3.5 out of 5 stars
I didn’t know anything about this book when I picked it up – I didn’t even read the synopsis. So the best part (for me) came in the afterword. I’ll explain.
Adelina is the survivor of a blood fever that swept through during her childhood. Some escaped unscathed, but others like Adelina are malfetto, or marked, with physical changes: hair or eyes changed color, stains appeared on their skin. In Adelina’s case, her dark locks and lashes turned silver and she lost an eye to infection. These malfetto are considered unlucky by some, and a curse on society – and the royal government’s Inquisition wishes to exterminate them. There are few ways for them to hide.
But appearances are not the only mark left by the fever. Some survivors also emerged with great and terrible powers. They are known as the Young Elites, and they fight against a crown and country that would see them dead.
Adelina has such powers. She cannot control them, but only flee her town after they do something terrible on her watch. The Inquisitors hunt her, but they are not alone,. and the Young Elite get to her first. The tale becomes one of Adelina trying to master herself enough to join them, and enough to be around their charismatic leader – and rightful royal heir to the throne – Enzo. If she can’t do it, they might send her away… or just kill her themselves.
This book is wonderfully dark, with Adelina’s story twisted in real emotion. She struggles not only against her world, but her evil and greedy father, her seemingly perfect sister, and herself. Her power is born of fear, and so she must feel fear in order to access it. This creates a deep, perilous well: Adelina must constantly live new terrors or relive old ones in order to know herself.
My only real issue with this story is that I hate the name “Young Elites” for this band of gifted teens. It does’t feel like a nickname that would naturally spring from society. Their powers make them more unique than elite, considering they’re the lowest caste of society (and still sinking). Even among those who may revere them, “elite” feels like a forced term. It’s repeated often and niggled at me throughout the book.
Still, that’s a minor burr that can be overlooked in favor of the story. It ends (SPOILER!) with Adelina being cast out from The Young Elites. Suffused with rage both from failure and her constant need to tap the dark source of her power, Adelina vows to start her own ring of malfettos seeking vengeance.
And here, after the end, is where things got really interesting. In the acknowledgements, Marie Lu writes that when she set out on this story, it was not to tell the tale of a hero, but of a villain. In the last third of the book I got a feeling Adelina was turning dark. I wondered if the Young Elites were right to fear her power, and if by spurning her they might crystalize the hatred they had taught her to need. I guess I was right. The Young Elites story doesn’t specifically tell you Adelina is going bad, but Marie Lu does. It’s like sitting through the credits of a Marvel movie for a glimpse into the story’s future.
(Note: The description of the book says, “Darth Vader, Voldemort, Maleficent. Witness the rise of a new villain.” – but I hadn’t read that, and I’m very glad!)
My ignorance paid off, and I’m really looking forward to the second book, out now: The Rose Society.