It’s no surprise to most of you that I am a massive Marie Lu fan. Ever since I first discovered her at random in my high school’s library as an awkward sophomore student, she among many authors have inspired me to write fiction. In terms of young adult fiction and literature, she can never do any wrong. The characters she writes are original, her worlds vast and lifelike, the stories woven compellingly, and it makes you more hyped with each passing book.
Enter her final book in “The Young Elites” trilogy, spanning “The Young Elites” and “The Rose Society“, a novel of epic proportions titled (confusingly until the last page) “The Midnight Star”.
Has it really been an entire year since I reviewed a Marie Lu book? Wow, time really flows on by as you move on with your life, just as it has for one of my favorite anti-heroes in fiction, Adelina Amouteru. How so?
A single year has passed since Adelina has succeeding in grabbing the Kenettran throne, a whole year since all of her island homeland began bowering to her vengeful wrath. At last, Adelina has everything she has ever wanted since her Elite powers of illusion manifested in her; she’s ended the witch hunts over malfettos, turned the overly-religious Inquisition Axis into her pawns, exiled traitors she called her friends, and is conquering the rest of the Sealands as her evil cruelty deepens on everyone in her wake.
However, all is not well in her kingdom. Besides Violetta, her own sister, running away from Kenettra in fear of her malevolent sibling, a darkness is poisoning the world, its inhabitants, and the Elites for reasons that are connected to their own powers. With Adelina hoping to prevent her downfall, and Raffaele and the Daggers wanting to save mankind from the apocalypse, every character must reluctantly work together on a journey to discover the lore and reason as to why the Gods have given them their powers. Not only that, but Adelina is forced to bring with her Teren Santoro, whose power is needed alongside hers. But will they make it and save the world? And will Adelina find redemption despite the evil she’s done and the lives she’s taken?
Reading each of her novels and her writing, no one can miss that Marie Lu has a certain talent of transforming simple plots into grand concepts. We’ve seen this kind of trope before: the villain and the hero are forced to work together in order to protect their best interests. We see them argue, we see them bare at each other’s throats, until they eventually find common ground and become frenemies. Yeah, that’s been done to death, but what makes “The Midnight Star” any different?
First off, we see the villain in this trope as the MAIN CHARACTER. As I said in my previous books, Adelina Amouteru is not just a dark protagonist or a comical anti-hero like Deadpool. She does everything that she does for three reasons: for power, for vengeance against those who wronged her, and for her estranged sister. To read a book with a dark, tortured, manipulative and powerful young woman we feel sympathy for is unheard of. As always, we follow Adelina through this because (if you’ve read the first two books) we know her plight, know her traumatic life as a Young Elite, and understand yet fear her.
If I honestly had to compare, Adelina kind of reminds me of Lelouch vi Britannia from the anime “Code Geass”, not just because both are outcast teenagers given a powerful ability and strive to change their world no matter how much blood is spilled, but because they each are consumed by their abilities like parasitic hosts. Adelina’s power of illusions, plus her paranoia, place the stepping stones of her demise. And to read about Adelina is like reading a Shakespearean villain, and the way the author blends her paranoia, her tortured mind and her powers into the narrative makes me wonder how they can visually showcase it in a film in the future.
Secondly, Marie Lu brilliantly makes the perfect choice of focusing not on the characters arguing (most of the time), but on their journey to save the world. I can’t tell you how many stories, books and especially movies focus more on the bickering of the characters and less on other important matters such as character development and chemistry. Instead of Adelina and Raffaele argue about who did who and why, they know what happened. Raffaele just asks Adelina, “We may be enemies because of our differences, but everyone’s lives are in danger. Will you help me?” Writing like this is what makes a good book, where we have several characters that despise each other, but work together for a common goal.
What makes it work is how the interactions (and lack thereof) between the characters affects their outlook on life and each other. It would’ve been so easy to have the entire journey be just about them arguing and complaining about how one betrayed the other and vice-versa. But no. We already know the relationships between the characters, so the author doesn’t have to explain everything to us again. We see Adelina slowly reform her relationship with Violetta, with the Daggers, try to understand the mindset of Teren, and especially the (obvious) relationship that existed between Raffaele and Enzo.
I especially love how much Marie Lu put more focus on Teren Santoro, the Elite turned Inquisitor from the first two books. As I’ve said, Teren Santoro is a villain whose belief against malfettos and his own powers classically mirror against Adelina’s, and to see him be forced to work alongside Adelina (now reversed from the first book with him as the blackmailed prisoner and Adelina as the leader instead of vice-versa) is fascinating.
What else the author does great is how we fully see the honor behind Teren; there’s a flashback from his perspective where we see him as a child in a holy temple, praying to the gods while trying to slit his wrists. Each chance however fails due to his healing factor barely allowing blood to spill. It is a gritty scene to picture, and paints the Shakespearean tragedy behind a complex character.
I think that’s what Marie Lu does best when it comes to her characters, especially in “The Midnight Star”. She gives us characters that are deeply enriched with history, and see them struggle to survive in harsh worlds. Novels and movies like that are what make readers and moviegoers happy, much like how I feel entranced by Adelina’s dark journey.
The lore and religious culture written in the world of “Young Elites” is still amazing. Marie Lu does a fantastic job of incorporating tales some of us are familiar with and making them into a unique spin that’s on par with “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones”. In fact, she gave what I consider to be a very good take on the afterlife. I can’t talk much without giving certain plot points away, but it’s a scene where Adelina and the characters visit a cold, empty world where family, friends, enemies and loved ones are suspended in glass pillars, sleeping serenely as Adelina sees all the turmoil and death caused by her in one way or another. The narrative, the pacing, the imagery; it’s like entering a haunting purgatory that showcases the complexity of her actions.
If I had to nitpick out of what’s a great finish to an awesome trilogy, it’d be that Marie Lu’s map of the world isn’t exactly descriptive. The map in the world of “Young Elites” is good, but we don’t see much of it outside of plot points. Sometimes, it feels like the world map in the front of each book has a location that’s just a location.
For example, there’s a country to the east of Kenettra called the Ember Isles, and the characters have talked about it like it’s a beautiful place that’s a safe haven from tyranny. Then there’s another location such as a country in the Skylands that’s not even on the map. It doesn’t ruin anything in the book, but it’s been a personal pet peeve for me ever since I began reading Marie Lu’s books.
Like I said though, that’s REALLY scraping the bottom of the barrel. All I have to say after finishing “The Midnight Star” is that Marie Lu continues to be a talented author that showcases the beauty not just in YA literature, but in literature in general. Much like the finale of the “Young Elites” trilogy, she gives us complex characters, a thrilling grand storyline, intricate action, cutting drama and a unique take on fantastical worlds. Soon as you can, buy the entire trilogy, and become an avid fan like many have.
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