Marie Lu is probably what many consider one of those gifted authors that come out of nowhere. She started off working as an employee for Disney Interactive and quit her job to become a young adult novelist, soon becoming a New York Times bestselling author after publishing ‘Legend’, ‘Prodigy’, and ‘Champion’, her first book trilogy. Heck, her books became so well-loved that a movie for the first book is being discussed as we speak. I remember first reading ‘Legend’ back in high school and instantly falling in love with her works, and came to look at her as an inspiration for writing. She’s smart, talented at character development, and a prodigy when it comes to world-building.
However, I wasn’t looking forward to her next book series when she announced it was going to be a fantasy. If you personally know, I consider the fantasy genre the least favorite of genres I know. To me (aside from ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’), fantasy has become so overdone that it’s become its own cliché. Because of this, I thought ‘The Young Elites’ was gonna be a real bore. Still, since I heard Marie Lu was releasing its sequel this coming October, I had to read it sooner than later. And what’d I think after finishing?
I have to stop doubting my favorite authors.
Over a decade after a blood fever ravaged the island nation of Kenettra, children affected by the plague are left with scars that people across the land believe are omens of bad luck and destruction. Those seen with unusual hair color and markings on the skin are given the name ‘malfetto’, an abomination of the Gods. Not only that, there are some malfettos that are believed to be cursed with paranormal powers at their fingertips (i.e. fire-conjuring, fast healing, talking to animals). They are referred to as the Young Elites, and are wanted by Kenettra’s Inquisition Axis to be executed.
One of the Young Elites is a sixteen year-old girl named Adelina, whose powers of conjuring illusions result in her killing her abusive father. Before she’s burned at the stake though by the Inquisitors, Adelina is rescued by the mysterious Dagger Society, a group of powerful Young Elites led by the fire-conjuring banished prince of the royal family named Enzo. Their mission is to incite a revolution and help Enzo seize the throne from his older scheming sister. If they succeed, the prince can enact laws protecting the mafettos and give their right to exist.
Unfortunately, the Dagger Society’s members are reluctant to have Adelina as one of them, as not only are her abilities powerful, but maybe too powerful for her dark emotions to handle. Not only that, but Adelina herself wonders if the Dagger Society truly rescued her out of kindness, or as a means to an end.
Where do I honestly start?
I should probably talk about the main character, as she’s central to the book and molds this all together. Adelina Amouteru is one of the most well-developed, intimidating, emotional, epically written antiheroes I have ever seen. She is everything we want in a character that walks along the grey line of right and wrong. She has the pity and tragic backstory of Zuko, the naiveté emotional problems of Draco Malfoy, and the twisted yet powerful grasp of vengeful desire Alucard has from ‘Hellsing’. She’s emotional, she’s confused, she’s vengeful, she’s angry, she’s awesome, she’s vulnerable, she’s practically everything you ever want in an antihero. And while some of the things Adelina does are questionable, we know her reasons and why she does it. Hell, there are two dozen moments where we root for her, and we understand how much of a train wreck her life was growing up emotionally and physically scarred. You don’t know whether to be afraid of Adelina, feel sorry for her, hate her, or just hug her.
All the other characters in this are well-written as well. We have Enzo, a banished prince (much like Zuko, but a bit more suave and less serious) that is also friends/in love with a Young Elite named Raffaele who has the ability to sense the energy connecting malfettos and other people. Both are presented as handsome, smart, and really tactile guys that want to create a world where malfettos can walk free unashamed, whether it be achieved through murder or revolution.
Even the so-called villain of this story is likeable and relatable. Teren Santoro is a member of the Inquisition Axis (and a secret lover of the queen), and wants to rid his nation of the depravity malfettos have caused on Kenettra. He despises everything about them, and will stop at nothing until his nation is considered pure by the Gods again. However, he also holds a secret of his own, one that he considers more as a plaguing curse rather than a useful gift.
What I find the most refreshing about ‘The Young Elites’ is the fact that unlike other modern fantasy novels, this one is set in a world you want to live in, but also fear of. This world is filled with dangers around every corner, fathers willing to sell their daughters as mistresses to settle debts, harsh people in a savage world, and a deep prejudice towards people who look different (social commentary much?).
It’s weird how an author as extremely talented as Marie Lu went from writing a futuristic dystopian novel to a fantasy novel that throws your expectations and emotion around you like a rollercoaster. In my opinion, what I’ve talked about makes an epic, especially an epic fantasy. We have a complex antihero with emotions that control her complex powers, fantastic world-building ruled by an unforgiving tyrant, funny and likeable side characters that add to the plot, fantastic visuals written page by page, and amazing commentary of social issues today and in the future.
Marie Lu, I cannot wait for the upcoming sequel to my favorite fantasy series!
If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!