Series: A Young Elites Novel #1
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pub. Date: Oct. 7, 2014
I first encountered author Marie Lu through her dystopian Legend trilogy, about social unrest in a futuristic and reimagined America. Because Legend contained a subplot of a new disease bringing about strange abilities in the survivors, I had high hopes of continuing the Legend experience in THE YOUNG ELITES.
I was therefore surprised to find myself transported to a medieval fantasy realm much like the island of Cyprus, Italy. Within the last ten years, a fever had infected up to one-third of every city’s inhabitants. The infected who survived were only children, never adults. Of those children, some were marked by outstanding physical deformities – an unnatural hair color or eye color, or a sudden birthmark – and this in addition to the scarring the disease may have left upon its victims. Such children were considered unlucky and even demonic.
If these survivors exhibited extraordinary powers brought about by their illness – pyromania, producing illusions, mutating objects – it was an automatic death sentence to that “Young Elite”. They could be abused by their family or burned at the stake by the Inquisition. Two of the four narrators provided examples – the crown prince was dethroned, and a merchant’s daughter was sold as an underage concubine, because of their post-plague deformities.
The expressive emotions of the book were very shadowed. THE YOUNG ELITES faced deep philosophical questions and their application in real-life. What makes a person worth saving? At what sacrifice or risk to the group and mission? What if you are your own worst enemy? At what point does being appreciated for your skills become being used? What triggers your passion, your ambition, and your fear? Who do you trust? Under what circumstances is betrayal necessary? Forgivable? What is beauty, and is it more than skin-deep?
While focusing on stones’ mystical resonances with emotions, THE YOUNG ELITES put its characters through one stressors after another. They were tested and trained, their exotic powers honed to a razor’s brittle edge. In the constant suspenseful skirmishes between royal interests, some were bound to get broken.
This wasn’t an “uplifting” book. It churns – dark, darker, darkest – until the psychoses of the female narrator exploded into blood and death upon the page. Yet, somehow, Marie Lu made much of the disastrous outcome appear inevitable, the only one possible. Meanwhile, both sides of Elites regrouped for the next series installment.
Note for YA readers: Though the book avoids scenes of intercourse, much discussion was had over virginity, consorts, same-sex relationships, and when a character was eligible to consent to sexual relations.