This is the rating I usually give to Young Adult novels that are pretty much your run-of-the-mill fare, but for all their conventionality and clichés, I still had a decent to good time reading. A lot of YA seems to be falling into this category for me lately. Being typical of its kind isn’t always a bad thing, though. At the very least, I know what I’m expecting. And while it’s true that The Young Elites probably didn’t exceed those expectations, it did meet them, and for that it gets my kudos.
The book is filled with familiar tropes, though to Marie Lu’s credit, she attempts to put a unique spin on some of them. A decade ago, an illness swept through the kingdom of Kennetra, killing many it infected. A lot of those children who survived were marked forever by distinctive scars and other features. Protagonist Adelina Amouteru, for example, had her once black hair turn silver, and physicians also had to remove her left eye in order to save her life. These youngsters who also came away with magical powers were labeled the “Malfetto”, and today they are persecuted and looked upon with contempt by much of the main population.
As one of the marked, Adelina’s status makes her undesirable for marriage, leading her cruel and unfeeling father to try and sell her off to become some nobleman’s mistress. After finding out about the plot, Adelina attempts to run away, only to wind up manifesting her powers and accidentally killing her father in a horrific accident. And so, we begin the book with our protagonist locked up in prison, awaiting her execution. Before she makes it up to the block, however, Adelina is snatched out of the Inquisitors’ grasp by a group of vigilantes known as the Young Elites, so called because their members are all like her – marked Malfettos who are empowered with special magical abilities.
It feels like we’ve seen this story many times before. A young woman is a part of an oppressed group because the rest of the world does not understand and are frightened of their powers. She gets taken in by others like her and is forced to prove herself to them. The main leader – a guy, naturally – is ultimately impressed by her force of will and decides to mentor her, becoming a love interest along the way too, of course. In this case, it is the mysterious and broody Enzo Valenciano, whose stone-cold heart starts thawing the moment Adelina comes along. Then throw in the beautiful Raffaele to drum up some of those tense emotional moments, though it is interesting to note that his relationship with Adelina never truly ventures into the romantic sphere.
Still, while much of the premise is well-traveled territory, there are actually a few major surprises. I for one was a bit caught off guard by the darkness of this story, but in the best way possible. It’s quite something to encounter a heroine who is not your average goody-two-shoes, and in fact, Adelina has a mean streak to her which makes her more frightening than anyone in this novel, even the villain. It came out occasionally and I was delighted whenever it happened, because these parts were always written so well.
Lu perfectly balances Adelina’s struggle to do the right thing with the cruel, dark and ugly blackness that lurks within her character, and also manages to convey the resulting guilt and doubt. There was always this suspense hanging over me, of wondering just when Adelina will snap because her roiling emotions are like a tightly drawn bowstring and there’s only so much abuse and pushing around a personality like hers can take. I love how we have a heroine that’s so complex, and likewise the story presents a lot of grey areas for readers to consider.
The ending is perhaps the strongest part of the book. It puts all the focus on Adelina, and she’s the only one who matters now, which is the way things should be. The moment of truth is at hand, and it’s anyone’s guess what she will do next. It’s tempting to wish for the obvious path, which is that she will do the noble thing, but I also confess that I’d be thrilled if she just up and decided to go completely dark side on everyone – and I wouldn’t even blame her for it. The fact that it could realistically go either way is a testament to Lu’s writing talents and her ability to develop her main character. The epilogue is also intriguing, and sets up a likely scenario for book two. Even though I can predict where the story might be going, I’m looking forward to it.
This was my first book by Marie Lu, and while I might not have been swept off my feet, it was still a very good experience. At the time I wasn’t really looking for a YA novel to blow me away, just something quick and fun to read in between some heavier adult fantasy novels, and The Young Elites delivered, and managed to throw in a couple surprises too. I’ll most likely pick up the sequel....more