“The Young Elites” by Marie Lu

One of the perks of being a school librarian is that I’m surrounded, day in and day out, by YA Fiction — a lot of which I haven’t read before. I say that I’m taking books home to read to keep on top of the trends and understand what my students want to read, but honestly, I just want to read them myself. So on Wednesday (my first day back at work, heavily jetlagged and starving hungry because I had no lunch), I borrowed The Young Elites by Marie Lu.

the young elites

I read Legend quite a long time ago but as far as I know, that’s the only other Lu book that I’ve read. I thought The Young Elites sounded interesting but I didn’t have particularly high expectations, namely because I hadn’t read any reviews of it. (Normally, before I buy books, I read reviews extensively; library books are more of an impulse thing.)

It turned out to be a really good book, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. To summarise very quickly, it’s set in a world where a plague / illness swept the land about ten years ago. Those who caught it and survived were often marred, physically, but some of them developed special powers. They’ve been persecuted almost continuously, and now they’re fighting back, led by the disinherited prince (who also suffered the disease).

The main thing I loved about this book was the character dynamic. While you may have expected me to tell you that this is a story about superheroes, it would be more accurate to say it’s about a villain, or rather, an antihero on her way to becoming a villain. Our protagonist, Adelina, is full of a kind of darkness that most characters are never allowed to display, at least while they’re still kidding themselves that they’re the good guy.

It features friendships, albeit tentative ones, and romance (I was less keen on that — it didn’t win me over, and I think the relationship would have meant just as much if it was platonic, but it made sense in context). But most importantly, for me, it features family. Sisters, to be precise. And it’s SO PERFECT. The sister relationship, the protectiveness vying with jealousy vying with secrets vying with absolutely dedication, is wonderful.

I should probably tell you now that this book made me cry, while at a bus stop. And they were sort of happy tears. WELL. They were more the kind of tears where it’s like EVERYTHING’S GONE WRONG AND IS SO AWFUL BUT THERE’S THIS ONE BIT OF GOODNESS AND I’M VERY EMOTIONAL ABOUT IT.

Sibling relationships always get me, man. I guess because books insist on turning any friendship that deep into romance, whereas siblings (for the most part!) are protected from going down that path. I just love it.

This book is fairly dark, and violent, but it doesn’t stray into gratuitous territory, nor is it overwritten and tasteless. Instead, it uses that darkness to emphasise the high stakes of the characters’ aims and activities, which is pretty effective. I was definitely gripped by this. As a reader, I knew that anyone could die, because a couple of them already had … but I also felt confident that Lu wouldn’t kill them off just for shock value.

What else can I say? It’s nicely written, though it wasn’t the kind of book where I wanted to underline every sentence ever because it was so pretty. In places, the tense seemed a bit weird — it was mostly in present tense, but there was some confusion where characters were talking about things that happened earlier, and at times it wasn’t as clear as it could have been. So that was a downside.

The setting seems like an alternate Italy of some kind; it looks like book two might have a more Celtic element, given the introduction of a character called Maeve in the epilogue. There’s not a lot I can say about character development without leading to major spoilers, but I will tell you that there are lots of very lovable characters here, and you will probably find yourself far too attached to them for your own good.

I honestly considered giving this book five stars, which would have been radical, since I haven’t done that since October and it’s breaking my heart. (October, dude. That’s so long not to have wholeheartedly adored a book.) However, I’m leaning more towards four, maybe four and a half stars (except I don’t do halves, so four). I think it didn’t quite have EVERYTHING needed to get a full set — the writing was good, but it didn’t blow my mind; the romance made sense, but it didn’t convince me (I’m picky).

The ending did make me cry at a bus stop, though. Admittedly it was first thing in the morning and I was on my way to work, which is enough to make anybody cry, books or not, but…

I don’t know, guys. This is a really good book and I think a lot of my blog followers would enjoy it. It’s got strong, intense characters with a dark side, and it has plenty of angst without wallowing in it. The character dynamics are fascinating, the magic is interesting, and the plot develops without major holes. But it’s still not quite going to nab that fifth star.

Man, what is it going to take? Somebody break me out of this star-slump, please.

Rating: ****

Find ‘The Young Elites’ on Amazon (UK)

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