Sunday, May 22, 2016

Book Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu


(From Amazon) I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.  Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen. Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.
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 I've always been impressed with Marie Lu's writing. Her last book series was really amazing (and if you got them in hardcover or paperback, they were great because Day's point of view was written in a different color). But I think this series is definitely her best so far.

One of the things that really captured my admiration right off the bat is the main character, Adelina, because I think this series is one of the few books I've seen in YA lit where the MC is an anti-hero. We rarely see books where the main characters are flawed like this and where they consciously make questionable choices. I think it was a brilliant choice because throughout this book, she wavered between trying to do good and doing evil. She questioned herself, she questioned her friends, and she questioned her enemies. In this book, the line between what is good and bad wavers and there is a lot of gray area. 

 Adelina really did seem like a 3D character, and while Marie Lu has always done well with her characters, I am thoroughly impressed with the level of characterization in this series. Most of the characters seemed like believable people. And with Adelina, I found myself rooting for her, but also disappointed when she failed. Few authors venture down this route I think because trying to either maintain that gray line is hard or because I think some people feel odd writing characters of questionable morals and motives where there is no black and white. 

Teren was actually another really well done character. For an antagonist, he was well fleshed out although his feverish way he held onto his beliefs about the Young Elites reminded me of several other characters. Teren didn't seem to be evil just to be evil, and he didn't go after the Young Elites just to go after them. By bringing in his "secret" and making it an integral part of his character and beliefs, it really helped drive home his characterization. In a twisted way, I understood his reasoning even though I didn't like it. And the way he had multiple goals and ideas that motivated him, was a great choice. He was not a one sided villain.

I struggle with Enzo and some of the other Young Elites though to give them the same depth of character as Adelina and Teren have though. In a series like is, you need those characters who lean more towards the good in order to balance out the strong dark sides going on, otherwise it would become too much. But I think you also run the risk of them becoming a little flat. Enzo and his team remind me in a way of The Theif Lord because it's set in an Italian-esque world, with a group of vigilante young adults. 

But I liked how the Young Elites weren't about saving all the Malfettos, just the ones with strong powers like them who they thought they could train. I think if Lu had them try and rescue all the Malfettos, it would have made them seem too good. And not only that, but this fact helped influence some of Adelina's choices and thoughts as well. And I think it also helps us question as readers about what responsibility a group like this should have. Should they try and save everyone, or only the ones who can help them take down the problem and stop further horrors from happening at the risk of losing some?

Anyways, there were times where I struggled with the characterization of some of the other Young Elites. And to go back briefly to Enzo, I liked his character because he too helped shape Adelina. And their romance wasn't the focus of the story, but at the same time, Lu took it in a daring direction in the end. And by putting Adelina in all these rough parts, whether or not they were actually her fault, it helped push her in a direction. When they say to kill your darlings and to not pull punches from your characters, Marie Lu shines through with this. 

One of the other Young Elites that really stuck out was Rafaelle. His character and Enzo's were the two most fleshed out ones in this book and I enjoyed his character. He had a tragic backstory but I think he tried to do more right then wrong. The other elites I felt could have been flesh out more book we see more of them in the next book.

Onto the world building which was another part that was very well done. The time period really comes out and I think you can tell that the research was done. You don't see a lot of stories set here, although it made me think of the Stravaganza series which is also set in an Italian Renaissance based world. I loved the fantasy elements in this story, although some of the creatures I thought she made up weren't all that well described. There is some kind of flying animal that they comment on, but I never did get a clear idea of what it looked like.

When looking at the way the plague affected the city and the people and brought about the Inquisition, I think Lu did a good job at showing us how quickly people on turn on each other when something as devastating as a plague happens. Not only did she show how it affected the people, the ones who fell ill, but she also showed how it affected them economically and environmentally.

Overall, I think this was a fantastic start to another series by Marie Lu and I'm really excited to continue it. I think it has a lot of unique elements to it and I think it has a lot of potential to really make people think and question. I would say as far as some YA books though, this one definitely does make you think and goes beyond just entertaining you. 

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