by Sara B. Larson
Series: Defy #1
Published on January 7, 2014 by Scholastic Press
Genres: Romance, Young Adult
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?
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I regret not reading the reviews for this book sooner.
Typically, I wait until after I’ve finished the book to see what others thought. There have been titles that I loved but most seemed to dislike, and vice versa. Defy was not one of them. Based on the synopsis, the book sounds like a young adult fantasy with a romantic subplot — one involving a love triangle, no less. Plenty of those out there so it didn’t set off any mental alarms. And thanks to Tamora Pierce (her books being the reason I fell in love with the fantasy genre in the first place), I can’t not read about a woman pretending to be a man. So last night, while going on an adventure to Barnes & Noble, I purchased Defy by Sara B. Larson. Bad decision.
While the writing wasn’t the most captivating in the world, I was intrigued by the idea of twins joining the personal guard of a prince. There’s a lot that can go wrong in that situation so obviously I expected something exciting to happen. And so 50 pages went by and nothing struck me as interesting. 100 pages. Nothing. Finally, at 150 pages, halfway through the book, the story picked up a bit (by this, I mean the love triangle trope struck again).
These characters…they drove me insane!
The main lead, Alex/Alexa is a young woman pretending to be a boy. Her twin brother Marcel (who is probably my favorite character of the whole book) dies within the first few chapters leaving her secret to be kept alone. You’ll note I didn’t tag that as a spoiler because this book isn’t even about her and her brother, or anything remotely resembling a fantasy novel. So now we have Alex pretending to be a boy around a bunch of guys which is great and all, Mulan-style and whatnot, except she is a terrible actress. Every other page she’s openly staring at one guy or the next and they stare back. Assuming she and her brother have done SUCH a great job hiding her secret, you’d think that these boys are staring back at what they believe is another guy.
But wait! There’s more!
Because of course we can’t have the potential love interests believing our leading lady is a man because there wouldn’t be a romance. So, by the way, they’ve known for a while. Decided not to tell said lady but instead make her think that her secret was safe.
I’m sorry, but if I was in Alexa’s place, I would have bitch-slapped both guys for hiding that in the first place. Not to mention that over those years, they both apparently fell in love with her and she’s the only one for them. Cute *gag*
So who are these horridly cheesy gentlemen? Allow me to introduce Prince Damian: gorgeous, arrogant, with piercing blue eyes and an attitude everyone loves to hate. Alexa is special though and he can only be himself around her. Then there’s Rylan, another member of the prince’s personal guard. He’s known about her secret since Day 1 but far be it for him to say something. The two get into one too many pissing contests around Alexa who, when she learns they both know her secret, suddenly can’t contain these ill-concealed feelings of hers from rampaging across the story.
This book, folks, is no fantasy. It is a romance. A cheesy, trope-filled, teen romance. That badass heroine you expected? Sorry, you must have grabbed the wrong book. Instead of developing from a weak-minded spineless girl into a kickass heroine, Alexa does the opposite, melting into an indecisive annoyance who can’t pick a guy.
Actually, not entirely true. She does pick one about halfway through but tries to keep the other one around. On top of that, her chosen beau continues to lie to her until the end of the freaking book, manipulates her, and essentially convinces her to put her life on the line to save his country. He literally uses her feelings toward him to make her more focused in training.
As if the characters weren’t bad enough, the world in which they live in is all sorts of messed up. Two countries at war and magic is bad. But why is it so terrible? I want less romance, more sorcerers destroying towns (or saving them). And the breeding houses! Yes, you heard me right. The entire reason Alexa is pretending to be a man was to save herself from being taken to a breeding house where soldiers would rape her until she was impregnated. Then, she’d have the kid and get pregnant again, all to fuel the king’s army for his war.
Has the war really been going on so long that this even makes sense?! It starts with the death of the queen, which is when the prince is a kid. But wait! Prince Damian is only in his twenties when this book takes place. Those kids born even when the war began wouldn’t be old enough to lift a sword, let alone fight. So what’s the point of these breeding houses? Plot device to turn Alexa into Alex? Sounds like it to me…
This was a terrible disappointment. I absolutely don’t recommend it to anyone looking for a fantasy (I’m not even going to categorize it as fantasy on this blog) — in fact, I wouldn’t even recommend it to romance fans because that wasn’t really all that great either. A waste of 3 hours.