Written by: Marie Lu
#1/2+ of The Young Elites series
Rating: 4/5 stars
Summary: 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 and they are hunted by the King’s Inquisition Axis, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
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, providing them a training ground to fight to protect other Young Elites. Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren, the leader of the Inquisition Axis, 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.
“Embellish your flaws. They will turn into your assets.”
Review: Phew, now that we got through that lengthy summary…
I can say with decent certainty that this is one of my favorite YA books to date. I read it all in one night, which rarely happens now a days thanks to my crazy school schedule. It was very easy to read and although Lu could definitely do with a little more description of surrounding characters and scenes, the book is immensely entertaining and creative, which is a word I don’t use much of when describing YA books.
The fantasy world takes place in a country called Kenettera, which, in my opinion, sounds like Renaissance Italy post-Plague… except for the various moons and the giant flying manta rays called balira, which sounds super rad. The problem is, none of these things are really developed further. Why are there weird moons, and why are there flying manta ray creatures in this world? Maybe I’m being a little picky, but this was the most nagging question for me after I finished the book. The detail almost felt unnecessary, in a lightly veiled attempt to make the book seem more like high fantasy, but I digress, because the plot itself was incredible.
We begin in a less affluent portion of Kenettera, at Adelina’s house, then follow her as she escapes from her home and eventually finds herself at The Young Elites HQ, which is a brothel. Color me intrigued. From there, she begins to train and fight with them, going up against small and large threats. (I’m keeping it vague to keep from spoiling it for you, so I apologize.) The country and era that Lu paints is relatively comparative to history: I imagine the Inquisition Axis as a sort of Crusade, but with a goal more geared toward that of the Salem Witch Trials; I imagine the execution scenes and sites of captured Young Elites as those crowd-capturing events in Revolutionary France; and I imagine the dark underground of which The Young Elites are a part of as a sort of Trojan Horse, a surprising and unpredictable threat. Maybe that’s just the history nerd inside of me talking, but there were so many more details to this novel that made it so different not only from other YAs, but other books as well.
Although described in the summary as vengeful and portrayed as a dark spirit, I found that Adelina’s “darkness” is relatively well controlled and very understandable. Her power is definitely dark, but my hope is that they somehow will find a light use for it, because Adelina deserves to be good. She spends the entire book trying to learn from The Young Elites and their head, Enzo, but her nurture (notice I did not say “nature”) tends to win out time and time again. Perhaps my favorite thing about Adeline is her physical deformity, which you rarely see in main characters, and the fact that Lu mentions her as being attractive once but then doesn’t try to oversell it like literally every other YA author does in regards to their main character. This is due to the fact that this is not a romance novel. The goal of the book actually is about social systems and rebellion! And there is no love triangle (although it’s still early). Ultimately, the only thing about Adelina that confuses me is her relationship with her sister, which is very hot and cold, as I result, I believe, from the way they were both raised.
As for the other characters – because really, despite the summary, Adelina is the only main character who matters – they were also masterfully written and strangely complex for a YA novel. Enzo, the head of the Dagger Society, is also dark himself, fueled by anger and bitterness that allows for him to be one of the most feared figures in the entire nation. Teren, the head of the Inquisition Axis, is brilliant but arrogant and wonderfully despicable, becoming more poignant when his own dark secrets and intentions come to light. Raffaele, one of the members of the Young Elite, is my favorite character – a male courtesan that despite his immense beauty holds only a platonic, sometimes mentoring, relationship with Adelina; he is intelligent, well spoken, and probably the only one of them that has his head on straight, in addition to having one of the more interesting powers. The rest of the Dagger Society – Gemma, Dante, Michel (whose power is probably my favorite), and Lucent – are almost intensely underdeveloped, which I think is the most grievous fault of this book. The little background they did go into, of Gemma’s aristocratic family and Lucent’s banishment from her home, was vastly interesting, and I wished to read more about them. Here’s to hoping for the next books.
Ultimately, this book is actually pretty dark considering its regarded as a YA book. The ending definitely makes me want to pick up The Rose Society (Book #2) as soon as possible, because there a lot of things left undone and unsaid, with implications of the story intending to get even darker. If you’re looking for a relatively easy read that will pull you in with promises of dark tales of magic, rebellion, murder, and injustice, then this is it. I can’t wait to see where Lu takes The Dagger Society next.