The boy approaches me. I stare in fright at his hooded face and silver mask, the outline of his features lit by the inferno behind him. The only part of his face not hidden by his mask are his eyes – hard, midnight dark, but alight with fire (p 33).
The premise for this teens-with-superpowers fantasy begins with a blood fever that left infected adults dead and most of the surviving children with scars. Called malfetto and at first pitied, a decade later some of those children began to display supernatural abilities and all became feared and looked upon as evil abominations.
On the island country of Kenettra, Adelina Amouteru, marked with silver hair and missing an eyes, and her sister Violetta, survived the fever that took their mother but never displayed any powers – though their father employed brutal tactics to tease out any hint of power in Adelina.
Driven from her home and hunted by the King’s Inquisitors, Adelina is recruited by the Daggers, a rebel group of powerful Young Elites, a title given to malfettos with powers, after she displays a talent for creating illusions.
Adelina, the focus of this narrative, provides a refreshingly different voice. She is damaged, the product of years of physical and psychological abuse. She is used by almost everyone she meets. She is suspected and threated by the Inquisitors but finds little comfort in the Daggers who put their mission above individuals. And she doesn’t simply change over the course of a few weeks. Each experience she has in layered on top of her previous experiences, not separate from them.
The finale/cliff hanger is also refreshingly brutal, though a bit wild in its telling. And I cringed every time Adelina mentioned her alignment to passion being roused… but otherwise, Kirkus gets it right:
In a gorgeously constructed world that somewhat resembles Renaissance Italy but with its own pantheon, geography and fauna, the multiethnic and multisexual Young Elites offer a cinematically perfect ensemble of gorgeous-but-unusual illusionists, animal speakers, fire summoners and wind callers.