While I have no problem reading cliches in Young Adult Fantasy novels––a headstrong young woman with a damaged past rising and overcoming the society that holds her down––it’s nice to see a twist on the common trope. The Young Elites series by Marie Lu gave me exactly what I wanted, and then some. A mind-blowing trilogy that offers a new perspective, gives new life to dystopian fantasy worlds, revels in excellent mythology, creates vivid and beautiful imagery, and ends with such perfection and emotion that you’ll be reaching for the Kleenex box before you know it. Since I’ll be reviewing all three spellbinding books, there will be a minor spoiler warning coming into effect soon. But if you just want a recommendation, you totally have it. These books are amazing, not shying away from darkness or betrayal. There are no Mary Sue’s here. No character without flaw, no action without consequence. Do not dismiss these books because they’re Young Adult. They are mature, thought-provoking, exciting, and among the best books I’ve read this year. Now, onto the review! The synopsis below will only be for The Young Elites. Minor spoiler warning in effect now.
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.
Whether or not you’ve read Lu’s work before with the Legend trilogy (another huge recommendation), The Young Elites immediately hooks your interest. Main character Adelina, already defying typical Young Adult heroine cliches by being a mutilated girl with one working eye and one covered in a hideous scar, is selected to be burned for being a malfetto, a survivor of the horrible blood fever that has plagued her world and turned her father even curler than imagined. A string of events leads her to crossing paths with Enzo, leader of the rebellion, as he looks to overthrow the kingdom. But one thing is certain as time progresses: Nothing is what it seems, and nothing should be expected. These books surprised me at every turn. From seriously unexpected tragedies, to constant betrayals from those I didn’t expect, to stunning motives, to shocking reveals and more, I was glued to the pages. I never knew what to expect. And I couldn’t have been happier about that. The The Young Elites series took hundreds of cliches and turned them on their heads. Even Adelina was far from the typical heroine. But more on that later.
I loved the mythology and history in the world Lu created. There was an extensive pantheon of gods and myths to go with them (something I love to read about in fiction), and lots of history regarding the blood fever and the way it divided societies after it was over. There is a very Inquisition feeling to everything, and combined with the fantasy setting, may make some readers shudder. Even I grimaced when I read the story about how Adelina lost her eye. It’s clear a lot of thought went into the series, and that’s something that has to be respected.
The powers were really cool. There were a couple that I expected (i.e.: fire, illusion, etc), but they were all used in a unique way and the powers I least expected were arguably the most memorable. Each power reflected deeply on the characters connected to them, further enhancing their arcs and personalities. Even now as I write this, I’m thinking about the flame-caster and how his power reflected his story. More exceptional writing there, folks: I finished these books weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about them now.
As with most stories, the highlight is the characters. Lu is great at creating them, and each one of these characters, both the mains and the sides, have left great impressions on me. I can’t rightly say who is my favourite, because they each have traits worthy or praise and fault. Picking out a “good guy” is hard to do. There’s only one character who really fits that mould, and even she could be argued to having weaknesses, unconventional as they are. Teren is maddening to watch. Seriously, the guy gets crazier as he goes on, yet I couldn’t help but find myself interested in his story. Enzo is a broody warrior who’s story took such a dramatic turn, I had to re-read two major events regarding him to make sure they actually happened. Expect nothing with him! I love Raffaele, Enzo’s friend and one of the leaders of the Daggers Society. His motives are understandable, if heartbreaking, and his story was one of my favourite to follow. There were other characters who I really enjoyed reading about, but if course, it was Adelina who captured my attention. I said she’s not a typical heroine, and she’s not. She’s more like a typical villain. I’m walking on shaky ground trying to explain that without spoilers, but suffice it to say that she isn’t evil per se. Lu knows how to balance terrifying power with a girl struggling to right her wrongs and bring justice to years of oppression. I never hated her, but holy sh*t, did I fear her.
Which made the ending pack such a punch. I was in public and could feel my eyes burning with tears, struggling to hold it together as I read one of the most beautiful, satisfying endings I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, if I had been at home and away from the eyes of strangers, the last two pages would have had me bawling. It was so perfect, so incredible, that it’s gone down as one of my favourite book endings of all time.
The Young Elites, The Rose Society and The Midnight Star are three of the best books in YA fantasy to date. They aren’t what you expect and tell a deeply moving, emotional journey that will leave you with sweet, sweet heartache. I cannot recommend them highly enough to readers of all ages. If you’re looking for something memorable outside the norm for regular fantasy fiction, this is the series you need yesterday. Do not miss out on it!