The Young Elites by Marie Lu
Series: The Young Elites, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Energy courses through me in relentless waves, feeding me even as I try to ignore the flood of power in my veins. In spite of everything, I feel a strange sense of glee.
All this chaos is of my own creation.
Although she survived the blood fever that crippled her country’s population, Adelina Amouteru is still suffering from its effects. Of everyone who became infected from the plague, only children survived, but their survival came at a price: physical disfigurements that has left them objects of pity and fear, and given them the collective name of Malfettos. Adelina herself is now silver-haired and missing an eye. A byproduct of the disease also gave some Malfettos supernatural powers, and those special Malfettos are referred to as the Young Elites.
The stigma surrounding Malfettos has ensured that they’re now essentially second-class citizens, even within their own families. Adelina has spent most of her life watching her father favor her younger, beautiful sister Violetta, who is everything that Adelina was supposed to be. She’s unwillingly put up with her family until she learns that she’s to be given away as a mistress to an older wealthy man - her status as a Malfetto ensures that she could never be properly married. Deciding that she can no longer bear this treatment, Adelina runs away and eventually finds herself under the protection of the Dagger Society, a small group of Young Elites. From them she learns that she possesses powers beyond reckoning. Enzo Valenciano, the leader of the Dagger Society, is none other than the dethroned heir of the throne, who gives his fellow society members the chance to retaliate against all those who have wronged them in the past.
Last year I read all four of Lu’s currently published novels (Legend, Prodigy, Champion, and The Young Elites), and it’s made me realize just how much Lu has progressed as an author. The Legend trilogy has its high and low points, but it is through the darker, fantasy world of The Young Elites that Lu has truly come into her own.
Adelina is not a likable protagonist; she’s not much of a sympathetic one, either. She’s calculating, vengeful, and jealous. Her circumstances are partially to blame for the girl she has become; she spent her childhood being abused by her father, mostly ignored by her sister, feared and disliked by her neighbors. But there’s also an uncontrollable darkness inside Adelina that manifests itself through her newly discovered powers: she pulls on others’ fear and unease to create terrifying illusions. Despite her desire for revenge, however, Adelina lacks the control and discipline to make the most of her powers. Through Adelina, Lu successfully presents a fascinating portrayal of an antihero.
In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to refer to The Young Elites as a story about antiheroes. Yes, more than one. Adelina is the primary character, but two other characters are also given narration: Enzo and Teren Santoro, the Lead Inquisitor. Through Enzo’s narration, readers gain a broader understanding of the background of those gifted Malfettos, of Kenettra’s treatment of Young Elites, and of their plans to rise up against an oppressive system. Adelina’s own struggles are put into perspective, as are the dangers than an unstable, powerful Young Elite such as she can pose for the entire system. Teren’s narration further expands the world, this time from the side of those fortunate enough to escape from the blood fever. His role as Lead Inquisitor is essentially to keep the peace by ensuring that troublemaking Malfettos are brought to justice, with an ultimate goal of eliminating all Malfettos from the population. Both of these young men also struggle with darker desires and doubts, their perspectives supplementary to Adelina’s, but still fascinating.
But perhaps most interesting of all is the relationship that Adelina has with her sister Violetta. Violetta represents everything that was taken away from Adelina when she caught the blood fever all those years ago: beauty, the guarantee of an accepted place in society, their father’s love. When Violetta unexpectedly enters Adelina’s new life, Adelina must grapple with how she truly feels about this sister whose life is a result of good fortune, rather than any intentional ill-will against Adelina. A few twists along the way make their relationship even more complicated.
This is not simply a novel about embracing our darker desires, however; this is also a novel about the consequences of going too far. Perhaps that’s a fairly obvious statement, but it’s worth mentioning that Lu is not afraid to let bad things happen to her (morally gray) characters. Or good things, though those good things are in short supply. Death, torture, blackmail, and violence all feature heavily in this book.
There’s a certain allure to be found within the darkness, both for the characters and the readers, however. This is the sort of story that can make readers wonder just how far they’d be willing to go to promote their own agendas, and exactly what they owe to others. I cannot wait to see where Lu takes Adelina’s story next.
Rating: 4.5 stars