Adelina Amonteru is cursed. Surviving the blood fever that hit her homeland a decade ago caused her to lose her left eye and her black hair to turn silver, visibly marking her as an abomination, a “malfetto” bringing bad luck to her family. On top of that, she discovers that the blood fever has also given her latent and dangerous powers, the same day that a terrible accident threatens to separate her from her beloved younger sister. When a powerful malfetto named Enzo rescues Adelina from execution and recruits her into his rebel group, Adelina must make the choice between remaining loyal to the first place she’s ever felt like she’s belonged, and rescuing her sister from her vengeful would-be executioner.
The Young Elites is the first in a young adult fantasy trilogy by Marie Lu, best known for her Legend book series. It’s billed as a villain origin story, which should eliminate any preconceptions about how this book is going to go. Adelina is no hero, but she is a wonderfully drawn character; believable and sympathetic, even when she’s making terrible choices. She has so much anger in her, inherited from and nurtured by her abusive father, and it’s simultaneously the most tragic and exhilarating thing to read about because as toxic as her hatred and darkness might be, it feels justified, and it’s hard not to root for her.
I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside. It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.
Though there is some romance, the core relationship of the book is between Adelina and her sister Violetta. Adelina’s love for Violetta is at odds with her her jealousy over Violetta’s unmarred features and the apparent affection their father shows her. I really liked how this relationship was portrayed, and despite barely being in the book, Violetta was nicely developed as an emotional foil to her sister.
Unfortunately, most of the rest of the side characters were a little weak. There’s the obligatory jealous Dagger Society member who seems to hate Adelina on sight for no reason (he’s right to be distrustful of her, but he has no rational way of knowing that — did he act this way when the other members were recruited too? It feels like this is shoehorned in for the purpose of manufactured drama). Similarly, Adelina’s tentative friendships with the rest of the group and her budding romance with Enzo weren’t developed enough for her to-betray-or-not-to-betray dilemma to have the necessary punch.
Lu’s world-building is interesting, if a little skim, but the plot is divided well between Adelina’s development, the Assassin’s Creed-esque Dagger Society, and nefarious political machinations. The action scenes (pretty violent for a book geared towards 12-and-up) are exciting. The climax, though surprisingly unpredictable, felt necessary rather than shock value-y, and the cliffhanger ending does a good job of hyping up the sequel. The Young Elites is a good beginning to what I’m hoping is a great series, and I already can’t wait to read more.
Photo Credit: Marie Lu