Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: Defy - Sara B. Larson

Defy by Sara B. Larson
Series: Defy #1
Genre: YA, fantasy, romance
Published on January 7, 2014
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 336
Read From: 1.19.14 - 1.24.14

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, 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?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Everyone says that this cover is suspiciously like the cover for Graceling. I'm not disagreeing at all, though there really are only so many variations on a cover featuring a dagger. Whether it's intentional or a coincidence, I do like the cover. It's simple, the dagger is pretty, and the background is green. Love it.

Characters: Alexa is a bit of a flake. That is, sadly, putting it mildly. I really liked her when her brother Marcel was alive, but as soon as he leaves the story, her good sense leaves with him. She forgets that she is supposed to be pretending to be a boy and goes all emotional on us - blushing, stammering, crying, noticing guys. Seriously, the way she reacts when she sees Damian's pecs, you would think it's the first time she's seen a shirtless man. That being said, at least she acknowledges that her emotions are being ridiculous and she doesn't have an Attitude. I won't say that I connected with her, though. I loved Marcel, Alexa's older brother, and I wish he had been in the story way more. He looked after his little sister and seemed like an all-around nice guy. I also really liked Rylan and Damian - probably the two redeeming qualities of this book (surprisingly). Rylan was a very loyal friend, almost to a fault (not that I hold that against him). Horrendously patient and long-suffering, I could never dislike him. Damian was a prince forced into a role he hated. I never saw the arrogance of which Alexa spoke; only an intense dislike for formalities and predicaments that sometimes required him to adopt a facade. The villain . . . wasn't so intimidating. Nor was he especially bad; he was just average and forgettable.

The Romance: Yes, there is a love triangle. Rylan likes Alexa, and Damian likes Alexa, and Alexa likes Damian. And this is probably why I didn't the romance as annoying as I normally would. Alexa notices her lifelong friend Rylan's looks, that's true enough, and she wonders sometimes whether or not she could have loved him had things been different (i.e. no Damian in the picture). But she doesn't flipflop between the two guys. She very clearly likes Damian, but hates to hurt Rylan's feelings by expressing it too openly. Rylan and Damian don't ever have a serious faceoff (thank goodness, because when guys start fighting over a girl, it just makes them look silly). I don't really know what either of them saw in Alexa, but at least she wasn't a player or bitchy. So is the romance focused on a lot? More than I like, unfortunately. If I hadn't been so fond of Rylan and Damian both, and was therefore perfectly all right with whoever Alexa chose, it would have bugged me a whole lot more. In terms of pacing, it does feel rushed - at least between her and Damian. They are supposed to have known each other for a while, but Alexa's emotions change so rapidly towards him that I got whiplash.

Plot: When Alexa and Marcel's parents are killed by enemy soldiers, Marcel forces Alexa to disguise herself as a boy so she doesn't end up in one of the king's breeding houses. Together, they join the prince's elite guard, where their sole duty is to keep Prince Damian from harm. But one night, an enemy sorcerer breaks into the palace and kidnaps Damian, Alexa, and her best friend Rylan. While in the jungle, Alexa's true gender is discovered , and with this revelation comes to realization that Damian and Rylan not only have always known, but have always loved her. That isn't the only shocking secret. As they journey closer to the enemy's country, Alexa discovers that her prince has been keeping secrets not only from her, but from his cruel tyrant father as well. And that the enemy may not be the neighboring kingdom at all, but her very own monarch. First things first: world building. The Author has a terrific setup! Most high fantasy takes place in very European-esque countryside, or even a deserty realm. This world is set in a "jungles of India" like place, and it was a lot of fun. There's the king of Alexa's country, who is not a good person at all. Orphan boys have to join the army, and orphan girls are sent to breeding houses where they are forced to sleep with the king's soldiers so a strong and healthy army can be bred. The problem? While I was able to picture the world perfectly in my mind, it was not due to the Author's amazing attention to detail and structure. She offers very little in the way of exploration. India is the first thing that popped into my head when I first started reading this, so I stuck with Indian architecture, Indian people, and Indian countryside. This was ruined somewhat by the inconsistent character names. Here we had an Iker and an Eljin, and then there would be an Antonio. Hm. I do have hopes that the world building will improve with further installments. The plot itself was enjoyable, but predictable. No Reader will be surprised at the "revelations," and Alexa's inability to figure things out for herself got a little annoying. The romance is focused on far more than it should have been, and does take up perhaps half of the story.

Believability: Alexa's amazing fighting skills have an explanation, and even with that she does mostly rely on dexterity rather than strength. And with Marcel's help - and with two other rather important people knowing that yes, she is a girl - I can believe, to an extent, that Alexa's could disguise herself as a boy. Slight and probably not fed all that well, it could work. And I am assuming that Alexa was much better at pretending to be a boy when Marcel was alive, because she didn't demonstrate such a drastic personality change until after he died.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. It got a little wearying being stuck in Alexa's head, as she went through her emotions and the like. But I didn't want to just outright kill her, and it's because she didn't flipflop. The writing itself wasn't the best. The dialogue was rather modern and there was a lot reiteration.

Content: None. Rape is mentioned, but there are no sexual details.

Conclusion: Fast. This whole book, in fact, was too fast. I wanted to see more of Alexa's time in the guard when she first joined; instead, it just jumps from when her parents first die to only shortly before she and Damian are kidnapped. A fleshing out of the world and seeing more of Alexa adjusting to life in the guard and her parents' death would have been very beneficial. The ending was also too tidy. It was downright easy, in fact, what Alexa accomplishes. Defy really isn't that great of a book, if we are to examine all of its shortcomings - and it has a lot. The world building needed work, the writing was meh, the plot was too fast, the protagonist was flaky, and the romance was far too prominent. But for some very bizarre reason, I actually really enjoyed it. Call it a guilty pleasure read, because I know I shouldn't like it as much as I do. But I just can't bring myself to dislike it, shortcomings and all. It was a short read, it was kinda fun, and even though the Author left a lot of world building out, I was able to fill in the blanks myself and therefore enjoyed it.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, sixteen-and-up, good for fans of romantic fantasy.


  1. You are certainly much kinder to this book than I, but I guess that's a good thing. I spent half the reading of it wondering how an editor could let overly telling/romance-focused crud like this go to print, but I knew there had to be an audience for it. I'm glad you were able to focus on good points. :)

    1. Just saying it how I saw it. This book had a ton a flaws, but I still enjoyed it, and compared to a lot of other books, this isn't the worst I've read - not by a long shot.


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