I know who you really are. Who will ever want you, Adelina?
My fury heightens. Everyone. They will cower at my feet, and I will make them bleed.
Marie Lu’s newest series The Young Elites was everything I had hoped from her and more, and I want to hit past-me for being so hesitant to pick it up. The story is so character-driven and wonderfully developed I found myself gasping in disbelief and excitement continually throughout. What finally convinced me to dive into this new world from Lu was the elements of the book: a haunted, physically-abused protagonist, a multifaceted villain, friendship, male courtesans, and, the piece de résistance, a conspiracy to usurp the throne.
It completely astounds me why I didn’t read it any sooner.
(warning: spoilers below)
Adelina Amouteru is just one of the many victims of a vicious blood fever that swept through the Kingdom years ago, killing many of the adults and physically scarring the children. She is branded a malfetto and it is considered a great stigma to be, in anyway, associated with one. This does not bode well for her father, who is convinced to sell Adelina as a mistress to reinstate the fortune he lost when his daughter became a malfetto. Adelina’s only option is to run away, but she does not get very far before her father discovers her and, in her rage, she kills him with some sort of terrifying power. She is arrested by the Inquisition and sentenced to death, but saved at the last minute by the Young Elites, a group of cursed malfettos, who, after the fever, were gifted with strange powers which the Kingdom is terrified of. Adelina is taken to a lush, frescoed brothel were she must prove if she is worthy enough to join the Young Elites.
The leader of the Young Elites is Enzo, the Crown Prince, who is also a malfetto and had his rank as heir, as well as position and power, stripped by his sister who succeeded to the throne after him. Adelina is given the chance to join this secret group, called the Dagger Society, in order to restore the prince to his throne, but only if she can develop her hidden powers, powers she did not know existed within her until she killed her father. If she fails in any way, or betrays the Young Elites, her life is forfeit. But, Enzo’s plans are even more ambitious. He doesn’t want to merely take back his kingdom, he wants to change the way the entire world views malfettos: as something more than curses and disgraces to their families. They are human, too. But they are more powerful. And deadly.
The premise of the novel was incredibly exciting and stimulating and I just couldn’t put the book down. The world-building was simply incredible and very clear that Lu has taken great inspiration from Renaissance Spain. The Inquisition was an immediate throwback to Renaissance Spain and really highlighted the influence and authority religion and those in power can wield over the masses.
As I stare silently back, I feel something powerful stir inside me—a buried fire, subdued during childhood and long forgotten. I have lived all my life in the shadow of my father and my sister. Now that I’m standing in the sun for the first time, I dare to think differently.
The broken butterfly has been made whole.
I don’t think I have ever truly loved and reviled a protagonist as much as Adelina. What sets her apart from all other YA heroines is simply that: she is not a heroine. She is the villain. We are reading the origin story of a fearsome villain, who the entire world has turned their back on. With all that happens to Adelina, it is no surprise, then, that she becomes the villain. She has this darkness inside of her that originates from her anger and bitterness. What I love most about Adelina is the fact that she is physically disfigured (that sounds weird): due to the blood fever, Adelina lost an eye and her hair turned silver, which frequently changes different shades as she experiences certain emotions. Adelina discovers she, too, has powers, but powers that are far more deadly than the other malfettos. She has the ability to manifest illusions, primarily in the form of terrifying shadows; she can induce pain which can result in death, create a cloak of invisibility and mask features over someone’s face. She spends the majority of the novel perfecting her growing powers, which frightens a few of the other Young Elites, especially Raffaele.
Raffaele, ever graceful, simply meet my gaze with a level look. “If Enzo becomes King,” he says, “I can step away from this life.”
Raffaele was my absolute favourite character (surprise, surprise). He is a Young Elite and member of the Dagger Society, known as the Messenger. He is also Enzo’s right hand man and works as a consort, secretly building political alliances for Enzo and the Dagger Society. His power is that he can sense energy from other people, specifically the Young Elites. I loved watching him use his powers: not only can he sense energy, he can also manipulate it somewhat which results in people trusting him, falling in love with him, or simply feeling calm in his presence. Despite this, I can sense a darkness in him, too. He is a very complex character in that he is sweet and flirtatious one moment, but could potentially betray you in the next. He immediately senses the darkness within Adelina and, despite being her closest friend, frequently tells Enzo behind Adelina’s back to kill her as he believes she is a danger to them all. He is, after Enzo, the most powerful member in the Dagger Society. At the conclusion of the novel, it is suggested he was the one in charge all along, which made me smile. I love a powerful leader who hides behind an innocent façade.
I am a deformed creature, he mouths silently, repeating the words he once said as a twelve-year-old boy, an Inquisitor in-training, kneeling before the sixteen-year-old Princess Giulietta.
Another character I had a love/hate relationship with was Teren, the leader of the Inquisition. In a novel with no heroes and only villains, this guy was obviously cast as the main villain. Teren was an interesting character: he grew up in a religious and disciplined household, and has constantly had to live up to his father’s expectations. Like his father, he becomes the leader of the Inquisition and is dedicated to ridding the world of all malfettos. But Teren has a secret: he, too, is a malfetto and one with powers – he is essentially invincible as he can heal from any harm inflicted upon him. Teren is cruel and sadistic and manipulates Adelina into spying to the Dagger Society for him. Despite being enemies, I am convinced that Teren and Adelina might eventually get together (maybe the second or third book?) However, Teren is completely in love with Enzo’s sister, Giulietta, who convinces Teren to kill her husband so she can take control of the throne, and Kingdom, herself. I really look forward to exploring more of Teren’s character in the next book. As we develop Adelina as the villain, I hope we can discover what made Teren one, too.
Marie Lu has created a fascinating world in The Young Elites. I don’t think there was ever a moment where I felt relaxed or calm – I was constantly at the edge of my seat. I can’t wait to delve into The Rose Society and am even more excited for The Midnight Star to be released this August. I don’t think there has ever been a YA novel that focuses on the origin story of a villain. I expect great things from this series and can’t wait to see where Lu is going with all this.
Buy the book here.