Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2015. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends. Then they betrayed her, so she destroyed them all.”
After Adelina’s mistake cost Enzo his life in a duel with Master Inquisitor Teren Sorento in The Young Elites, she finds herself ousted from the Dagger Society. Along with her sister, Violetta, she flees Estenzia for the city-state of Merroutas. Bent on revenge, she begins recruiting her own band of Elites in order to strike back at the Inquisition Axis. In Estenzia, Queen Giulietta, freed of her husband the Duke, and her brother the Prince, becomes the sole ruler of Kenettra, with Teren and the Inquisition to do her bidding. But with her brother gone, her hatred for malfettos seems to fade, putting her at odds with the man who controls her army, and will stop at nothing to cleanse Kenettra of abominations like himself.
Stakes are high and allegiances shift quickly in Marie Lu’s follow up to The Young Elites. While Adelina seeks revenge, the Daggers have made their own plans, allying with the newly crowned Queen Maeve of Beldain, who is a malfetto herself. In Beldain, Elites are revered as the children of the Gods, but Adelina is still stunned to discover that his friends would betray Enzo’s throne into foreign hands, even to save the malfettos. The story grows darker as Adelina’s alignment to evil continues to grow, and her illusions become so powerful that sometimes even she is caught up in them. In these moments, she relies on Violetta to supress her power and bring her back to reality. Her ambition also flares, and what starts out as a quest to avenge Enzo and keep his throne from foreign hands turns into a bid for power.
Whereas the focus of The Young Elites was largely world-building, The Rose Society is more concerned with how Adelina’s character progresses as she gains power, and that power becomes more unpredictable. Adelina’s basic motivations are sympathetic; she resents the persecution malfettos have faced at the hands of the Inquisition, and feels that it is unfair for the Daggers to villainize her for simply doing what she needed to do to stay alive. She feels guilty over Enzo’s death, and horrified by the idea that her mistake could destroy his country as well as his life. But her understandable motivations are warped by anger, fear, and greed, until a character who started out as something of an anti-hero becomes much more of a villain.
As the series progresses, the conflict becomes more multi-faceted; the Elites schism into rival factions, and loyalties within each group are sorely tested. Whereas The Young Elites pitted the Daggers against the Inquisition, The Rose Society brings Adelina and her new band of Elites toe-to-toe with the Daggers. Their rival visions for the future of Kenettra prevent them from banding together against the Inquisition in all but the most desperate moments. The action is fast-paced, if occasionally too convenient. For example, Adelina walks off a ship in Campagnia, spots Gemma in the crowds on the docks, and is able to follow her to a secret meeting of the Daggers, where she is able to overhear all their plans.
While the conclusion of The Young Elites hinted quite strongly at what lay in store for the sequel, the ending of The Rose Society is more ambiguous. It remains unclear whether Adelina can be redeemed, or if the conclusion of the series will see her complete the journey into villainy.
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