Defy by Sara B. Larson
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Recommended for: Fans of Kristin Cashore
Received ARC copy through NetGalley.
Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king's army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince's guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can't prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.
The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she's sworn to protect?
Book reviewers seem to be having a field day skewering this one, and while thinking about what to write for this review, I have to admit that it’s easy to come up with things to criticize. However, despite my slight predisposition to dislike this novel and its very apparent flaws, I still found myself enjoying it. There’s plenty of action, and Alexa and Damian are characters that I wanted to cheer for. It’s probably better for potential readers to skip all the overanalysis and criticism and just dive into the book.
There are two criticisms that keep my rating of this book from being higher. The first is the love triangle. I don’t understand why it was included because it is the lamest love triangle ever. It doesn’t destroy the book or anything, but it just feels unnecessary. However, I’m seeing that there is a sequel planned, and I suspect that the triangle will be drawn out further in that book. That’s too bad. I think Defy was good as a standalone novel, and I don’t think adding more to the saga will improve it.
That takes me to the second criticism – usually the reason why fantasy series work well is because the world is built up so well that you want to see more out of it. Well, this world is not built well. There’s not a whole lot of background on the history, politics, races, etc. of this world. It’s forgivable for a light YA read, but it makes some of the aspects not hit as hard as they could. I think this is also why the “breeding houses” seem like such a harsh and random inclusion.
Many people seem to expect Defy to be some sort of feminism poster child, but I disagree. Alexa is a teenage girl and acts like one. So she has silly thoughts about boys. I don’t feel like that takes away from her actions and experiences. In fact, it’s probably more realistic and relatable that she has these struggles in her mind while trying to save the world.