I read Marie Lu’s Legends trilogy and was largely “eh” about it. They weren’t the worst written thing I’d ever read, but they weren’t terribly creative and the characters were boring. But when I saw Ms. Lu had written the first book in a new series, I thought I would give it a go. “The Young Elites is fantasy, it could be interesting. Legends was YA dystopian, I could just be burnt out on those, they’re everywhere right now.” So I swear I went into The Young Elites with an open mind, wanting to like it. Sadly, I did not.
Let’s start with the plot. Are you familiar with X-Men? Are you familiar with any book/comic/movie/tv show/radio play/podcast/cave drawing where a small group of people with extraordinary abilities are persecuted by the majority/government? Then you are familiar with the basic plot of The Young Elites. In this case, the people with the extraordinary abilities are young people who survived a plague that killed all adults who contracted the disease. Our main character, Adelina Amouteru is one of these. As is the other viewpoint character, Teren Santoro, because Marie Lu is apparently REALLY fond of this narrative device, of switching between two viewpoint characters, one male and one female. Which I don’t intrinsically hate, I quite liked it in The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (btw, go read that if you want good YA fantasy, for lo, it is awesome), but all four of your books? Take a break and find a new framing device, okay?
But the retreaded plot is not my problem with the book. There’s a limited number of plots out there and some of them are quite worth repeating (how many coming of age stories have I read? SO MANY), so that’s fine. But what you do with it matters. Are the character compelling? Is the setting interesting? Is the writing delightful? In the case of The Young Elite, the answers to all of those questions is no. The characters are deeply boring. The setting is proto-Italy, which, yawn. The writing was irksome. “She didn’t know how long she waited, counting away the minutes.” Dude, really?
Marie Lu does try to create compelling characters. Adelina Amouteru’s father was a cruel and abusive man who tried to provoke her into a display of the power he believed she had. We’re meant to feel sympathy for Adelina and her journey to escape those who would use her for her abilities, as the fear and hatred that has built up over the years is released and Adelina treads down darker and darker paths. She’s Magneto is what I’m saying. But she’s Magneto without the charisma. She’s a Magneto who “decides” to pursue her own agenda, consequences and other people be damned, after her own inaction forces the dark path on her. She makes a decision on her own once and after that seems to sit motionless while chaos happens around her and ends up on the wrong side simply because she couldn’t decide in time to move to the right side. She’s given chance after chance to act and doesn’t. Unfortunately, inaction does not a compelling character make.
To be fair, things could be worse. Marie Lu seems to have a fondness for “strong” female characters and her books are filled with people of color, both facts which win points in my book. But her continued reliance on the female/male viewpoint narrative, her inability to create interesting characters or plots meant that all in all, I’m still largely “eh” on Marie Lu’s books. Sorry Marie Lu, I really wanted to like you!