Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin on October 7, 2014
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.
My feelings about The Young Elites are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I was impressed with Marie Lu’s writing and her commitment to creating a dark and complex protagonist; on the other hand, I was annoyed by how frequently Lu’s writing fell into the clichés of YA romance and lost focus.
Adelina Amouteru is a malfetto, one of the few to recover from a brutal disease that left its survivors with “unnatural” physical markings and sometimes even deformities. Adelina has silvery hair and eyelashes, and lost one of her eyes because of the disease. Malfettos are hated and feared in Kennetran society, especially the Young Elites, a group of malfettos who have developed otherworldly powers as a result of the disease. While the hostility and ridicule that Adelina faces as a malfetto is cause enough for bitterness, it’s really the abuse she endures at home that turns her into a volatile and rage-filled young woman. Her father tortures her and manipulates her to the point where Adelina has no conception of how people should truly treat one another.
Escaping her father and becoming a part of The Young Elites seems like a beautiful – and impossible – dream to Adelina. I mean, generally someone who has known very little tenderness and love isn’t the best at making friends. And even as the other Elites seem to accept her as one of them, Adelina questions whether they are her friends. Do they only like her because she’s useful to them? They train her to use her power, teaching her to craft dangerous and deadly illusions. She soon learns that her power is fuelled by passion, fear and hate…but will Adelina be able to keep the darkness from overwhelming her? Does she even want to?
Compared to Adelina, Enzo was boring as hell. The leader of the Young Elites was entitled, cruel, and he ran hot and cold. But oh no! Look guys, it’s okay because he’s a darkly handsome dethroned prince with emotional baggage – the perfect lover! I think not. The Young Elites would’ve been a better novel if it had focused solely on Adeilna’s journey. Honestly, I thought Marie Lu passed over a discussion about the effects of trauma and how untreated abuse victims have the potential to perpetuate the cycle of violence for a forced teen romance plotline. And that just annoyed me.
But I was very impressed with Lu’s other supporting characters, especially Rafaelle. I think he is one of the most consistently underestimated Young Elites, both by their enemies and the other malfettos. At first I thought he would be the third point of the inevitable love triangle, but ultimately I think what Adelina wanted from him was a different kind of love: the unconditional and accepting love that she should have had from her family. This is made slightly uncomfortable by Rafaelle’s position as a gorgeous and higlhy skilled courtesan with the ability to influence people’s emotions and desires, because Adelina is attracted to him physically…but I still think their emotions are strictly platonic. Regardless, his character emphasizes the problem that The Young Elites is most concerned with: how society makes judgements about people based on their physical appearance that serve only to marginalize them, whether as monsters or as empty-headed whores. Not your average YA moral message, if I do say so myself.
I was expecting a lot from The Young Elites, and unfortunately it just didn’t deliver as much as I wanted it to. There’s been so much hype surrounding this book and I’ve heard so many great things about Marie Lu that I can’t help but be disappointed by the number of clichés littered throughout The Young Elites. While The Young Elites has many shortcomings, its protagonist is not one of them: Adelina is a young woman with incredible power and dubious motivations, a combination that makes for unpredictable plot points and compelling reading. I look forward to reading more about her journey – be it as hero or as villain – in the sequel.