I have praised the many virtues of Marie Lu’s writing on multiple occasions, so my reaction, upon discovering that she had a new book out went something along the lines of Marie Lu = Good. Book = Good. New Marie Lu book = Want.

Now, I loved the Legend series, and I didn’t expect any less from The Young Elites. Even with that in mind, I hideously underestimated it; I was expecting Legend-level goodness, and I got so much more. The book is described by Marie Lu herself, as “set in a fantasy, Renaissance-like world where magic is new and misunderstood. It stars a girl named Adelina who is essentially the teen female version of Darth Vader, and chronicles her downfall to the dark side.”

The story centres on Adelina Amouteru, a malfetto, a survivor of the blood fever that ravaged the continent a decade earlier. Malfettos are marked from the illness, and ostracized by the rest of the population, believed to be abominations, and the causes of all the kingdom’s suffering. Adelina has spent her life believing herself to be damaged, hiding the silver hair and scar, the blood fever left behind in place of her dark hair and left eye. Some malfettos, however, have more than just markings; they possess extraordinary powers. They call themselves Young Elites, and, on the run for her father’s murder, Adelina is taken in by a group of elites known as The Dagger Society. With them, Adelina discovers her own, dark powers, and the consequences that come with them.

This is such a good book and there’s so much I want to talk about that I’m not sure quite where to start. The first thing that makes this book so amazing is how different it is how different it is from the Legend trilogy. It really feels like Marie Lu just had a really good time writing it, and exploring different types of characters. Adelina is such a brilliantly written character; so often books about villains attempt to portray them as misunderstood, but The Young Elites doesn’t do that. You understand why she’s becoming the person that she is, but it doesn’t excuse her actions. Adelina is so wonderfully flawed and human; she’s one of the most realistic characters I’ve read about.

The story is a beautiful look at what it’s like to be “other,” what it’s like to be unwanted, and seen as socially dirty. It’s very interesting to see how much of a character’s descent in to villainy, if you will, is a product of how they are treated by their community or society at large. Obviously this is the classic villain backstory; outcast figure is mistreated, shunned, ostracized, and becomes bitter, angry and volatile, and plots their vengeance. However, in The Young Elites, this is so believable and realistic, and you see Adelina’s anger and distrust being taken advantage of to further other people’s goals. It’s heartbreaking, and you understand why she behaves the way she does, and you empathize with her, despite the fact that she is not entirely a good person, and becomes less of one as the story progresses.

Marie Lu, as always, is a beautiful writer, and The Young Elites is so absorbing. Everything in it just feels stepped up. Everything from the geography to the history to the lore – even to the clothing – is incredibly detailed. The Young Elites is so different, it’s hard to find something to compare it to, some people have said X-Men, meets Game of Thrones, meets Assassin’s Creed 2, or compare it to the Throne of Glass series, but that doesn’t really capture it. Suffice to say, it’s so different from any other books I’ve read. The Young Elites is an amazing book to read, but it also reads like a book that was amazing fun to write, too.