Fantasy Review: ‘The Young Elites’ by Marie Lu

The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1)“The inquisition is here to protect you. Let this be a warning to you all.”

The Young Elites never turned into the book I feared it would and for that I am thankful. It ran a darker path than expected, dared to make likable characters do unlikable things (and vice versa), and ended with a nice blend of darkness and hope. I often struggle with Young Adult books, even more so because I have seen it done incredibly well. Lu’s book didn’t catch me in a way that makes me want to shout out to the world about it but it did manage to shake the little YA slump I was going through.

I wish I could do something more clever to describe this book than make a pop culture comparison but The Young Elites is X-Men in a secondary world and I can’t out-clever the obvious. In the not too distant past a strange plague spread rapidly through the known world. For adults the sickness was a guaranteed fatality. For children the result was often the same but a few instead lived through it with some very recognizable disfigurements.   The pity for these ‘malfetto’ soon turns to horror; rumor of their abilities soon mark them as something to be feared and hated. Chief among the inquisition’s list of troubles is a faceless group people are calling the Young Elites.

Enter Adelina, a young beauty scarred by the loss of her eye, about to be sold by her father to a stranger. Doubly scorned; by most of society that fears her supposed malfetto powers and by her father for never in fact showing any of those unique powers. Running from home sparks a chain of events; a flash of anger puts her in the hands of the inquisition. And that in turn brings her face to face with the infamous Young Elites.

A quick read with an interesting style, Lu uses a first person present tense narration for the protagonists chapters that flows incredibly well; the cynic in me kept looking for an awkward break from the tense and never found it. There was a bit of series set up lag in the middle where Adelina goes through the inevitable ‘learn everything about the way magic works and then train with it’ sequence. But even then there was some business going on that had Adelina’s loyalties torn at all times; lack of suspense was never an issue.

Adelina is the strength of the book. She gives a sense of strength and loyalty that is juxtaposed with an inner rage that she holes up. Sadly we are told rather than shown her inner turmoil for the most part but little peaks show up from time to time. She walks a darker path with each step and it will be interesting to see where that takes her in the long run. One of my favorite things about her story thus far is I really don’t have a strong foreshadowing of just how she will turn out; by the end of this book she could go hero or turn into lead villain.

Also interesting, at least for most of the book, is the head of the inquisition. Fighting his own inner demons and loyalties he is a worthy foe who almost immediately is on top of the situation. I was a bit disappointed in the character by the end of the book; not as complex as I thought he would be after all.  But I enjoyed a lead villain that wasn’t a bumbling fool. Other characters in the book were completely forgettable; the tough guy, the helpful girl, the leader/love interest. No one I am dying to know more about, my first big disappointment.

I also had a few too many questions raised for my liking. I wonder if there was an inquisition before the sickness brought out the land’s magic. I wonder how the Elites figured out so, so much about their new found powers in such a short time- and with such a small sample and lack of support to work with (hell they already have a testing system in place for a complex magical system only a few years revealed). And I wonder why anyone would follow the leader of the Young Elites with such devotion; I see him casually using anyone around him with no sense of loyalty on his side.

A nice quick read that kept me entertained. I am speculating that there is a hope the book crosses over to the ‘adult fantasy.’ On that front it is a mixed bag. It walks a darker path and is not afraid of leaving behind the safe choice; a couple of plusses. And it does have that X-Men meets Abercombie vibe going (though without much humor to change the pace). There is also an epilog that has me very interested in where the story is going next. But it doesn’t read like an adult fantasy. Explanations come quickly, there is not a whole lot of depth, and there are plenty of little things that probably shouldn’t be questioned too closely.

For me? Not great but good enough to hold my interest and leave me kind of looking forward to book two.

3 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.

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