Summary: Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.
Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.
Thoughts: The Young Elites surprised me in quite a few ways. From what I’d heard of the concept, I was expecting something in a modern or a near-future setting, maybe dystopian or post-apocalyptic, since when you think of teens dealing with superpowers, that tends to be the popular setting. But to have it take place in a secondary world, a fantasy setting, was unexpected. Magic exists in dozens of ways in fantasy settings, but YA fantasy seems to be a less common thing now than YA dystopias or sci-fi, so when I was presented with something a little more to my reading taste than I expected, I was pleased.
For much of the book, my opinion wavered between thinking it was a good book but had little to make it stand out from others (aside from the general quality of writing and storytelling, I mean; I suppose that alone can make a book stand out), and from feeling deeply bad for the main character, Adelina. Scarred by the blood fever that swept through the land years ago, and left with strange powers as a result, she is a malfetto, deemed worthless by most and an outright curse of society by others. For a long time her power did not surface, no matter how hard her father tried to influence them by a twisted mix of kindness and cruelty, physical and emotional abuse that made me cringe, until the night he decides to sell her into marriage to cover his own debts, cutting his losses on a “useless ugly daughter.” Then her powers manifest, taking the form of darkness and illusions that can kill, bringing about the death of her father and her subsequent capture and planned execution.
Enter the Dagger Society. Made up of people called Young Elites, malfettos with powers, who rescue Adelina and seek to use her to further their goals of overthrowing the current monarchy that declares them all to be cursed and the downfall of society. Enter the Inquisition, who want to use Adelina as a spy to learn about the Dagger Society’s plans, offering her a chance at redemption in the eyes of the gods if she helps eliminate the blight on the world, and who hold her sister captive as incentive. Adelina is torn between her need to save her sister and her growing attraction to the leader of the Daggers, Enzo, and is caught in the middle of a huge mess.
Adelina is an amazing character, in no small part because she is not your typical YA heroine. She has trauma, and that trauma affects every area of her life. She spent much of her life in an abusive family situation, with her father seeking to use her for what powers he thinks he can draw out of her. She transitions to a situation where two opposing groups seek to use her for their own gains. She is dark, her power born from pain and fear, and she has a desire to hurt those who hurt her, viciously and vindictively, and that is what sets her apart from others. Most YA protags, especially females, may have their hurts that make them tougher but ultimately they are still good. Chaotic Good, maybe, but there’s still that aspect about them. Adelina is more Chaotic Neutral, doing not what she does because it’s good or because she truly believes in one group or another’s goals, but from self-interest, and ofter from blind anger and for retribution rather than justice. Reading Marie Lu’s notes at the end about how she wanted to tell the story of a villain rather than a hero makes this even more interesting, since it works well to humanize villains and show them as people who can arise from the hurt and abused who are tired of letting that pattern continue and who are granted the power to stop it.
And the ending? Heartbreaking. And I can’t go into details here without letting loose a whole stream of spoilers, which would ruin much of the book for those who haven’t read it yet but still want to. All I’ll say is that however much The Young Elites may lean on tropes now and again, just about everything in the last few chapters was unexpected, and I didn’t foresee it at all! Which is impressive, and shows that Lu has some good skill at telling the story that needs to be told rather than telling the same story that everyone else already has.
The Young Elites is a quick read, made all the quicker for the good balance of action and emotion, since even the slower scenes of the book are revealing and do much to move the plot along. Little in here is filler. And it should be said that I didn’t experience my usual annoyance with the first-person viewpoint. I find that often with that viewpoint it takes much of the tension away from scenes that are supposed to be brimming with it, because you know, on some level, that the person you’re following will come out okay. Or at least won’t die. So throwing them into crazy action doesn’t actually do much to raise the tension of the story. But many of Adelina’s scenes did not involve throwing herself into danger, and when they did, it wasn’t the sort of danger that could turn deadly, so that problem was eliminated before it even began. Nicely done!
I can’t wait to read the sequel when it comes out. Lu has set up a wonderful villain for us to follow, an antagonist in a protagonists’s wrappings, and I want to know how the rest of the story unfolds. It’s easy to see that The Young Elites was merely setup to a larger and further-reaching tale, and there’s a lot that still needs to be resolved, so I’m joining the crowds that are eager for the sequel’s release so we can continue with Adelina’s story. Lu has got herself a new fan here, and one that definitely recommends this to those who are seeking a YA fantasy that is familiar and fresh all at the same time!