Containing my excitement for Marie Lu’s The Young Elites is almost impossible. I ravenously read this book every chance I had.
Lu invents a familiar, suspenseful, and bleak world with perilous chicanery and devastating consequences. The characters are nothing to scoff at as each one carries unique abilities and has sworn unwavering loyalty to an uncrowned prince. The protagonist harbors the most intense, visceral grudges making her one of the most feared, dangerous, and fleshed out character among the recruited warriors. Adeline Amouteru perceives her new found powers as a gift when later they manifest as her worst nightmare. Surprisingly Elites detours around a myopic ending and steers us straight into the root of a story about the value self-worth and love.
Adeline is about to die. She’s been caught by the Inquisitors after she “murdered” her abusive father. As it turns out, Adeline is among the few people known as the Young Elites, people with special abilities resulting from a fever from a few years ago. Most adults who were infected didn’t survive including Adeline’s mother. Unlike Adeline’s sister who’s unmarked, Adeline shows signs of her post-infection: a missing eye and silver hair. On the day of her execution, the Young Elites rescue her wanting to recruit her. Adeline meets the intense, ambitious Enzo, an exiled prince wishing to reclaim his throne. But being a part of the Young Elites requires secrecy and vigorous training, which is problematic when the lead Inquisitor has discovered her whereabouts and holds her sister hostage. The Inquisitor will spare her sister’s life as long as Adeline cooperates. She must choose between her blood family or the Young Elites, who’ve been more like a family to her than her real one ever has.
The plot in Elites is tangible and quite gripping. Lu creates a fluid moving, engaging story contingent on the narrator’s ambition and desperation. Adeline’s fears and wants somehow aids in the book’s immaculate pacing without rushing any pivotal moment. The characters’ actions have a ripple effect no matter how inconsequential a decision appears, thus, making Elites a fun and interesting read. Nothing just happens, that’s for sure.
Lu’s decision to flashback abruptly to Adeline’s days prior to her execution is smart since it gives us a moment to register the severity of her situation and process her current circumstances. Lu also does this when revealing Adeline’s tormented past giving us a glimpse to the cruelty and mental abuse Adeline has endured. This bolsters the character’s motivations.
The flashback, while it works, is also something of a blemish on a story that remains rigidly linear. Although the narrator flashes back to her childhood memories, these flashbacks aren’t describing the scene; these passages just tell you what happened, so it feels less like a time jump and more like, well, someone telling a story. A different style of flashbacks are used versus the one used at the beginning of the book; yet, it still somehow works for me since it adds a good kind of variety.
Much of the story’s beautiful and rich quality derives from its main and supporting characters. As the protagonist, Adeline brings a lovely, dark, and twisted point of view. We are exposed to her vulnerability and inner demons, which manifest in her special abilities of illusions. Her hunger for power and need to inflict pain on the wrong is sometimes disturbing, anger swelling into a violent, tumultuous storm. But it’s reassuring to me when I’m not one hundred percent on board with a character’s actions. It reminds me that she’s flawed and that there’s more to her.
Lu’s deviation from the point-of-view of the protagonist provides behind-closed-door conversations. What’s highlighted mostly is the bond between Enzo and Raffaele. We learn more about Enzo and Raffaele when they are together than when they are apart. Their friendship and conversation deconstructs Enzo from his role as ruler and Raffaele from his role as caregiver/advisor. But I do take issue with how Lu develops her other characters identifiable through their gifts and single personality. The antagonists are no exceptions. Teren’s motives are flimsy and his conviction isn’t real to me. We are just supposed to believe he’s a monster who does terrible things because of his secret affair with the queen? There needs to be more to it. While there’s some suggestion of self-hate, it’s not developed enough in this novel for me to believe he’s the new Joffrey Baratheon.
Elites is not overly concerned with details. It frugally dispenses with flowery language, creating only impressive imagery when it’s relevant. But it’s Lu’s minimalistic writing that works in a story like this, and it’s not as though she can’t be descriptive, which is shown in how she describes her characters as well as the setting. It’s those few lines of images and symbols that calls attention to how well she manipulates language without complicating it.
Unlike my last review where I bombastically criticized a book’s part one to an overarching story, Elites’s story finishes and thematically wraps up everything pertaining to its story.
Adeline, more than anything else, wanted unconditional love. This is at the novel’s core, and Lu does not neglect this or wait to finish it in part two. We are able to see the growth of most of the characters and even though the characters’ stories are not finished yet, they have arrived where they should be.