The Young Elites is the first book in a new series by Marie Lu, author of the acclaimed Legend trilogy (Legend, Prodigy, Champion).
This story is primarily narrated by 16-year-old Adelina Amouteru, who is a “malfetto.” This is the name given to survivors of a “blood fever” disease that raged through the nation, reaching its peak when Adelina was four. Those who contracted the fever and survived came out marked – for example, some had strange mottled patterns on their skin, or their hair turned odd colors. Adelina now has silver hair and only one eye; the other became inflamed during the fever and was removed during the plague by a doctor with burning tongs.
But Adelina has heard of malfettos that came out of the fever with special powers, and they have banded together, calling themselves The Young Elites.
Generally, though, malfettos are reviled and considered bad luck. Even Adelina’s father hates her as strongly as he favors her luckier little sister, Violetta. He agrees to “sell” Adelina as a prostitute, and Adelina tries to run away. When her father catches up to her, she discovers that she too has a special power. But others notice their confrontation, and she is arrested and scheduled to be burned as a witch. At the last moment, she is rescued by The Young Elites.
The leader of this gifted group of teens offers to help Adelina train to control her powers and become one of them, but Adelina has a problem: the malevolent spirit of her father has become a part of who she is. As one of the Young Elites says to her:
You have goodness in your heart… But your darkness overwhelms it all; your desire to hurt, destroy, and avenge is more powerful than your desire to love, help, and light the way.”
Adelina also has a weakness: her beloved sister Violetta whom she left behind. And finally, there is more that drives her than just fear and hatred; she is hungry for power over others. Only time will tell which facet of her nature gains hegemony.
Discussion: Plenty of young adult authors have picked up on this same post-apocalyptic X-Men theme. All the usual tropes common to it are paraded out in this book: the outcast status of these X-teens, their revolutionary aims, the cute hero, the best guy friend, the loyal girl friend, the suspicious friend, and the attempt by those in power (led by a magnetically attractive bad guy) to subvert the movement by getting one member of the group to betray the others. Lu’s biggest difference is that the main protagonist is a villain. Is that enough to make it rise above the crowded field of similar fiction? Ironically, to me, the fact that the main protagonist is so unlikeable just gives me one more reason not to want to continue on with the story.
Evaluation: This dark story with a malevolent protagonist and a slew of overused young adult tropes doesn’t make me inclined to continue with this trilogy. And while Adelina has nuance, there are a number of other evil characters who have not a drop of it. Lu is not a bad writer, but this particular story arc does not appeal to me much.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2014