Series: Defy #1
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?
3.5 Drink Me Potions
Defy instills themes that remind me of great pieces of YA fantasy such as Graceling by Kristin Cashore and The Study series by Maria V. Snyder. With a premise that starts off sounding like the classic Mulan tale, I was rather excited for this book. Who doesn’t love a forbidden romance forming when a girl has to pretend that she’s a guy? Even seems to throw in some of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night ideologies.
I had really wanted to give it at least a 4 star rating, but maybe because of my rather high expectations from the books I compared it to, Defy was a little lacking in the middle with its adventure. Mostly, I felt it lagged a lot as the author didn’t seem to know what to do to make it more exciting after their kidnapping. I was really hoping for more action as well near the end. There was a battle, sure, but it just wasn’t…exciting enough. I was truly hoping that it wouldn’t end so fast or so easily. Like, it pretty much went down the way I would’ve imagined it, so I guess I’m sad about the lack of surprise factor.
As for the romance, it was not so much a love triangle as the synopsis made it sound. I loved the way Larson depicted both guys. It makes it hard to pick which one I might have liked more, as they both care deeply for Alexa and for their country. But I normally hate love triangles so I do appreciate that the protagonist isn’t one of THOSE GIRLS who drags along both guys endlessly just ’cause she has no idea how she feels about either one of them. It gets so tiring and plain exhausting!
Although the story could use so more umph in the action area, I did enjoy the world that Larson built for this series. Evil sorcerers and tyrant kings? Check. Forbidden magic use? Check. All the makings for a fun fantasy novel, albeit not a very original starting point.
The main characters were loveable, but in particular, I really enjoyed Alexa as the protagonist. She’s a fighter, and a good one at that. She doesn’t hold many people close to her because of her secret. Dealing with tragedy while maintaining her duty to the prince as his guard was admirable. I won’t say what kind of tragedy, but it shook her world and to see her try to stay strong on her own 2 feet made me like her all the more. Contrary to what other reviews for Defy might suggest, she really tried to keep up the pretense that she was a guy for a very long time, as this was punishable by being sent to the breeding house or even by death. How so many people figured out she was a girl is still a question I’d like to know the answer to.
So, whether this book met expectations or not, it lands solidly in the YA fantasy genre and has great potential to becoming something akin to Graceling one day.
Defy was everything I expected, yet still held notes of pure emotion for me. Comparably similar to Mulan and Graceling, this debut novel starts off the series with simple world building and great characters. Alexa was a wonderful protagonist, strong and capable yet vulnerable and lonely due to the secret she bears as the prince’s guard. Filled with romance and the truths of friendship and family, Defy is worth checking into, even though a little more action would’ve picked up the pace a bit.