by Sara B. Larson
by Sara B. Larson
Genre: YA fantasy, romance
Hardback: 336 Pages
Publication: January 7, 2014 by Scholastic Press
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?
◆ A copy was provided by Scholastic Press for review ◆
There was a lot of potential for this book. However, poor world building and characterization caused the book to fall flat for me.
There is little world building in Defy, especially for a high-fantasy novel. In fact, I've read paranormal books with more world building. Sorcery and secret groups are presented with little context on how they operate within the world. Little reason is presented for the ongoing war and why it has gone on for so long, or even why the king wants a war. And the breeding houses seem to have been thrown in there just to provide a reason for why Alexa hides her gender and joins the army. The novel missed out on a chance here to use the breeding houses and forced draft to build up the horrors and atrocities that the king has committed in the name of war. After the initial introduction of these things, they don't play much of a role in the story.
The characters aren't well-developed either. There is a lot of people getting angry at each other and then making up and a lot of other seemingly convenient realizations that result in instant forgiveness. I wanted to see more character complexity. Alexa especially is hard to symathize with. She's supposed to be a super soldier, but oftentimes she lets her emotions get the better of her (a notable time being at the breeding house at the beginning of the novel). I don't know how she managed to keep her identity secret for the most part (a lot of people seem to know anyhow).
The romantic interests aren't characterized well, which makes it hard to see them as individuals or even see how there is a romance at all. For a love triangle to succeed, there needs to be a large character focus, and when the characters fall flat, so does the love triangle. I don't also believe that love is all about the physical, which is what it seems to be in Defy. Alexa measures how she feels about the two guys through their kisses and how much they fascinate her. She doesn't look at the amount of time she's spent with the two guys or even the reality of her position. I'm not saying that this couldn't have worked though. The Song of the Lioness quartet handled the Alanna's romance with Prince Jon and George beautifully and much more pragmatically. It certainly helped that the world building and character development was better executed in Song of the Lioness.
There isn't much of a plot to Defy. Though she's a strong fighter, Alexa is powerless as a heroine. For the most part, Prince Damian arranges things behind the scenes and tells everyone else what to do. Then Alexa gets angry when she finds out that he plotted something without her knowledge but ends up going along with his plans anyhow. It feels like everything has already been set up, and events just follow the storyline that Damian has set. I didn't feel any real suspense, threat, or excitement. Another reason for this is that the romance overtakes the plot, and there's no life-or-death threat here with both being her allies.
I've seen positive reviews of Defy, so there's certainly an audience out there. Readers of romantic fantasy and those who enjoy a good dose of romance in their fantasy books may enjoy this book. This just didn't work for me.