The Young Elites was my first Marie Lu book, and certainly not my last. For what I assumed would be a lighthearted read, was instead an engrossing fantasy with an interesting narrative about goodness, justice, and accepting one’s inherent nature to top.
If there is one reason why you should read the book, it is that there is no dichotomy of good/right and evil/wrong. And in a culture where we are obsessed with these tales of good versus bad, or discerning who is good or who is evil, The Young Elites is a breath of fresh air. Instead, The Young Elites paints a complex picture of two groups fighting for their ideals and their goals. Lu does not coax us to side with a particular group. Instead, Lu writes about two very flawed groups with morally questionable methods, but have very clear visions of what they want to achieve. But even though both groups perceive murder as a means to an end, does it make both of them bad? The answer: it’s not as simple as that! And I love that Lu is conscious of this. She does not spoon-feed her readers with what to think or support, but shows that all conflicts are complex and should never be simplified.
Furthermore, something common in children and young adult novels is the idea that the Other is inherently good – that the Other is only perceived as ‘bad’ because they are misunderstood, their appearances impel misjudgment, or they do their ‘good’ in the shadow, working underneath the consciousness of the masses, despite the negative, hurtful things people might say about them. Instead, the eponymous group in The Young Elites are, indeed, a group of outcasts, are indeed misunderstood, have magical powers, but are also vengeful murderers with their own agendas which they have with clear consciences. The line between good/right and bad/evil is very blurry in The Young Elites, and I think that is what makes this book so enjoyable.
However, the real heart of The Young Elites and the root of its success is its main character, Adelina. She isn’t a heroine aligned with lawful good, nor does she have noble and just intentions. Adelina has clear flaws that are uncommon in heroines in the young adult world – she is selfish, competitive, and power hungry. Adelina is constantly haunted by her unfortunate past, but it is that past that makes her who she is; instead of cowering before her demons, she draws strength from it, and lets it fuel her to make her powerful. Perhaps Adelina isn’t a good person, but thankfully whether she is or not isn’t the point; she’s a flawed character, but she is perhaps one of the most interesting characters I have read this year.
I have three qualms and they are this: the forgettable, generic side characters, the setting, and the romance. With the first, unfortunately they aren’t as memorable or interesting as those we see in The Winner’s Curse, however I do hope they will be developed further in its sequel, The Rose Society (and as shown in the epilogue, it looks like there will be some significant players coming our way!), as The Young Elites centres predominantly on Adelina, and contains some introspection and internal monologue.
Lu certainly has an imaginative setting with a tint of Italian Renaissance. Whilst Lu crafted her conception of malfetto and their subsequent fear and power that entail, after reading The Winner’s Curse, I felt somewhat disappointed that there was such a lack of depth with the nations and their culture. At the end of the book, there was no evident difference between Kenettra or Beldain – to me, they could be meaningless names on the page, but the reader lacks no knowledge of each nation’s customs, culture, or traditions. My hope, therefore, is that this is improved in The Rose Society.
With regards to the latter, the romance was superficial and lacked any sort of depth. Perhaps it was the point, that it was predicated on lust and want, but when her romantic interest is pitched as Adelina’s love, I am not so sure. (Note, the blurb for The Rose Society contains spoilers to The Young Elites.) But of course, perhaps the romance is a means of giving Adelina depth and foundation to her character – I just wish it didn’t have to resort to that.
Nonetheless, mix the above with elements of fantasy, magical powers akin to those of the X-Men, and struggles for powers, and you have The Young Elites – a worthy novel, and something to be excited about! Lu is a great writer who is proficient in eliciting the most beautiful and vivid imagery. All in all, it was an enjoyable read and should be approached as such; nothing to be critically analysed here: it is a fun, entertaining read with some wonderful elements to meet that expectation. So yes, I look forward to reading more of Lu’s books, and will definitely be looking forward to the release of The Rose Society!
Book Name: The Young Elites
Book Series: The Young Elites #1
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers