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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Defy by Sara B. Larson (Review)

Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
Publication.Date  January 7th 2014
Published By:  Scholastic Press
AuthorSara B. Larson

DEFY on Goodreads
My review copy:Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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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?


Sometimes it seemed like those with the most rotten interiors were blessed with the most exquisite exteriors.
True beauty is what lies inside of us, not what the world sees. A beautiful shell that houses a vile soul becomes sullied over time. But an outer shell, imperfect as it may be, that houses a beautiful, shines with that beauty, radiating it for all who have eyes to see.
The night was painted red now, red with my fury, red with his blood.

     Think of Defy as more of a messy love story set against a semi-fantasy backdrop and you'll probably enjoy it a whole lot more than if you go into this book expecting an epic fantasy adventure filled with badass characters and gut-wrenching plot twists. 

     This book started off so great! I loved the idea of a girl forced to pretend to be a boy to join the king's army in order to avoid being thrown into one of the king's breeding houses. I'm not sure about the breeding houses themselves, as the reason behind them was sketchy to say the least, but hey, the idea was there and I was willing to roll with it, as long as the rest of the plot line would hold up. Sadly, after a very promising start, it all went downhill for me. 

     When it comes to fantasy books, the worldbuilding is very important and has to be done right. Geography, history, cultural aspects of the world - these are the key points that fantasy writers focus on when introducing readers to the world they've created. Sara B. Larson, as much as it pains me to say that, failed miserably in this department. All we really learn about the world in Defy is that there are two kingdoms - Antion and Blevon - that used to be at peace, but are now at war. And, essentially, the setting is described as "in the jungle". That's about it. We learn nothing other than that about the history, the culture or the geography of these lands. We know that king Hector is a cruel ruler, a tyrant even, who (for reasons still unknown to me) kidnaps all the girls in the kingdom and keeps them in the so-called breeding houses, where as soon as they get their first period, they're raped, forced to give birth, and then raped all over again. Until they either die at childbirth or can no longer bear children. And the logic behind these disgusting rape farms? Building an army for the kind (because we all know that toddlers make vivious and ustoppable soldiers). This little golden nugget of a plot line aside, the first 100 or so pages were still pretty intense and promising. There was mystery, heartbreak, intrigue and I was beginning to think Defy would be yet another 4 or 5 star read for me (despite its shortcomings). That's until the story focused solely on romance, blushing and naked chests of the male characters. 

     Alexa (also known as Alex) is no Katniss for sure. And she's no Mulan either, despite the blurp suggesting that. Sure, she's described as this strong, extremely skilled at sword fight and archery, kick-ass girl, but in truth she's very weak-minded and, well, girly. She blushes a lot (and I do mean A LOT), she cries into her pillow, day-dreams about fellow soldiers and the prince she's supposed to protect, and when she can't handle something, she runs away. Honestly, I didn't find her to be fierce or brave, I didn't think she was capable of saving herself, let alone the entire kingdom. And considering how feminine and silly she behaved most of the time, it's a miracle she was able to keep up the pretence for so long. 

     I really didn't care for the romance, all the sighing and blushing and trying to decide who is "the one" for Alexa - is it the beautiful and distant prince who is somehow so gorgeously sculpted even though Alexa never saw him exercise? Or is it the stunning brown-skinned and chocolate-eyed soldier who is always there for her/him? What a tough decision to make! And am I the only one who thinks it weird that both these guys are attracted to someone who they believe to be a guy, too? 

     In the end, despite its tremendous potential and Larson's undeniably captivating writing style, Defy turned out to be a big disappointment for me. I guess I expected more from this book. I was promised a complex, strong heroine and a thrilling fantasy adventure, instead what I got was a high school type of love drama and lots of cheesiness. This isn't a story about standing up for yourself, sacrifice, heroism, fighting for what's right and defying the evil tyrant king. It isn't about war and peace, life and death, epic journeys and sword fights. It's not even about discovering or embracing your true self. Yes, in theory, all these elements are there, but they all take a backseat to the romance. What Defy is truly about, is finding the right guy.  And as long as you don't expect anything more from it, you might end up enjoying it, cause like I said, the writing really is good, and it makes for quite an entertaining, quick read. Fans of convoluted, intense love stories will probably love this one!

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