Not your average heroes: “The Young Elites”

17984141The Young Elites by Marie Lu
Putnam Books for Young Readers, October 7, 2014 (Young Adult; Fantasy)*

My rating: I’d go there again! (3.5/5)

The Young Elites was an unusual story set in a world that I was not expecting. I had heard of the author’s Legend trilogy and assumed that The Young Elites would also fit into that futuristic, dystopian genre. I am very glad that I was wrong. I enjoy teen dystopias, but at the moment, I think the market is flooded with them, so The Young Elites is a refreshing change. While The Young Elites is definitely a departure from the futuristic dystopia, it still retains many elements that I think will appeal to fans of that genre. There’s government control, racism and political machinations, what more could a dystopian fan ask for? Perhaps a unique new historical setting?

The Young Elites does have a wonderful historical setting that is unexpected and works completely with the themes that the author explores here. In this world a plague has come and gone, leaving many of the children afflicted with extraordinary abilities. As expected, those who have developed these abilities are looked upon with both disgust and opportunity.

When the blood fever first passed through, killing a third of the population and leaving scarred, deformed children everywhere, we were pitied. Poor things. Then, a few parents of malfetto children died in freak accidents. The temples called the deaths acts of demons, and condemned us. Stay away from the abominations. They’re bad fortune. So the pity toward us quickly turned to fear. The fear, mixed with our frightening appearance, became hate (p. 42).

On the one hand, the crown wants to rid the world of these “abominations”, and on the other, there are many, including the heroine’s father, that want to harness those with abilities and put them to use. However, it is those with the abilities that change the tide, called The Young Elites those with special abilities are starting to come together and plan to show the crown that they will not be destroyed or used. The question is whether or not this quest will change those fighting for their rights into heroes or villains.

Sixteen-year-old Adelina Amouteru is one of those who survived the blood plague; however, she has never demonstrated any ability, much to the dismay of her father who would like to put those powers to use. Instead, her father decides that selling Adelina to the highest bidder is the only option that will result in finally ridding himself of his less favoured daughter. When Adelina catches wind of this plan, she takes her chance to escape, only to have her powers finally activate with devastating consequences for her father who attempts to bring her home.

Branded a criminal, Adelina is sentenced to death only to be rescued by those that she has held in awe for so long: The Young Elites. Adelina is liberated by a subset of the Elites, ruled by the rightful Crown Prince, Enzo Valenciano:

“I am the leader of the Dagger Society, a group of Young Elites who seek out others like ourselves before the Inquisition can. But we are not the only Elites – there are many others, I’m sure, scattered all across the world. My goal is to unite us. Burnings like yours happen every time the Inquisition thinks they’ve found a Young Elite. Some people abandon their own marked family members because they’re afraid of ‘bad luck’. The king uses malfettos as an excuse for his poor rule. As if we are to blame for the state of his impoverished nation. If we don’t fight back, the kind and his Inquisition Axis will kill us all, every child marked by fever” (p. 54).

Now that Adelina is part of the Dagger Society, she is ready to fight back. She’s been used and abused far too long by her father and she’s ready to channel that anger into something meaningful. But alongside that anger, Adelina also has an vulnerability about her. For years she’s put up with her father’s hatred of her, and aside from her sister, she’s starved for affection and a sense of belonging. Ultimately, Adelina is vulnerable to Enzo’s Society and the sense of kinship that she finds there. However, it becomes clear that appearances can be deceiving and Adelina is forced to choose between her new friends and her young sister who has been taken captive by the Inquisitors.

What I found most interesting about The Young Elites was the fact that the Elites and their subsets are essentially rebel factions fighting against a corrupt king who has ruthlessly cornered them. The Elites have had enough of this subjection, and have decided to rebel. And what I admire here is that the author doesn’t shy away from showing these rebels in a less than honourable light. Enzo and his band of companions are not black and white heroes. They are willing to kill for the cause and have killed their own to protect themselves. In a sense, this characterization was uncomfortable to read about, but it was ultimately realistic and I appreciate the careful construction of this rebel society.

The heroine, Adelina, is the best example of the lack of black-and-white characterization in the novel. Adelina is an angry young woman and her anger leaves her vulnerable to manipulation. And make no mistake, Adelina is manipulated throughout this book. First by the Inquisitor, Teren, and then by those that she believes to be her friends; people that should protect her. The initial acceptance Adelina finds is a balm to the years of abuse, and it makes her blind to the faults of the Society and their motivation for rescuing her. Adelina was a complex character and it’s heartbreaking to see how she is led astray and then betrayed over and over again by those that should be on her side. This complexity of character is what kept me interested in the novel. By the end of The Young Elites, it seems that Adelina has reached a breaking point, and I think it will be very easy for her to become a villain. I’m so curious about how the author will continue to work with this complexity. What are the lengths Adelina will go to in her rage?

Ultimately, The Young Elites is a complex teen fantasy book. Unlike many teen novels, Lu’s heroes are not conventional; they aren’t necessarily even heroic. The sense of realism that these characters demonstrate is the strongest part of this novel, and it will certainly get me back for book two. There’s a lot to like here and I am impressed with the world created and the characters that inhabit it. I have no reservations about recommending this one to fantasy fans.

*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.

Similar Reads

For another teen fantasy novel that pushes the boundaries of good and evil in it’s heroine, try Livia Blackthorn’s Midnight Thief. Like Adelina, Kyra is vulnerable to a group of rebels, the Assassins Guild, and her involvement with them will compromise her principles.  If you like the complexity of Adelina, it is likely that you will also appreciate Kyra’s opposing convictions. For more about Midnight Thief, see my review.

Midnight Thief (Midnight Thief, #1)

If you were intrigued by the world building of The Young Elites, you might want to try Kristen Cashore’s Graceling Realm series. As in The Young Elites, in Cashore’s world those born with enhanced abilities, gracelings, are viewed with disgust and seen as tools to be used. Cashore’s heroines of the series are all complex, and while not as angry or vulnerable as Adelina, I think readers will find some commonalities. I recommend that you start with book one.

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)

Lastly, I also recommend Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study. When I first started reading The Young Elites, I was immediately struck by the similarity between Adelina and Yelena. Like Adelina, Yelena is imprisoned for murder, yet I found that Yelena was able to come to terms with her violent past and channel it into something positive. On the surface, Poison Study seems a bit simpler than The Young Elites, but I like the fact that Yelena is more of the expected traditional heroine. While Yelena is somewhat more expected, Poison Study is by no means a light read; there are some dark themes here, which I think will appeal to readers of The Young Elites.

Poison Study (Study, #1)



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