‘Some hate us, think us outlaws to hang at the gallows. Some fear us think us demons to burn at the stake. Some worship us, think us children of the gods, but all know us.’
The Young Elites is a YA fantasy series written by Marie Lu, the author of the bestselling Legend trilogy. The series has three books: The Young Elites, The Rose Society and the Midnight Star. Published from 2014 to 2015, the series was critically acclaimed by reviewers from the New York Times and Booklist.
The series takes place in a fictional universe, inspired by Renaissance Italy. The main focus in on Kenettra, where the blood fever has passed, leaving death and sickness in it's wake. Those who were affected by the 'plague', emerged with abnormal markings, ranging from different coloured hair, to marks cross the face and body. This creates a new social class: malfettos, hated by some, worshiped by others. A select few malfettos have unworldly powers; manipulating the elements, communicating with animals, the list goes on. These are the Young Elites.
The Blood Fever replaced sixteen-year-old Adelina Amouretu’s black hair with silver, and took away an eye, her mother’s life, as well as her father’s love. After trying to sell her off in exchange for some gold, she ends up running away from home, but a drastic turn of events leads her to discovering that she is in fact a Young Elite, able to form illusions that can, at first, trick the eyes into seeing demonic shadows. This revelation costs her the death of her father, as well as the imprisonment at the hands of the Inquisition, leading to her burning at the stake a few weeks later.
Amongst the flames themselves, she is rescued by a fire-wielding Elite, Enzo ‘The Reaper’ Valenciano and her initiation into a group of Young Elites, the Dagger Society, follows. With the help of Enzo and the others, Adelina, newly baptised ‘White Wolf’, hones her skill, and becomes able to fool not only the eyes, but the ears and even pain receptors. She meets Teren Santoro, the lead inquisitor hell-bent on eliminating all malfettos, especially the Young Elites. He holds Adelina's younger sister, Violetta, hostage, in exchange for information. Adelina faces a dilemma: protect the Elites or protect the one who always protected her.
The series' driving force in it's characters. While they do represent different, very clear archetypes, they're the polar opposite of cliché. Lu puts heavy emphasis on the fact that nobody is perfect. From love-interest Enzo to the sweet and seemingly innocent Violetta, each member of the cast has both qualities and flaws, making them, but also the plot, much more realistic.
Adelina starts off an anti-hero, but as her dependency on her powers grows, she slowly spirals down into villainhood. Driven by a constant thirst for revenge, as well as the not-so-subtle voices in her head, she managed to go from a weak little girl, about to burn to death, to a merciless queen (Character development at it's finest). The final book showcases her in a distinct light. Having become so corrupted by her powers, her main battles are against her own mind, which blurs the lines between her illusions and reality.
Something unique to this series, was that I could see both sides of the story as if it was two separate novels. On one side, I saw what was being written, but I could also picture the tale of the Daggers as protagonists, bringing in a new recruit only for her to end up being their worst enemy.
'It's my turn to use. My turn to hurt.'
Being my introduction into the Young Adult genre, I wasn't sure what to expect when I first read the trilogy. Having read countless YA novels since, I can confidently say that this series is one of my favourites, and one of the best in the genre. It follows the 'outcast joins gang and fights for a cause' theme, mixed with the 'illness sweeps the nation and protagonist is left with superpowers' but don't let that fool you, for it's done in such a different way that you barely remember that it was the original idea. The worldbuilding was remarkable, transporting me into a world full of rich culture, making me almost forget it's set in the past.
Each chapter had me anticipating the next, and the ending left me feeling complete, as if the story was actually finished. All of my questions had been answered and all the characters had met their fate, eliminating the 'I wonder what happened to this character' thoughts.
With the popularity of the YA genre, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find - and write - interesting stories that will keep reader hooked, let alone series. The Young Elites is a gem among all of them, just waiting to be unearthed. If you are looking for an unconventional plot, heavy on the adventure and light on the romance, you should give this series a try.