Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

This paranormal fantasy feels like a cross between native spirituality and X-men with Star Wars Jedi Knight overtones. A young girl who has the ability to harness fear and hatred into immense powers is trained by a stranger to become the most dangerous person on the planet.

Sixteen year old Adelina Amouteru has been sentenced to be burned at the stake for being the murder of her father. Adelina is a malfetto - a marked one, after having survived the blood fever, along with her younger sister, Violetta. The fever caused her left eye to swell so badly it had to be removed and so her face bears the scar of her lost eye. As a result of the illness, Adelina's hair and eyelashes are a strange silver colour.

Weeks earlier, Adelina discovered that her father intended to sell her off to a Her father considers Adelina's fourteen year old sister, Violetta to be the beauty of the family, having "inherited their mother's rosy temperament and innocent charm." Adelina did not have her mother's temperament nor her beauty and after contracting the blood fever at four, she was marked. The mysterious guest has offered to take her now as a mistress as she will receive no offers of marriage from any man on the island of Kenettra. The guest points out the latest news concerning a group of specific malfettos, The Reaper, Magiano, The Windwalker and The Alchemist. Together they are known as the Young Elites. Her father agrees to sell her and Adelina decides to flee his house before the mysterious man arrives the next morning.

Unfortunately, Adelina does not get far before she is tracked down by her father, who violently attacks her and insists she return with him. This enrages Adelina to the point that she pulls together the threads of energy around them, creating black phantoms which strike terror in the heart of her father and spook his horse. The horse stomps on Adelina's father, killing him instantly. Adelina, not understanding what has happened, flees on her horse to a farmhouse. She is found days later by Violetta who leads the Inquisitors to her hiding place.

Adelina sentenced to be burned at the stake by Master Teren Santoro, the Lead Inquisitor of Kenettra. When the fire is lit on the pyre, Adelina turns the clouds into black, frightening shapes that begin to descend on the crowd. However, Adelina is as terrified as everyone else, not fully realizing what she is creating and that she cannot control them. She is rescued by a boy wearing a metallic silver mask and a blue hooded robe. This boy is known as the Reaper, a malfetto who is able to create fire with his hands.

Adelina is taken to the city of Estenzia in Northern Kenetta where after several days of rest she meets her saviour, Enzo Valenciano, a tall, handsome young man with dark red hair in a short ponytail. Enzo tells Adelina that the blood fever left him unable to control his body's temperature and with the ability to make fire. He also explains to her that she has the ability to create illusions. The Young Elites are young people with "unnatural abilities" which the Inquisitors hate. Enzo is the leader of a Young Elites group called the Dagger Society, who seek out others with special abilities. He tells her there are Young Elites all over the world and that he intends to unite all of them and to seize the throne in Kenettra.

Adelina realizes that Enzo is the Crown Prince, Kenettra's heir to the throne. The people had been told the young prince died of the blood fever but he survived as a malfetto. When his father died, his sister, Guillietta, became queen and her husband, a powerful duke became king. By contuining to hunt malfettos, the queen ensures that Enzo can never claim the throne. So Enzo offers Adelina to join him and the Dagger Society for both revenge and for power.

After a week's rest, Adelina is taken to meet Raffaele, who is a consort in a brothel fronting for the Young Elites. Raffaele is a Young Elite with the ability to sense other Elites and recruits for the Dagger Society. He is the one known as the Messenger. Raffaele tests Adelina to see what sort of energy she is drawn to and he discovers that she is drawn to power and ambition, truth in oneself, passion and compassion, hatred and the strength of fear. Raffaele warns Adelina that some deep and bitter darkens her heart and that she will have to be trained.

In Raffaele's narrative he tells Enzo that Adelina should be killed - that her energy is twisted and that she will over power all of them. But Enzo believes that Adelina can help him recover his throne.

During her training, Adelina meets the other members of the Dagger Society; Spider, Star Thief and Windwalker who all demonstrate their unusual abilities. Later on Raffaele explains to Adelina how each pulls on specific threads of energy. "Every Elite is different, and pulling on threads in specifi ways will do specific things. The Windwalker, for example, can pull on threads in the air that create wind. Enzo pulls on threads of heat energy, from himself, from the sun, from fire, and from other living things...There are countless ways energy manifests in us. I can only imagine what undiscovered Elites out there can do...There are even rumors of an Elite who can bring people back from the dead."

Raffaele tells Adelina that he can see and sense all the energy in the world but he cannot use it. Raffaele undertakes a makeover of Adelina, wrapping her hair in the traditional Tamouran fashion and giving her a white half mask that covers her scarred eye. In the coming weeks, during training Adelina learns about each of the Elites; that Star Thief (Lady Gemma of House Salvatore) can steal anything including a person's mind and has a purple marking across part of her face, that Spider (Dante) has dark irregular markings on his neck and chest, that Windwalker (Lucent) exiled to Kenettra from the Skylands has dark swirling lines on one of her arms and that the Architect (Michel) can unwind an object and reform it somewhere else.

Meanwhile Teren Santoro's narrative reveals that he is in league with Queen Guilietta I of Kenettra to capture the members of the Dagger Society. He is also Queen Guilietta's lover. Later on it is revealed that Teren is also an Elite with the power to heal himself instantly from any wound. Eventually after waiting for weeks, Teren learns that Adelina has been sighted in the Fortunata Court. Teren arrives at the court and immediately blackmails Adelina, telling her she must come to him at the Inquisition Tower with information about the Young Elites in order to save her sister, Violetta whom he has imprisoned.

As Adelina's ability to use her power grows, she must decide whom to betray, the young Enzo Valenciano whom she is gradually falling in love with or the deadly Teren Santoro who promises to torture her sister. At stake is the future of the Elites and the balance of power in a kingdom.

The Young Elites is the first in this fantasy series about a girl who doesn't yet know the extent of her powers.Lu tells her story using four narrators; Adelina, Enzo, Raffaele and Teren which allows the reader to understand the motivations for each of these important characters. Where Lu excels is creating an exciting storyline with interesting, multi-layered characters.

Adelina is a complex character engaged in a monumental battle between good and evil within herself. She has a good side - she is devoted to her sister who represents the goodness Adelina seemingly cannot find within herself. However because of the abuse by her father, Adelina's dark side and the hatred she feels for him begins to overwhelm him.  As she continues to betray the Young Elites with the information she feeds to Teren, she also begins to develop her formidable ability to create illusions that are based on the fears of those around her, fears that make her feel very powerful and give her pleasure.

Tucked into all the action is a blossoming romance between the volatile Enzo and the dark Adelina. His death, unwittingly at the hands of Adelina is soul destroying to her and pushes her to the very edge of her sanity. It also leads the Dagger Society, on the direction of Raffaele, to abandon her. Raffaele tells Adelina that she and her sister, Violetta, an Elite who has the ability to take away another Elite's power, must leave since the safety of the Elites can no longer be guaranteed in her presence.  Raffaele tells 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." When Adelina tells him that the Dagger Society is no better than the Inquisitors or her, Raffaele reminds her that they do not murder for pleasure - something Adelina feels.

The power struggles and political intrigue in Kenettra becomes more understandable after reading the Epilogue which sets up the next novel and the possibility that Enzo Valenciano may not yet be finished.

Overall The Young Elites is a fascinating story that grabs the reader from the beginning with an intriguing premise of a young girl on her way to her execution. Lu builds her world gradually, aided by the presence of a detailed map at the front of the novel and the perspectives each narrator provides. The next novel may be predictable based on the Epilogue but it should be fascinating reading.

Book Details:
The Young Elites by Marie Lu
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons
355 pp.

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