Adapted from: GoodReads
Finally, a superhero story with a refreshingly dark, though ultimately still good, main character - Lu creates a compelling story, sets up an enticing quest, and introduces us to beautifully complex characters. This is just the sort of original book I’ve been waiting to find; an immersive read start to finish!
The book takes place in a carefully crafted fantasy world, specifically in a country called Kenettra. The setting of the action, Estenzia, the capital city of Kenettra, is in actuality very reminiscent of an old European town with a castle, many winding narrow streets and underground tunnels.
The book begins with a large dose of intrigue as we meet Adelina in a cell about to face her death by being burned at the stake – a self-professed murderer, this character is not your average kind-hearted hero! Before moving forward too much with the plot Marie Lu reconstructs some of Adelina’s past explaining how she landed herself in the situation at hand. Then in the impressively intense lead-up to the execution Adelina is rescued by the Young Elites, and that’s when our story really begins. Lu has a good sense of how much backstory is needed and when to advance her plot.
The Young Elites is the tale of Adelina earning the trust of the rebel group called the Dagger Society, and also learning to harness her unique power SPOILER: the power to create illusions. There are stumbles along the way, Adelina is slow to learn at first, she is then blackmailed into almost betraying her new friends, there is a distracting romance (with some really GREAT tension!), but overall her progression is impressive and she soon becomes a force to be reckoned with. Her power is great and her emotions awaken like never before – which turns out to be both a benefit and challenge for Adelina.
Adelina is undeniably the main character, but Violetta, Teren, Enzo, Raffaele (SPOILER: a devil disguised like an angel) and the other members of the Dagger Society (by the way their nicknames are pretty awesome) are all vibrant characters in this tale. It’s easy for the reader to get wrapped up in the dynamics between people wondering how certain words or actions will be received. Even so, there is constant action between Adelina’s training and the various missions of the Young Elites this novel moves at a riveting, break-neck pace!
And the ending is absolutely perfect; Lu has a masterful way of giving her readers closure all the while enticing them to want to know more about Adelina’s story and the future of the world they live in.
In my Opinion
Overall I adored The Young Elites. Adelina’s alignment to darkness, to fear and fury, was unexpected and resulted in some really interesting challenges for her personally and for the Dagger Society. Their unease at accepting her darkness, her resistance of the enjoyment dark acts gave her, and finally, her difficulty balancing control and surrender regarding her powers all make for a non-traditional hero.
Lu’s choice to link the Young Elites’ powers to crystals is interesting and results in a beautiful image of how the powers of these special teens exist in the universe; accessing Adelina’s power is equated with pulling on the strings of the universe!
Violetta’s role in the story was unexpected and yet incredibly sound. Violetta’s sudden role swap from a helpless, innocent, spoiled baby sister to a long-time protector of her big sister is one of the best character reveals I have seen! Also, the associated revelation by Adelina SPOILER: that she is tired of being used by others and ready to lead herself is super empowering! I can’t wait to see how the two of them go about forming the Rose Society!
After all that praise I must admit that I was quite disappointed by the emergence of a typical YA-hero fatal flaw; Adelina’s inability to discuss her problem (being blackmailed) with people who could help her. Instead she choses to further complicate the problem by keeping it to herself. This plot choice felt very cookie-cutter compared to the originality of the rest of the novel.
What I Learned
In the author’s note, Marie Lu mentioned that originally the story was supposed to be about Enzo, a cursed prince itching to reclaim his throne with the help of his equally marginalized friends. But, she said she felt there was something missing. It wasn’t until a friend of hers pointed out Adelina, a side-character at the time, had a really interesting story that Lu thought to re-jig the story and focus on Adelina instead. And I’m SO glad she did!
I think this point demonstrates the importance of perspective, the same story told from a different point of view can change so much! Furthermore it really embodies the quote “Be the hero of your own story.” Adelina was first portrayed as a side-character, was made the main character, and still took time to finally see her own value and strength! I see this as a metaphor for finding our own self-confidence; we are all the heroes of our stories if we chose to accept the role.