Defy by Sara B. Larson.
Page Count: 336.
Published: January 7, 2014.
Published by: Scholastic Press.
Source: Requested an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Scholastic Canada!
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?
I have to start by admitting that Defy was not what I was hoping it would be. It's entirely possible that was my fault; that I formed the wrong kind of expectations and was then disappointed when it didn't meet them, but I was left feeling a little let down nonetheless. I feel that it was not the action-packed high fantasy I was promised, but that's not to say it doesn't have merits elsewhere.
One of the merits I found in the book is the world that Larson created. While I didn't think it was developed to the full extent that it could have been, I enjoyed what was there. I felt the jungle atmosphere really well and was so glad to see that explored. It's not all the time that a high fantasy is set in a jungle environment so the originality there was a lot of fun. I also really appreciated how the world Alexa lives in affected her. Some unsavoury elements of her kingdom have a direct impact on who she is and why she fights. This in particular I thought was a great way to tie the setting, the character, and the plot all together.
I must say that one of the things I found myself most disappointed by was how prominent the romance was. While I certainly have nothing against romance, I expected this to be an intense fantasy story that just included a romance element. Instead it read more like a romance in a fantasy world. Alexa's feelings about the boys quickly begin to dominate all her thoughts and that is really what lost me. Honestly, even the love triangle isn't as "thrilling" as promised because despite Alexa's occasional confusion, it isn't hard to deduce who she truly believes to have feelings for. The other boy almost feels like a distraction and like he is always simply meant to be something other than a love interest to her. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just wasn't what I wanted from the story.
This overwhelming romance aspect of course left a little to be desired for me in terms of plot. I do think the plot was well thought out and I appreciated that it wasn't totally straightforward. The little detours and surprises were welcome and refreshing. It helped to keep it fresh and interesting. However, because the romance took up so much time and so many pages, while I enjoyed the plot, I was left wanting more. It just didn't live up to the epic fantasy adventure I was expecting.
Alexa herself I found to be a bit of a mixed bag. I very much enjoyed her early on. However, despite a strong start depicting an intelligent, careful, kick-butt fighter, she soon devolves into just a confused, distracted girl. It isn't even the heart-breaking surprise that Larson weaves in that takes her down - that actually strengthens her resolve and determination as she grieves, which I thought was an excellent decision for her growth. No, instead she simply seems to lose what I thought was so admirable about her as the love triangle comes into play. I don't admire her nearly as much when she's sitting being angsty over her love life. There's a lot more that she should be focused on so I thought that it was a disappointing direction for her character to take.
I find it interesting that this is going to have a sequel because I think the ending wrapped up the story quite well. I can't say I know where it's going to go from here, but surely Larson has something up her sleeve. While I wasn't overly impressed by Defy, there were elements I enjoyed and so I still may give the sequel a shot depending on where it looks like she'll take the story. All in all, if you're searching for a powerful high fantasy with an adventure-like plot, this probably shouldn't be your first choice. If, though, you want a romance in another world with some magic woven in, I think you'll enjoy this one a lot.