I absolutely loved Marie Lu’s dystopian Legend trilogy. When I found out she was starting a new series, and a high fantasy series at that, I was intrigued and super excited. The Young Elites, which is very different from Legend and its sequels, is a “powers” novel, circling around a band of malfettos who are called the Young Elites. I’d heard that the book’s protagonist was a very different sort of character, an antihero of sorts. Well. I have mixed feelings about The Young Elites after finishing it. Let’s dive in, shall we?
First, I wasn’t grabbed. I would read a few chapters a day. And, if you’ve been following my tweets on Twitter, you’ll know that I kept saying, “I want to finish The Young Elites tonight”–and then I didn’t. I mean, it took me less than a week to read this book, and that’s probably normal for a lot of readers, but for me, if a book is absolutely gripping, I can usually fly through it in a day or two. The Young Elites didn’t wow me until the last 100 pages. And you want to know the strangest part of all? It was the epilogue that I think was the best part, or at least the most interesting. And the epilogue was about an entirely different character in an entirely different country. (More on that later.)
Let me talk about our main character: Adelina Amouteru. She is a malfetto, someone who survived the deadly fever than went around the country years ago and who came out of it with minus one eye and hair-turned-white and strange, frightening abilities. For almost her whole life her father was cruel to her–how could anyone love a dirty, unlucky malfetto? Adelina was taught that she is cursed, an abomination, a worthless girl. Darkness has built up inside her and threatens to burst out. And when she can no longer control her hatred and anger, the consequences lead her to her execution–aaaaand then to her rescue by a group of Young Elites, the Daggers.
Adelina is a very interesting character. I liked how dark and broken she is. (Notice I didn’t say she is particularly likeable.) I wouldn’t call her a villain in this book, but she qualifies as an antihero. Sometimes she seemed wimpy/fragile (she cried a lot, if I remember correctly), but at other times she was definitely scary/ferocious when she fantasized of how she would kill or hurt someone if she could. She wanted revenge, she wanted to hurt people when they treated her badly because she wanted them to feel the hurt she had endured for years.
Sometimes I wanted Adelina to do bad things, just to see how the story would change and how the characters would react. I wanted her to betray her colleagues or make incredibly rash decisions because then she could have been a very revolutionary protagonist. She does do some truly horrific things, one when she is blinded by her rage and hatred and can’t stop herself in time, the other accidentally when she loses control of her power. But nothing she did consciously, and that disappointed me a little. (Does that make me a bad person? 😉 ) I wanted Adelina to make more mistakes, to double-cross people. I mean, I liked how she was so conflicted about things, how she fought inner battles with herself, and I understood her desperation for people to trust her, but I wanted her to be less forgiving and colder more of the time. (Yeah, I’m realizing how I sound now, what impression I must be giving off. Welcome to the Leaning Tower of Tomes, people! The blog where we want book characters to do the wrong things!)
I think I just wanted to read about a villain’s journey; I wanted to see how a terribly messed-up and broken person becomes power-hungry, angry, and unforgiving. By the book’s end, Adelina is certainly headed in that direction, what with the lengths she’ll go to protect her sister (oh, the things we’ll do for love), even though she’s jealous and angry and emotionally wounded when it comes to Violetta, who was beloved by their father and everyone else. It’s actually Violetta who caused Adelina her whole host of problems in this book, though Violetta did it without realizing the consequences because how could she have predicted that? I also found I really liked Adelina’s relationship with her sister by the book’s end; it was realistic and actually made me a bit emotional.
Moving along… The cast of Young Elites were actually pretty interesting, and it was enjoyable learning their roles and secrets. I loved Raffaele and how different he was underneath his smooth, flawless appearance/act. His friendship with Adelina was so refreshing because there was no romantic connection between them. That’s so rare when the guy is beautiful and perfect, so that made me like Raffaele even more.
I liked Enzo a lot–he was the rightful heir of Kenettra, but was outcast by his family when he became a malfetto. He had many layers that I wish could have been explored more, especially the sadness and loss within him. There is a romance between him and Adelina, and while it definitely wasn’t a big focus at all, I had mixed feelings about it. I liked it, I liked the two of them coming together, but at the same time I only knew it would end… badly. (I shall elaborate no further for fear of spoilers!)
Gemma was pretty great, fun and bubbly, the daughter of a nobleman and who came from a family who loved her even though she was marked. If elaborated on, this could have been an interesting thing for Adelina to struggle with, since her own father loathed her.
Then there was Dante, a bully who underestimated how pissed-off Adelina was capable of becoming. And finally Lucent, who we learn a surprising secret about in the epilogue, and Michel, who I barely remember.
These supporting characters needed more page-time! Well, Raffaele and Enzo had a lot to do, Dante some, Gemma little, and Lucent and Michel barely any. Maybe in the next book we’ll see them some more and get to learn more about them, but The Young Elites was really just Adelina’s journey of coming into her own.
Oh, and then there was Teren Santoro, the head of the Inquisition (which hunts malfettos) and Queen Guilietta’s, um, lover. Teren himself is a malfetto, only he believes he was “made” to eradicate the world of the malfettos, and is blinded by his loyalty to the Queen to do whatever she wants.
Such as: Teren threatens Adelina’s sister, Violetta, and uses blackmail to get information on Enzo’s Young Elites. Adelina goes through that entire game of debating if she should tell her new, helpful comrades about her sticky predicament. It was agonizing to read about her indecisiveness and fear, though understandable. Still, I was of two minds: Girl, you either tell your Young Elite buddies right this second about what Teren’s forced you into, or you go right this second to Teren and tell him everything about your Young Elite buddies. I wanted one of these extreme outcomes because Adelina was taking too much time deciding which side she was on.
Besides the characters, the plot itself meandered for a bit. The Young Elites is a powers story, and a story that really centers on its protagonist and focuses on her turmoil and growth. Or destruction, however you want to look at it. So there was a lot of training (“training” can be done well, and it can be done in a boring fashion; this training wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t all that exciting either) and a lot of angst over what Adelina was going to do. The book is only 355 pages, but the whole first half felt dragged out because it was the buildup to all hell breaking loose in the latter half. Slower starts can be great in some instances, and it can be fascinating learning about the world and the characters, but I really wasn’t a fan of Adelina initially; I much preferred the supporting characters who I would liked to have been fleshed out more. (I think I mentioned that already. Just saying it again.)
Switching topics because I just remembered this: There was a huge twist during the book’s climax that left me exclaiming WHAT over and over. I didn’t see it coming, but I like it when authors do unexpected things. Within reason. (*Cough, cough* Allegiant.) This twist worked because of Adelina’s character. But it still left me absolutely bewildered. I tweeted about it because it was just so shocking! (I didn’t include any spoilers, duh. I’m not a troll. I’ll always warn you. 😉 )
And let’s talk about that epilogue: It takes place in another country, Beldain, and is told from the POV of Princess Maeve as she executes a criminal and learns about the happenings that occurred over the course of the book in Kenettra. The girl is an amazing archer, has a pet tiger, and instantly intrigued me. I honestly hope Book #2 is told from her perspective because she is just badass!
Speaking of POVs, the book switches around occasionally. Most of the novel is from Adelina’s view in the first person, but there are a few chapters in third person that are told from Raffaele, Enzo, and Terren. Whenever a chapter from one of the boys came up, it was a bit jarring and took me out of Adelina’s story. I think Terren’s chapters added a lot to his character, but Raffaele and Enzo’s chapters I don’t remember as being particularly necessary. I liked these chapters for the most part, but having the entire viewpoint go from first person to third person and back again was a bit irritating. I’m okay with characters just alternating, but when it comes to the actual writing style, be it viewpoint or tense, I’m less than impressed.
To sum it all up, I liked The Young Elites, but I had problems with it. It didn’t capture my attention until more than halfway through. The plot didn’t really move along until the last half. The supporting characters were great but some of them didn’t have that much page-time or development. I wanted Adelina to be more extreme. (Watch as people tell me she was already extreme and that I must have totally skipped over/forgotten those parts. 😛 ) The training sequences were meh. The change in viewpoint was disrupting. The epilogue, which featured an entirely spanking brand-new character, was my favorite part. I didn’t dislike The Young Elites, but it left me wanting more. I’ll admit my expectations were set very high because of Marie Lu’s fantastic Legend series. In all, I do recommend this book as an interesting take on an antihero. Maybe the sequel will expand upon everything in the ways I want. ♦
Have you read The Young Elites?
If so, what did you think?
If you have not, would you want to read it now?
Comment below letting me know!
I write young adult novels, and have a special love for dystopian books. Ironically, I was born in 1984. I like food, fighter jets, afternoon tea, happy people, electronics, the interwebz, cupcakes, pianos, bright colors, rain, Christmas lights, sketches, animation, dogs, farmers’ markets, video games, and of course, books. I suck at working out. I also get lost very easily, but am a halfway decent driver. At least, I like to think so. 🙂
I left Beijing for the States in 1989 and went off to college at the University of Southern California. California weather sweet-talked me into sticking around, so I’m currently in Pasadena with my boyfriend, two Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and a chihuahua mix. In my past life, I was an art director in the video game industry, but now I write full-time.