The Young Elites
Putnam, 2014 353 pgs
Welcome to the land of Kenettra. A terrible fever swept the nation years before leaving some of the children physically marked. These children were labeled "Malfettos" and considered evil and demonic. Over time it became clear that some of the Malfettos have special powers. Those with powers, now teenagers, have banned together as a special force called "The Young Elites" and work to over-throw the government and stop the inquisition that is persecuting Malfettos. The Young Elites are led by a young man named Enzo, who is actually the rightful heir to Kenettra. His sister has her husband murdered in order to assume control of the land and uses the lead inquisitor, himself a secret Malfetto with powers of invincibility, as well as a childhood friend of Enzo, to do her bidding. Our protagonist, Adalina, is a Malfetto with the ability to create illusions. After murdering her abusive father, the lead inquisitor, Teren, tries to elicit her help in eliminating the Young Elites. Adalina refuses, faces execution, and is rescued at the zero hour by Enzo. She now begins her training with the Young elites and pledges to help them in their mission. Teren kidnaps Adalina's sister in order to blackmail her into spying for the bad guys. Adalina is faced with a difficult decision: sacrifice her only living relative, a sister that she has vowed to protect, or betray the Young Elites where she is finally and slowly making friends and finding acceptance. Matters are further complicated as romance begins to develop between Adalina and Enzo. The plot whips around in unexpected directions as Lu brings us to the thrilling conclusion and leads us to the next in the series, projected to be released in October 2015.
I have to hand it to Marie Lu: she knows how to write an imaginative and plot driven novel for young people. The Young Elites features a fully conceived world with fully formed, beautiful yet flawed, characters. This story never comes up for air. It moves at a break-neck speed with very cool and unexpected plot twists. The premise feels original and different than other fantasy books, which I appreciate. Written for a slightly older audience than her obscenely popular Legend series. The Young Elites is a bit darker and edgier. I think teens will love this book and want to read on in the series. Personally, I didn't love it as much as I thought I would, finding it difficult to get through. The main character, Adalina, is, by the nature of her special powers, very dark. Her childhood, spent at the expense of an abusive father, has left her damaged and scarred. Even the Young Elites sense her potential for evil and never fully trust her, leaving Adalina as a ship alone. It looks like she finally finds a connection with another human being, as the romance with Enzo heats up, but in reality he is attracted to her because she reminds him of his dead fiance, so that romance is never truly believable. I waited for Adalina to come forward to the Young Elites and finally confess her connection to Teren, but she never does, increasing their distrust of her, She made me sad and uncomfortable and I felt very sorry for her, to the point it was hard for me to read her story. That said, I'm probably more sensitive to this sort of thing than most teenagers, who will find the plot so compelling that the hopelessness of and poor choices of Adalina won't bother them at all. The length of the book and the pacing is spot on and reluctant readers will devour this book, even those who don't think they like fantasy. An epilogue, introducing a new and twistedly interesting character in a distant land, will entice readers to continue on in the series.