The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)
By: Marie Lu
Release Date: October 11 2016
*Beware: Spoilers Ahead!*
There was once a time when darkness shrouded the world, and the darkness had a queen.
Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest, her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all she’s gained.
When a new danger appears, Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds, putting not only herself at risk, but every Elite. In order to preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest—though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu concludes Adelina’s story with this haunting and hypnotizing final installment to the Young Elites series.
Once upon a time, Adelina Amourteru was the victim. She let others use her and her powers for their own gain, and when they deemed her too dangerous, they betrayed her. That girl is long gone, and the Adelina that remains has become the White Wolf, queen of a vast kingdom and known far and wide for her ruthlessness. But as her worldly power grows, so does the power within, threatening to overwhelm her with the darkness she has inflicted upon others and destroy the careful balance she’s created.
Something new is threatening the world, and Adelina must confront it in order to save herself and every other Elite. Adelina and her Roses are forced to work with the Daggers, the very people who turned their backs on her, in order to preserve her reign, and although the journey itself is dangerous, the real danger may be found amongst the people at her side.
Adelina must face her darkest and most perilous mission yet in this stunning conclusion to the Young Elites series.
So I finally got around to reading The Young Elites this summer. I had always heard good things about the book and its sequel, and what I knew of the premise reminded me of Red Queen, which I loved. But for some reason, this book just kept getting pushed further and further down on my TBR pile. When I finally did pick up TYE one weekend in September, I was hooked. I finished it within a few hours and immediately ordered the sequel because I had to know what came next.
What I liked the most about TYE—aside from all the awesome abilities—was the main character’s darkness. Adelina Amourteru certainly didn’t start out as a bad guy, but as she became stronger in her ability to create illusions, her alignment to fear and anger grew as well, and once she killed one of her teammates, it was only a matter of time before things went south. But it wasn’t really until Adelina unwittingly allowed Enzo—fellow Dagger, prince in exile, and her love—to be killed that her allies decided she was too dangerous, and they turned their backs on Adelina when she truly needed them. Add that betrayal to the continued persecution of marked individuals such as herself, and it was no surprise that Adelina turned to the dark side.
Adelina’s darkness continued to grow throughout The Rose Society, and by the opening scene of The Midnight Star, the last book in the trilogy, she’s fully embraced her abilities and the power they give her. She’s conquered multiple kingdoms and become queen, and she readily strikes down anyone who opposes her, first with nightmarish and painful illusions and then permanently by execution. Adelina has finally gotten what she wants: the power to elevate those marked by the blood fever and to force the unmarked to suffer, allowing them to be treated with hate as they had treated the marked for so many years. It’s a complete 180 in the culture, and many people have tried to rebel against the new status quo. Adelina and her Roses have put them all down, furthering her reputation as a cold-hearted and ruthless ruler.
But the more illusions Adelina weaves, the more her sanity suffers. Her nightmares are worse than ever, her illusions often surge out of her control, and the whispers are constant companions. Her abilities are turning against her as she was warned they would, and Adelina isn’t the only Elite whose abilities have been destroying them. More pressing, though, is the revelation that, like the Elites, the world itself is being destroyed, and there may only be one way to stop it.
I felt like The Midnight Star could have been split into two parts. The first part focused mainly on Adelina and her further conquests and also on the remaining Daggers, particularly Rafaelle and Violetta, as they slowly discover that the backlash of the Elites’ abilities is related to the unnatural death and destruction of the planet. Frankly, I thought this section could’ve been trimmed down a lot. I loved Adelina and I loved seeing that she’d finally accepted herself, letting others see her scars as a mark of the illness that had given her her abilities; that time of weakness then has allowed her to gain power now. But her ruthlessness and her determination to have power had been firmly established in the last book. It seems as if the first 2/3rds of TMS was trying to show that same thing, and once or twice, I found myself thinking, “Yeah, I got it; Adelina’s a bit drunk on power, but she’s got the abilities and the followers to back it up.”
As much as I admired Adelina’s girl power, albeit her evil girl power, it was a bit irritating to constantly be reminded of her cruelty. That being said, I did think it was important to see how much power Adelina had managed to obtain and how her rule had changed society. The near-constant troop movements at least kept the story moving along, and there was a lot of character development here that was important later on. (Still could’ve done with less, “She’s an evil queen!” though.)
Adelina continues to develop more into her queenly persona, and it was clear that she was a terrible but clever ruler. Although she offers the strongest of her new subjects the chance to join her Inquisitors, not joining means death, and everyone knows it’s really just a ploy to stamp out rebellions before they begin by removing potential leaders from the community. It’s a good plan, though, designed to immediately demonstrate who’s in charge, and it manages to strengthen her army in the process.
I found it very telling that Adelina wanted her subjects’ fear more than their love. Their love doesn’t feed her illusions for starter, but more importantly, she’s been betrayed by everyone who has ever loved her; she’s learned that fear is a much better motivator for obedience than love or affection of any sort. Magiano is the exception to this, but I still think that Adelina truly knows Magiano cares for her no matter what—he’s seen her do truly terrible things and he’s still stayed—and so she doesn’t need his fear. Truthfully, what she needs is his joy and his lightness, which are the only things that can pull her out of her illusions when they overwhelm her, and while it could just be a practical need to keep Magiano around, I think Adelina truly does care for him. That being said, Magiano has to be at least respectfully afraid of Adelina and her illusions. He’d be a fool not to be, since there’s really nothing she can’t do as long as her illusions are believed, and there may come a day when she turns those nightmares against him. Still he stays, and I like the tender, fragile relationship between the two.
Adelina’s approach to dealing with the rest of the Roses and her Inquisitors is a bit different than how she treats her unmarked subjects, and different in a way that shows off Adelina’s shrewdness. She knows that if they would all decide to turn on her, she’d lose—a fact that the whispers are fond of reminding her—and so she keeps them loyal by being a gracious benefactor. She gives them spoils, ensures they are treated well and respected, and in doing so, she keeps them more loyal than if she tried to rule them by fear as well. They’re prospering as she does, so why would they want to turn their backs on her? It’s a wise plan, and frankly, it makes Adelina all the more frightening for her Big Bad management skills. And knowing that she can be kind makes her cruelty all the more striking.
This first part also draws some interesting parallels between Adelina and Teren in that they are willing to go against their fellow Elites to achieve their goals. I liked the similarities between these two, especially since Adelina has always viewed Teren as a bad guy, and now, despite the differences in their endgame, she finds herself acting just like him. Adelina’s visit with Teren not only reveals how much she’s changed, it also proves Rafaelle’s theory that the Elites’ abilities will turn against them. Although Teren is still able to heal his injuries, it’s a much slower process, and he’s no longer invincible. It’s a frightening revelation, especially as it seems that the backlash of the abilities is occurring more and more quickly, and just as Teren is weakening physically, Adelina is weakening mentally as her illusions continue to torment her. I loved that idea that the Elite’s abilities come at a cost, and it was interesting to see the different ways the symptoms manifested. Sad, too, that these people would be punished for something out of their control, especially after they had to suffer through the terrible sickness that endowed their abilities to them in the first place.
The deterioration of the Elites is the other focus of the first part. Like the last two books, the POV switches between the chapters, even jumping back and forth between Adelina’s first person narration and Rafaelle’s third person. I liked these switches, as both storylines were interesting and the back and forth kept the story moving. And it was obvious that they would eventually meet, especially as the world got more and more out of whack.
I’ve always liked Rafaelle. I didn’t always like his decisions, but I always understood why he made them. Rafaelle has always been dedicated to helping others and protecting the Daggers. When Adelina became a threat, he threw her out for the sake of the friends she’d killed and for the safety of his remaining friends. Since then, he has continued to help Elites even while he blames himself for much of the misfortune that’s befallen the world through Adelina’s wrath. I can’t help but feel bad for the Messenger. He lost his best friend and prince only to have him brought back from the Underworld and bound to their fiercest enemy. His abilities force him to feel the emotions of those around him, and as those abilites against him, those feelings become overwhelming. And despite all he’s done to try and help everyone, he’s consistently failed.
Anyone else probably would’ve given up, but Rafaelle keeps trying, and because of this, he’s one of the first to notice that something is wrong with the world. Death is poisoning the oceans, and Rafaelle, in agreement with Violetta, senses that the energy in the water is related to the Underworld. On top of that, Enzo has become more distant day by day, staring at the ocean as if it’s calling to him, further supporting Rafaelle’s suspicions. Based on his knowledge of mythology and history, Rafaelle realizes that the poison is in fact from the Underworld, seeping through the same breach that allowed the gods’ power to seep into the mortal world and create the Elites in the first place. The longer the breach remains open, the worse things will get until the world is destroyed, and only a specific group of Elites, with their unnatural connection to the immortal realm, can seal it.
And so begins part two, which I kept mentally referring to as “The Team Up.” Because of course, needing a group of Elites who align with each of the twelve gods means Adelina and her Roses will have to team up with Rafaelle and the Daggers. And of course, “the world will end” isn’t really enough of a reason to get Adelina to work alongside those who betrayed her, and Rafaelle knows it. Adelina would rather sit on her throne and watch the world burn than help Rafaelle. But when Violetta’s abilities turn against her, leaving her delirious with fever and covered in terrible markings, Adelina comes running. I felt so bad for Violetta. Like Rafaelle, she is always trying to help people and no one more than her sister. It hurt to see her body turn against itself just when she could actually use her abilities to help figure out how to stop the poisoning of the planet. But I guess she inadvertently did help by providing the catalyst for getting Adelina to agree to help.
I loved the relationship between Adelina and Violetta. It was clear from the start that Adelina would do anything to keep her sister safe, and eventually we discover that Violetta was hurting herself to keep Adelina’s abilities from being discovered. The two act like the sisters they are, bickering practically as often as not, but Violetta is one of the few bright spots in Adelina’s life, and she’s also one of the few people who can keep Adelina sane. Unfortunately, that salvation came at the cost of Adelina’s powers, and as Adelina’s abilities grew, so did her paranoia that Violetta would take away her illusions permanently. Violetta’s escape forced Adelina to admit how important her sister was to her, but if left her without her strongest anchor to reality. Magiano fills this role somewhat, but he can never replace that sibling bond. I was proud of Adelina for rushing to Violetta’s side once she learned of her sister’s sickness, even despite knowing it was a trap. Adelina knew she might be captured, but she was willing to take that risk to see one of the few people she still cared for.
Adelina is in fact captured, but it’s during her imprisonment that she realizes she has to help Rafaelle seal the breach. I liked that it was Enzo—or rather, what was left of Enzo being controlled by the Underworld—that changed her mind. Enzo’s death was what drove a wedge between Adelina and Rafaelle in the first place, but when Enzo attacks Adelina, she and Rafaelle work together to stop him, resulting in his second death. I was sad for Enzo to die again, but the Enzo who had returned wasn’t quite the same Enzo as before, and I knew it was only a matter of time before something happened and he was killed again. I wasn’t expecting him to be an Underworld puppet, though, but I liked the suddenness of his attack and the fact that it was the deciding factor for the team up. Although Adelina and Rafaelle still don’t trust one another, Enzo’s second death has broken them all over again, and in their shared sorrow, they agree that their cooperation is necessary to save the world. I say “they;’ really I mean that Rafaelle’s willingness to kill Enzo to save her convinces Adelina that he’s being sincere and that her help is necessary if the plan is going to have any hope of succeeding.
And here’s where we get to my problem with this book. We’re just over half way thought, and the team up, as well as what essentially becomes Adelina’s redemption arc, is just beginning. This is what I’d really been wanting out of this last book, and I felt like it took far too long to get here. Like I said before, we needed a bit of build-up to get Adelina to a point where she’d be willing to work with the Daggers, but there was too much rehashing in that build-up, and this final act seemed rushed because of it.
Which was really a shame, because there was a lot of awesomeness in this last half, starting with the recruitment of the final two members of Team Anti-Underworld: Magiano and Teren. Magiano I was expecting, especially since I don’t think he would’ve let Adelina go without him even if he hadn’t been needed. Teren, though, surprised me, although in retrospect, it was obvious his part in the story wasn’t over. I liked the quick peeks into the memories of these two guys; they added more depth to their characters and showed how their suffering had led them down two very different paths. Both of them, though, are needed for the exact paths they followed, and they both become invaluable to the success of the mission.
I loved the contrasts between Magiano and Teren and their relationships with Adelina. Magiano protects her because he cares for her; Teren does it because he needs her to finally fulfill his goal of ridding the world of the Elites. It’s a reversal of their roles from the last book, where Adelina needed Teren to depose the queen, but there’s still that reluctant willingness to keep the other alive in order to get what they want in the end. Once again, it strikes me how alike Adelina and Teren are, and I really like that these enemies are almost the same person just working for the other side.
Adelina and Teren work together quite closely during the journey to the breach. Adelina decides Teren should be her personal bodyguard, even despite his growing weakness, because she knows there’s nothing Teren wants more than to end the Elites, and he can’t do that without her. It’s another shrewd move on Adelina’s part, and it comes in handy a few times when Teren saves her life. In fact, all the Elites work together to save each other throughout their travels. I really liked seeing the Roses and the Daggers working as one team; it’s always exciting to see powered team-ups, and it’s always better when there are split priorities and moralities in the group. When that’s the case, you know someone’s already regretting saving their enemy, but they do it anyway. It sets a nice stage for a redemption story, even though those usually take longer than this one does. Nonetheless, I loved the teamwork and the displays of power that resulted.
Unfortunately, not even teamwork can save everyone. As the group gets closer to the breach, the less control they have over their abilities, and as these abilities are slowly—or not so slowly, in Violetta’s case—destroying everyone, less control means quicker decline. Unsurprisingly but still quite painfully, Violetta is the first to die. I knew this was coming, but part of me still hope that they’d make it to the breach and give up their powers before she got too much worse, and then she’d recover as a normal human. I should’ve known that when the world is ending and your sister is an evil queen, you don’t get nice things. Adelina’s reaction to Violetta’s death really got to me. I knew how much Violetta meant to her—enough that Adelina would risk capture and potential death to get to her—but now we really see that Adelina cared for Violetta more than anyone else, including herself. Adelina’s despair makes it clear that despite all her pretense and her ambitions, Violetta was her main reason for living. Adelina discovering that Violetta is dead was a heartbreaking scene, and it drastically changed Adelina’s motivations. Instead of going to the Underworld to save the world, Adelina is going to see her sister and to try to bring her back. It’s a quick change of plans, but it shows that there’s still some goodness and love left in Adelina.
Teren is the next Elite to fall; despite his strength and skills in a battle, he’s not used to being able to be injured by his enemy, which leaves him unprepared for an attack just outside the breach. It doesn’t help that he’s fighting monsters from the Underworld, but Teren throws himself into the fight to give the others time to cross through the breach. They all know it’s a sacrifice, but his death still came as a surprise. I was so used to Teren being invincible that I didn’t expect him to go down so easily. I actually felt bad for him. Not as bad as for Violetta, but still. The mission wouldn’t have gotten this far without him, and they certainly would’ve been killed by the creatures if not for him. It’s a consolation at least that Teren went down fighting for the end of the Elites, his main goal in life. He always thought he deserved to die for his unnatural abilities, and now he has died to see that all the Elite abominations will lose their abilities. It’s not a pretty death, but it works for Teren.
Making good use of Teren’s sacrifice, the remaining Elites pass through the breach and into the Underworld. I loved the descriptions of this realm; the crystalline pillars in which departed souls are kept make for a beautiful but chilling visual, especially as Adelina begins to see people she knows. It hurt me for her to see Violetta while the pain of her loss is still so fresh, but Adelina doesn’t have long to linger on her lost sister. The gods appear, ready to take back the bits of their powers that had marked the Elites and in doing so seal the breach. I liked that Adelina was still just a bit reluctant to give up her illusions. It’s not as if she didn’t know this would be what it took to fix things, but she’s truly terrified of going back to being the helpless girl she’d been before. Yet Adelina realizes that there are worse thing that losing her abilities, and she not only gives up her illusions, but she makes a deal with Moritas, goddess of the Underworld: her life for Violetta’s.
Adelina realizes that she would find a way to survive without her illusions, but she’d never be able to live without her sister, would never be able to live with herself for not doing whatever she could to save her. It’s touching and sad, and it shows that Adelina truly has changed from a tyrant into a girl who just misses her sister. The last moments between Adelina and a reawakened Violetta are heartbreaking, especially as Violetta realizes what has happened. The love between these sisters has shone throughout the trilogy, but never more so than in this scene. As Adelina fades, Violetta makes a bargain of her own before she and the remaining once-Elites are returned to the mortal realm, where they must face a world utterly changed by their actions.
And changed it has. Adelina is no longer around to rule, which is a mixed blessing. She’s not there to terrorize the unmarked, but there’s now a power vacuum that could lead to further war. Violetta steps into the role, and although it’s not really explained how this transition worked, it’s the logical choice. Violetta is smart like her sister, but far kinder, and working with both the Roses and the Daggers, she’ll make a much better ruler. But the bigger change is that there are no longer any Elites. The god-imbued abilities are gone, leaving the world as it was meant to be. The subsequent change in the dynamic of the world’s cultures isn’t discussed, but now that everyone’s on the same playing field, there’s no need for discrimination between marked and unmarked. Equality for all is certainly what Violetta, Rafaelle, and the rest are working towards, as it’s what they’ve wanted all along.
But not everyone is happy with their new life; Magiano still misses Adelina, but it seems like there’s nothing to be done about it until Violetta’s bargain is revealed. Like a lover of a goddess so long before, Violetta asked that Adelina be saved as a star. Her sacrifice would be rewarded, and at midnight, she would be able to step out of the sky and spend a brief time on the world below. It’s a beautiful parallel, and it shows that Violetta never stopped loving her sister, even in spite of all the terrible things she’d done. Violetta’s unshakable belief that her sister could be saved enabled her to do something amazing, and she’ll get to see her sister again because of it. Magiano sets off to follow Adelina, now incarnated as the Midnight Star, and although their reunion and love story is eventually seen only as a folktale, I know that it was true. Adelina found the last bit of light hidden under all her darkness, and in doing so, became a guiding light to others, helping them find their way when she’s not enjoying her stolen moments in the arms of the man she’s grown to love.
The Midnight Star certainly raises the stakes, and it doesn’t fail to overcome them. I loved Adelina’s growth and her eventual redemption, and the love she had for Violetta was touching to see. Getting to see the Roses and the Daggers work together was a lot of fun, even though the reason for the team up was epically horrible, and I was glad to see that their alliance continued even after the world was saved. The characters continued to use their abilities in amazing displays, which I absolutely loved, but they also proved they were amazing without their abilities. All of the characters were complex and well-written, and their endings felt natural in that they reflected how they’d changed and who’d they’d become over the course of the story. The pacing of this book wasn’t perfect in my opinion, but the action and the character development made this a fitting conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. Adelina is definitely one of my favorite characters to walk that thin line between villain and hero, and the world in which she lives is so rich and unique that I know I’ll be revisiting it again sooner rather than later. Do yourself a favor and visit, too.
Stray Thoughts and Observations:
- If the voices in your head are telling you that they’re not a problem, they’re definitely a problem.
- Finally, some Adelina and Magiano action!
- By all our powers combined, we can defeat the Underworld!
- Yay for Maeve and Lucent!
- There was once a time when darkness shrouded the world, and the darkness had a queen.
- “Mark my words. We will haunt your nightmares.” I clench my fists and fling an illusion of pain across her body. “I am the nightmare.”
- The whispers laugh. Watch your back, little wolf, they say. Enemies arise from unexpected places.
- Take back your rotting weapons, I vow silently, and fill your mouths with them. Eat it until you love it.
- There is something about shared grief that simplifies things, that cuts through discord.
- “You cannot harden your heart to the future just because of your past. You cannot use cruelty against yourself to justify cruelty to others.”
- Everyone enters the realm of Death alone.