Series: Defy #1
Published by Scholastic on January 7th 2014
A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.
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?
Defy was a strange one for me, I went into it with a serious feeling of dread because I heard several bad reports of misogyny, rape houses and love triangles and while all three were present (although the inclusion of the rape/breeding houses is still baffling to me as to its necessity to the plot) I didn’t hate Defy. In fact I quite enjoyed large parts of it mostly due to Sara B. Larson’s impressive writing style and ability to keep a mediocre plot afloat however it can’t be denied that I had issues with it.
Alexa and her twin brother Marcus are part of the palace guard assigned to protect Prince Damian, son of the brutal and maniacal King Hector whose kingdom is at war with its neighbour. Alexa was only fourteen when her parents were brutally murdered by a black sorcerer and she and her brother had to flee. To protect her from being sent to the breeding houses set up by the King and repeatedly raped until she bore sons to bolster the King’s army, Marcus helped her disguise herself as a boy and both joined the army. Three years later, Alexa is now Alex and is the palace’s best fighter. When Alex, her best friend Rylan and the Prince are abducted by a powerful sorcerer, Alex must face serious danger to protect her identity, her charge and comes to realise that all is not what it seems with the war between the two kingdoms and those in power.
Okay let’s start with what I liked – the overall storyline of a world at risk from dark magic, the ever noble battle between good and evil, the secondary characters and of course the gender bending is always an interesting draw for me. As mentioned above, I loved Larson’s writing style and found the book immensely “readable” and never had any real difficulty picking it up. The interplay between Alex and Damian did interest me particularly when it was just them and a third party wasn’t in the mix and on the rare occasions Alex forgot about her tummy fluttering at the sight of her crush’s bare torso and remembered her sword skills she was really one kickass heroine.
However this brings me to what I didn’t like about this book. Alex’s constant back and forth between kickass soldier and simpering maiden. At the most inopportune times she would allow herself to be distracted by either the Prince or her best friend Rylan who also showed an interest in her and I quickly grew frustrated by her willingness to forget herself at the first sign of flirtatious behaviour. While many complained about the love triangle for me it simply wasn’t there, while it was clear that Alex definitely had feelings for Rylan I never once felt like he ever held a candle to Damian in her eyes but the constant switching between the two was annoying and wholly unnecessary to the plot.
As was the concept of the “Breeding Houses” which again seemed like a weak attempt to inject some drama and highlight the despicable nature of the king but aside from that I don’t understand how the idea of raping girls until they bore sons was ever going to work (I’m trying to think like a psychopath here btw…just want to make that clear!!) Forgetting the fact that it would take years for the boys born in the breeding houses to be of age necessary to go to war but also the fact that unless you’re expecting a war to last for generations it doesn’t seem likely that the babies will ever prove useful and then the question of other resources and how long they will last also comes into play. Either way it is clear to me it was an addition simply to shock and one that was unnecessary and distasteful. There also were the facts that whenever there appeared to be a real threat or difficulty to be faced by the characters that someone would “magically” possess the skills or powers necessary to save the day. Any conflict was easily solved by convenient resolutions.
Defy is what I would call “fantasy lite”, a vague setting – just exotic enough to make you think of your favourite fantasy, magic that doesn’t quite make any sense (at least in as much sense as magic usually makes), the appearance that there’s a kickass heroine in the mix and of course the romance. While Defy certainly has all these elements in play it ultimately falls short and although weaker than its companions in the genre, was still enjoyable enough to keep me reading so it ain’t all bad!