The Young Elites, by Marie Lu
An illness known as the “Blood Fever” sweeps through the land of Kennetra. Survivors are marked by scars and changes in hair color. Adelina Amouteru is a Malfetto and because of this is shunned by society, blamed for any misfortune, and a victim of extreme prejudice. Adelina’s Father, a merchant fallen on hard times hates his Malfetto daughter, and spoils Adelina’s sister, Violetta. Adelina runs away after overhearing her father plotting to sell her to a wealthy nobleman as his new mistress. She seeks refuge among the Young Elites, a group of Malfettos rumored to possess strange powers, and a desire to overthrow the King. As Adelina joins the Elites she must decide if they are truly on the right path, if rebellion is necessary, and how she will use her growing powers.
Adelina’s abusive past, sibling jealousy, poor self-esteem, ambition, body image issues, and search for a cause will resonate with teens.
The book introduces the reader to the kingdom of Kennetra which is an alternate version of Medieval Italy. The point of view alternates between Adelina, and the young Inquisitor, Terren. Adelina is a darker character than most Young Adult heroines. She hates her father for his cruelty, and her sister Violetta for being the favorite child. Her father becomes the personification of all her fears, and she struggles with the guilt of killing him. She will occasionally have inner thoughts about making the world bow at her feet. These thoughts tend to be quickly pushed aside, but her longing for power is quite clear. Both friends and enemies seek to use her for their own gains.
Terren is young for his role as Head Inquisitor, and takes on the novel’s villain role. He is a Malfetto, but hates that part of himself intensely. The son of the previous Head Inquisitor, he has been filled with hatred since birth. Terren’s longstanding affair with the young Queen has made him fiercely loyal to her, and her plans to take the throne. He believes all Malfettos should die, and the Queen agrees since her claim to the throne could be thwarted by Prince Enzo. Terren uses Adelina as his spy, but she doesn’t reveal as much as he hopes for. The reader both pities Terren and dislikes him. Terren shows little hope for redemption, but this may happen in future books in the series.
Raffaele’s story line is a common thread in the novel. Raffaele often provides Adelina with advice, while fearing her powers and hatred. Raffaele can sense emotions, and serves as the defacto therapist of the elites. His power makes him the most sought after courtesan in the kingdom. Raffaele struggles with his profession, longing to leave it behind, once Enzo rules the Kingdom. One scene, when Enzo finds him covering up his wounds from a violent client showcases this. The author chooses to explore these issues using a male character, which is unusual, but thought provoking.
Multiple viewpoint novels are very popular these days. The prime example of this literary device would be The Song of Ice and Fire Novels by George R. R. Martin. Lu uses this technique very well, and it allows her to introduce scenes that would not be possible with a single viewpoint. Her transitions from Adelina to Terren are smooth and clearly indicated. Lu gives us both sides of the story, and allows the reader a greater understanding of Terren’s character. As Lu expands her world in future books we may see many more viewpoints introduced.
“In a gorgeously constructed world that somewhat resembles Renaissance Italy but with its own pantheon, geography and fauna, the multiethnic and multisexual Young Elites offer a cinematically perfect ensemble of gorgeous-but-unusual illusionists, animal speakers, fire summoners and wind callers.”
-Kirkus Book Review
The book is rife with topics for book discussion groups. Some groups might focus on the magic system, powers, world building, and fantastical creatures. Others might discuss the political elements, court intrigue, and the Inquisition. Bonds of sisterly devotion play a large role in the novel. Groups could dissect the relationship of Adelina and Violetta, and its complexity. The character of Raffaele introduces issues of class division, dangerous professions, and the spying roles consorts often played in medieval society.
Reviewed by Beth K.