Title: The Elite
Authors: Kiera Cass
Star Rating: * *
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopia
In The Selection, America Singer was chosen as one of 35 young women all competing to win the heart of Prince Maxon. However, her heart was still yearning for Aspen, the boy she thought she was going to spend the rest of her life with. Instead, America finds herself immersed in political controversies and catty women, all for a prize that she doesn’t even want. The Elite picks up when there are only six women left, and Maxon is pressuring America to finally decide whether she is ready to commit to him. Can she let go of Aspen and accept the responsibility of becoming a queen? Or are the savage realities of being a royal just too much for America to handle?
I picked up The Elite because I was in a bad mood and needed something to hate!read. I know that this is a controversial topic in the book review community, but I’m not going to mindlessly bash the novel in this review. In fact, unlike The Selection, I actually have a couple of good things to say about The Elite!
Everything I enjoyed about this book involved the character development of America. In The Selection, I would have been quite happy if she had just walked off a cliff that I was mentally willing to spontaneously erupt by her bedroom. She was a selfish, whiny, stupid creature, and is quite possibly one of my least favourite protagonists of all time. In The Elite, however, she manages to change into someone just a little bit better. Instead of being entirely self-absorbed, America seems to be growing a bit of a social justice heart, and she’s starting to question the unfairness of the system that controls her. She even has a Katniss Everdeen moment when she decides to talk about how she believes that the caste system should be abolished on national television! (Admittedly, my floorboards have shown more political savvy than America does at this point, but she gets points for trying to do something for someone other than herself for once.)
Another plot point that surprised me was how the love triangle was dealt with. Going into this book, I predicted that I would be subjected to a couple hundred pages of America whining about how she couldn’t possibly choose between Maxon and Aspen. While it is true that in the end I did have to suffer through pages upon pages of her unfortunate complaints, it wasn’t actually America’s fault. Near the start of the book, she decides to tell Maxon that she chooses him. Maxon had promised her in The Selection that as soon as she said those words, the competition was over and they could have their happily ever after. Unfortunately, being that this happened at the very start of the book, the plot needed to negate America’s expression of decisiveness right away, throwing her right back into the depths of the love triangle. Instead of ending the competition, Maxon begins to date the other women in earnest, “just to give them a fair chance”. Then, when he refuses to intervene when one of the selection women is publicly beaten for having an affair, America reneges on her promise, and the rest of the book has to deal with the fact that Maxon and America have to rebuild their relationship. At this point, the book finally addresses the frustrations that any woman in this situation should have over the fact that trying to love a prince that tells a woman that she is his one and only while still dating other women is just not a fun or fair place to be.
Despite the fact that The Elite is a better book than The Selection, it’s still not a good book. It’s not even a mediocre book. Many of the problems in The Selection are still present in this second volume. For example, a few months back I wrote a review about the world-building in the first book, and I’ve afraid I could write my own novel about how this series’ universe makes so little sense. The Elite is technically a dystopia. Ilea is essentially a dictatorship monarchy that arose out of the fact that the US had been conquered by China at one point, and society is fragmented into castes with most people being denied basic rights or access to survival needs. There are two rebel factions that have sprung up to protest and attempt to dismantle this governance model, and the country is also embroiled in war with Asia. This base structure offers a fairly standard model for a dystopia, but the characters don’t seem to realise that this is their setting.
For example, America askes Maxon about this strange holiday called Halloween that she heard about in a banned book. Instead of telling her to keep quiet and not talk about such things (as one would expect in a dystopia), Maxon decides to take America to a secret room with all of the banned books at the castle. The fact that the prince saw fit to reveal important state secrets to an outsider is bad enough, but once they find out that Halloween is a banned holiday, Maxon suggests that they bring it back and have a Halloween ball that year, and no one in the castle seems to think that this is a bad idea. In my last review I covered the problem of chronology in The Selection, talking about the fact that three generations is not enough time for the populace to forget about major things like national holidays. Thus, one would think that any mention of a banned holiday would cause the powers that be to have a bit of a freak-out. According to the diaries of the original king, the holiday was banned because he felt that it diminished what he thought the country should stand for. Consequently, I doubt only a couple generations later the current monarchy would be so quick to undermine its own propaganda and national myth-creation scheme. In a dystopia, there should have been drastic consequences for America having access to banned books, for Maxon sharing state secrets, and for the two of them trying to bring back Halloween, but the book ignores this logic, and everything is A-OK for the two.
Additionally, readers are told that the selection is a highly political competition, and it’s not just about what woman Maxon finds most attractive. Among the last six, there are women from high castes who would make for good political connections and are already trained to act appropriately as political figures, and there’s even one woman from Asia who may help the monarchy negotiate for peace. America is the last women from a lower caste, and this is continually stated as a detriment as she has nothing to offer like the others. However, the current queen was also from a lower caste, and this fact was described as a benefit as the lower classes looked up to and admired her. Strangely enough, this point is never made about America. One character even suggests that she’s not low enough in the caste rankings to catch the eye of the pleebs (even though she comes from a lower position than the current queen). While it is true that America is mouthy and opinionated, no one tries to take advantage of her lack of power in this situation. All it would take to perfectly control America, making her into the perfect princess of the masses, would be to threaten her family. As Ilea is trying to quell its lower caste discontents, using America as a tool to try to show how there is hope for the lower castes would be an exceptionally intelligent move. However, the king loathes her, and tries to have her expelled from the competition. What a waste of a potentially powerful political tool, and one that a real dystopic leader would never neglect.
The last issue that I will talk about involves my terrible hatred for Aspen, America’s ex-boyfriend who is now a castle guard. Aspen was originally the only character who seemed to have a brain in The Selection. He and America had fallen in love, but he broke-up with her because marrying him would mean that she would have to drop castes, and he wasn’t willing to see her make the terrible sacrifices that such a choice would entail. This was an amazingly astute observation for a seventeen year old to make, and it takes guts to walk away from a relationship in order to protect the one you love. However, then he went and joined the royal guard and tried to coax America into falling back in love with him. Other than the fact that this sets up a love triangle, a plot device that I rarely do not loathe, it’s illegal for America to have feelings for anyone other than the prince. According to the rules of the selection, all female participants are essentially property of the royals until they are dismissed (and yes, the book does use the word “property”. Gross), and those that have an affair with someone other than the prince will be killed. If Aspen really loved America, there is no way in the world that he would subject her to that sort of danger. Additionally, as during the book one of the selection candidates was caught having a romantic relationship with a guard, and she was publically beaten and relegated to the lowest caste, there is no way that Aspen can claim that he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. If I had to choose a side, I’d be Team Maxon since Team Aspen is perfectly fine with America possibly being subject to capital punishment.
The Elite is not a good book in any sense of the word. The writing is weak, the plot is ridiculous, the characters are flat and/or irritating beyond belief, and the world-building errors make me twitch. However, the novel did entertain me for a couple hours, and I am starting to see how this story could actually be interesting. Although I hate to admit it, I’m rather curious about what will happen in The One. While the book is certainly not on my recommend pile, it could be a good, brainless read, or a great example of how not to write a dystopia for other writers.