The theme of investment appears throughout The Young Elites and is presented in two ways. The first is monetary investment. Early in the novel Adelina describes how her Father views her sister Violetta as his investment. After the blood fever hit Kenettra and stagnated the trade economy, Adelina’s merchant Father became dependent on the dowry he would receive from marrying off his beautiful youngest daughter. To that end, he “invested” in Violetta, particularly in her appearance, by outfitting her in opulent dresses and jewelry. Adelina’s father also invested in Violetta in the second, more intangible way. He ostensibly showered her with affection and kindness, things he denied Adelina because her malfetto status made her a bad investment. This second kind of investment, the investment of time and care, is exemplified in Adelina’s dealings with the Dagger Society. During her training, Raffaele says to Adelina “you are an investment and a risk” (Lu 2014 pp. 149). He explains to her that the food, shelter, and training they are giving her are investments of their time, money, care, and reputation. Like Adelina’s father, they expect a return. Not a monetary return, but rather her skills in their fight against the Kenettran monarchy.
Fear is Power
Perhaps the central theme of The Young Elites is the maxim 'fear is power'. It is manifested on many different levels and alluded to by a plethora of the novel’s key characters. The most obvious example of 'fear is power' is Adelina’s powers. Her power to subvert reality, to create illusions, is fueled by the fear and hate of the environment she’s in. There is a direct correlation between her strength, and the fear of others. Aside from fear being the fuel of her abilities, Adelina as a person admits that she felt powerful in the face of other peoples fear and helplessness. This confession is one reason she struggles with her own internal nature. Other characters point out to Adelina her desire for fear and hate. Lucent accuses her of liking to be provoked during their sparing match, and Enzo says to her during their training session that he knows she craves fear.
The way in which the Kenettran monarchy manipulates the common people and their fear of malfettos is another example of the fear as power theme. Unlike Adelina’s powers, this example is at an institutional, not individual, level. When Teren addresses the crowd at Adelina’s burning, he paints the Young Elites as demonic and dangerous, and asserts that the only thing that can protect ‘normal’ people from them is the government. He is using the people’s fear to manipulate them into blind, unquestioned belief in the monarchy, thus giving the monarchy more power. Furthermore, the Kenettran king encourages rumors that malfettos are bad luck so he can use them as an excuse for his poor rule and the sorry state of the country. By playing off of the common people’s fears the king is able to maintain his power as a monarch.
Reality vs. Illusion
The line between reality and illusion are blurred repeatedly throughout The Young Elites. Adelina’s powers are a prime example of the push and pull between reality and illusion that occurs in the book. Raffaele describes her powers as “the ability to trick one’s perception of reality” (Lu 2014 pp. 117). Prior to realizing that she has the power to create illusions, Adelina believes the phantoms that caused her father’s death are real entities, not illusions she herself created. She doesn’t know they are illusions until the day of her scheduled immolation, when she realizes the locusts swarming around the Inquisition are also illusions. As the book progresses Adelina’s own hold on reality begins to slip. At several crucial moments, such as during the final battle between Enzo and Teren, Adelina imagines things that are not really there. Flitting between reality and the illusions she creates, Adelina’s mind conjures up illusions that seem real even to her. What is real, what is an illusion, who is real, and who is fake—these are all key ideas throughout the novel.
End of Innocence
The liberal use of flashbacks in The Young Elites allows the reader to trace Adelina and other characters through their childhoods to see how they became the young adults they are now. For Adelina in particular, we are made privy to numerous moments in her childhood that foreshadow her later affinity for darkness. For example, shortly after Enzo saves Adelina from the Inquisition, she dreams of a time when her sister Violetta is eight, she is ten and she kills a butterfly. Adelina describes this dream as a time when she and her sister “are still innocent”(Lu 2014 pp. 76). This is a clear reference to the end of innocence theme that pervades the novel. At the beginning of the novel we met an Adelina that, despite the horrors she has experienced, still has a somewhat childlike or innocent view of herself and her world. From the moment she kills her father to the point where she unwittingly helps Teren kill Enzo, we are witnessing the end of Adelina’s innocence and the beginning of her adult life. This transition is punctuated by events such as Enzo asking her if she wants to “punish” those that have wronged her and her murder of Dante. By the end of the novel when Raffaele and Adelina confront one another after Enzo’s death, Adelina realizes and accepts the fact that she is no longer an innocent victim in a world that seeks to eradicate people like her. Rather, she declares it is her turn to be the aggressor, to be the one that causes pain. At this point the sun has completely set on her innocence.
The end of innocence theme appears in other character’s trajectories as well. For Enzo, we are led to believe he lost his innocence when his sister stripped him of his royal title and banished him from the palace. At this point he formed the Dagger Society and began to plot his return to the throne no matter the human cost. For Teren, it is when he swears to help Queen Giulietta rid the world of malfettos that his innocence ends. For all three central characters of The Young Elites, the end of their innocence correlates with their reconciling themselves to lives of killing and death.
Being a Marked Individual/Persecution
From the opening pages of The Young Elites it is established that there is a subset of people that are hated, feared, and persecuted. This state of affairs is established by the words of an unknown source about the malfettos. Being a marked individual and thus being a recipient of persecution is the backbone of the book. It is why our central characters deal with the trials and tribulations that plague them, and why they make certain decisions. For example, both Adelina and Enzo had their seemingly secure futures ripped from them after they survived the blood fever. Adelina’s missing eye and her silver hair marked her as different, as something to be feared. The same is true of Enzo’s blood red hair and scarred hands. Her malfetto status meant Adelina was unmarriageable and thus useless to her father. For Enzo, being a malfetto meant he was unfit to take his rightful place as the King of Kenettra. For other malfetto in the book, being marked could mean being thrown out of their homes, killed in the streets by the Inquisition, denied service by people that used to be their neighbors, etc. Like Jewish people in Nazi Germany, or Black Americans in America, the malfettos are targeted because they look different from the majority group of their society. They are targets of violence, blamed by the government for larger societal ills, and discriminated against by pedestrian people from their communities. The blood fever left indelible marks on their bodies and made them targets of the Inquisition, the monarchy, and the lay people of Kenettra.
Multiple times in The Young Elites “proving yourself” or proving your worth is a central idea that connects to other themes and motifs of the novel. After Adelina becomes a malfetto,her father tries to force her powers out of her. He is superficially nice to her until the time comes when she has to “prove herself” and use her powers. When she fails, his kindness quickly turns to anger and abuse. Here we see the motif kindness with strings attached at play. Later on in the book, Raffaele tells Adelina that she has to prove herself to the Dagger Society. Because they have invested so much of their resources into saving her from the Inquisition and protecting her, Adelina has to prove to them that she can be an asset to their cause. She, like many of the Young Elites the Dagger Society saves, has to prove her worth if she hopes to rely upon the help and protection of the society. Malfettoswithout powers, because they cannot prove themselves to the Dagger Society, are not the focus of the society’s missions.
Similar to Adelina, Teren also has to prove himself time and time again. His arrangement with Queen Giulietta begins at age 12 when he promises to help her rid the world of all malfettos. In exchange, she will “make sure the gods forgive [him for his] abomination”, which is being a malfettohimself. So from the age of 12 till the present day, Teren has been leading the prosecution and eradication of malfettosin hopes of proving to the Queen (and to himself) that he is worthy of being saved. It is highly ironic that two of our central characters must prove themselves in ways that are diametrically opposed to one another. Adelina must prove herself by helping the Dagger Society fight back against the crown, whereas Teren proves himself by helping the queen purge the world of malfettos.
Good vs. Evil
The age-old battle between good and evil is a key theme of The Young Elites. We see characters internally and externally grapple between what is right and what is wrong. Within Adelina for example the dark nature of her powers threatens to overtake what she sees as good. Raffaele describes what is happening within Adelina as a small remaining light that flickers precariously behind the dark shell she has built around herself. Externally, Adelina believes that the cause of the Dagger Society, to make a place for the Young Elites and other malfettos in Kenettra, is right and just, but thinks the path the Dagger Society is taking towards that goal is rife with morally questionable decisions. For Enzo and Raffaele however, the murder of those in the way of the Dagger Society’s goals is justified and not necessarily evil. In the character of Teren, we have someone that firmly believes he was born to save the souls of the malfetto by destroying them all (Lu 2014 pp. 218). In his eyes, murdering malfettos is a good deed, not an evil one. For all of our characters, good and evil are not discreet, black and white categories. Rather, finding a “true north” in their moral compasses is a difficult task, because for so many of them what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ is an ambiguous gray area. Thus in The Young Elites the traditional demarcation lines between good and evil are disrupted.
The Young Elites Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Young Elites is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.