the game Legacy Systems at the age of 13. There, she is forced to live in a brutal tutorial for years. When she turns 16, she has a chance to emancipate herself, if she meets some rather strict criteria. She is also informed that when she hits the live servers if she dies, she will be dead forever unless she has kids to transfer her conscious to. It’s a twisted ‘game’ for sure.
This has a very negative effect on Zera. She doesn’t learn to properly socialize. She learns outright not to trust anything around her. Worse, her parents purchased the race of Dragon Elf – an advanced race that comes off to other animals as an Apex Hunter but which can only eat meat and blood – which sets her off as being ‘special’ – TOO special, making her a target for just about every NPC she comes across. Hey, at least she knows Dragon Fu though.
On her 16th birthday, Zera meets the criteria to join the live servers, only to be informed by the game that she’s the last of her kind… which means, she must assume, that her parents have already passed. Worse, ‘travelers’ – what the game calls Player Characters – are actively hunted, due in part to their ability to take over the minds of their progeny. Zera has to play it smart and play it safe to ensure no one knows that she’s a special race, or a player character.
On the one hand, it doesn’t go well because she’s a Dragon Elf, and she’s essentially a teenager who would be struggling in the real world let alone this new one. On the other hand, it goes really well, because she can beat the heck out of anything. One of her skills, a ‘Legacy’ that she unlocked, is to manipulate the mana of the world around her to create balls of energy that severely damage whatever she wills them at – “Death Balls” as she calls them.
There’s a plot point in the middle of the first book when a character who hates Player Characters for the way one she fell in love with treated her attempts to capture Zera to bring her to a high priestess. The capture goes woefully poorly, but it does put a Slave Collar on her. This not only makes it impossible for Zera to use magic (outside of her Legacy Death Ball skill) but marks her as a slave, which becomes another thing she has to hide from the world. I was very worried when I saw “enslaved” in the blurb of the book; that’s not a thing I want to see in Young Adult fiction! But it’s a plot point that works well here on a number of levels.
To give an idea of the sort of things this book does right: at a point in the book, Zera comes across some characters who can resurrect thanks to some special stones. Such a device isn’t uncommon in role playing games, so it makes sense it would happen here. So what does Zera do? Kills these people in tandem, eating their hearts (because the heart is the tastiest part of the human body it would appear), and by the time she is finished with the last one the first should be resurrected and ready to be slain again. Rinse, repeat. This is the sort of smart exploiting of game mechanics I would expect from such a character.
As spoiler free as possible, at some point towards the end of Book 1 Zera meets a group of people that she can at least try to trust, although her actions make it clear she just doesn’t know how to. It also starts hinting at some same-sex romance, which thankfully is played light. So many books like this become overwhelmed with their love triangles. This series isn’t one of them. It is amusing, to me, that these characters don’t always see eye to eye with her, and Zera doesn’t always make the best choices when it comes to reconciling these differences… and pays a fitting price as a result.
In Book 2, the focus is on a grand tournament of sorts. The winning team of the tournament allows the Princess of said team to marry the Marquis. It is rather amusing, and very fitting, just how well Zera’s inability to trust anyone works in her team’s favor. She learns, for the worse, that there are many forces in this world and not all of them that work against her are doing so intentionally. Sometimes, the world is just a horrible place. This book has a lot of twists and turns, an incredibly high body count, some more exploration into Zera’s feelings for other female characters, and a shock when she learns that even though she is emancipated by the game’s logic she isn’t yet fully an adult. There is also a sense that maybe her parents aren’t as “dead” as she had been lead to believe, and if so she needs to come to terms with what that means, especially considering her parents’ concerns about her sexuality before the upload.
Book 3, which isn’t out yet, is a grand finale which sees the stakes raised. This book as a lot of focus on world building, and allows her to reconnect at least with some of her family.
Zera is the definition of “Overpowered but still has to work hard.” She’s in a world where all the gifts in the world are just a slight edge, where the madness of the code often feel stacked against the player. She’s an easy character to root for, yet her ruthlessness does come at a cost. It isn’t all rule of cool for the sake of a flex, there’s a feeling that Zera is doing the best she can with a game world that didn’t give her anything more than skills in survival.
I have two noticeable complaints about these books. The first is that the editing is god-awful. In the first book, there were points where I was noticing an error of some sort every page. Sometimes it was grammatical, other times it was the wrong word that sounded like the correct one. On a few occasions, the tense the book was written in would change for a bit. It is slightly better in the second book, but only slightly. Considering this was a major issue I had with the first book of this author’s that I read, and given that there is an editor credited, I’m very disheartened by this. It is very distracting.
The second issue I have is that the way the books, as a trilogy, handles Zera’s family is kind of come-to-realize, and that suffers a bit. Her brother Dylan isn’t even mentioned until the third book, which is just strange to me. It seems like the nature of her family isn’t even touched upon much until the middle of the second book. I felt like it would have done the flow of the books much more service to have a more even hand in how the family was addressed. It’s clear Zera misses her family, even if she has issues with them, and I felt there was more room to explore there.
Despite this, I feel this is an exceptionally underrated series. I could easily recommend this trilogy to a number of individuals. Solid action, believable main character who is powerful but sees that power challenged, solid gay romance that doesn’t take over the focus of the series, and a crazy world with game-like tropes played correctly. Exceptionally glad I gave the first book a chance – it hooked me on the second and third.
The Legacy Systems books are written by M. J. Conlon, who does not have a website and who does have social media accounts but only for personal use. Book One, Next Gen Gamer, is listed at 180 pages. Book Two, Desert Trials, is listed at 206 pages. Book Three, Shamanic Rites, is listed at 210 pages. All three books are listed at $2.99 for their digital versions, or available at no additional cost if read as part of a Kindle Unlimited Subscription.
I was given an advance copy of Shamanic Rites in return for a fair review on Amazon. All other copies were paid for.