ARC: Defy by Sara B. Larson

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 Title: Defy

 Series: Defy (#1)

 Author: Sara B. Larson

 Genre: high fantasy

 Rating: ★★½

 In short: a heavy love triangle and a very problematic plot – definitely not my kind of book.

Goodreads: 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’d like to believe this book simply wasn’t for me, but that would be a lie. I am a huge fan of anything fantasy, and Defy had the potential to be something great—and then fell awfully flat.

The story follows Alexa, a girl who pretends to be a boy to escape the breeding houses of her kingdom and join the army instead. Alexa’s a really good fighter, even better than her twin brother Marcel. In fact, even though she’s only seventeen, she’s one of the best of her unit, which is the prince’s guard. As their kingdom’s war with another gets worse by the day, Alexa finds more about the political tension that actually surrounds the king, culminating in her being kidnapped along with the prince and her friend (who’s also a guard). They journey through a deadly jungle and then Alexa learns more about the political tension. And then Alexa finds out she’s special.

Yes. That’s the plot.

There are so many things that are wrong with this book. Like the breeding houses—of course, our main characters don’t support what they’re used for, but rape is basically a plot device here. That avenue could have been explored so much better, but really, all the breeding houses are just (a) a reason for Alexa to pretend she’s a dude and (b) a source for Alexa-angst. Just…no.

Then there’s the matter of her being a boy. She’s just plain bad at it, and I’m saying even worse than Amanda Bynes’s character in She’s The Man. That bad. I have no idea how she survived three whole years doing it, because that’s absolutely unbelievable given how she acts. Honestly speaking, if I’d been anyone who observed her closely, I would’ve known there was something off (no wonder it turns out that half the world knew). The book makes it look like she’s just started this act. What’s worse is that not only did a whole bunch of people know she’s a girl, but they did nothing about it. I guess this was supposed to imply that there’s really no difference between girls and boys, etc. etc., but in a kingdom which is so obviously gender-biased, why did no one care about her identity? At the very least, the boys who loooove her ought to have said something, because if she was found out she would be sent to the breeding houses—and that’s a very real danger that no one except Alexa ever seems to worry about. That actually makes it look like rape isn’t all that bad, if it didn’t deserve some sort of warning. And actually, as more people find out she’s a girl, she doesn’t act more like one—she cries more often, she thinks about boys more often, she doesn’t train regularly (this was something I was wondering about the entire book—a guard who’s supposed to be the best of the best ought to stay in form). That’s not acting more like a girl because the game is up anyway, it’s acting like the stereotype of a girl. And all that was just off the top of my head.

The book was all right in the beginning, but as soon as Alexa, Rylan, and Prince Damian are abducted, it falls apart like a card house in an earthquake. The world building is pitiful here. All I know about Antion is that it has jungle. Just a random mention of tropical fruits here and there. All I know about sorcery is that sometimes it’s black, and then it involves demons and summoning fire. There’s nothing quite so sad as underdeveloped magic, and this book is a grade A example of that. How does the sorcery work? Why do questions like this never occur to the characters? If the concept is already out there, and the characters knew all about sorcery, then it would make sense not to go too deep into it. But Alexa knows next to nothing about this, except that she can’t defeat it. To someone who’s trained as a guard, wouldn’t it be logical to find out about the sorcery before trying to best it head on? In the summary, Alexa ‘uses her quick wit.’ WHAT QUICK WIT, I ASK YOU? Oh. No. Wait, Alexa is special, she can do it anyway. Alexa finds out that so many people close to her are involved with sorcery, but she never, ever pauses to consider how it works.

Notice that I didn’t mention the love triangle—because it made me so irritated I’m going to have to dedicate an entire paragraph to it. The reason the plot failed for me in the aforementioned earthquake was the love triangle. The entire jaunt through the jungle is about the love triangle, literally. There’s nothing about why she’s being abducted, or where they’re going—if you were abducted, would you quietly follow along and ponder your tragic love life? That’s what Alexa is doing. She doesn’t make any attempt to find out what’s going on, but she just listens to what Prince Damian tells her. How does that sound like a strong heroine in any way? And then there’s the actual love triangle, which is so improbable that I was rolling my eyes. You’re telling me that Alexa has to choose between the guy she’s trusted and had a crush on forever, and the prince who was a snobby brat all the time but was secretly not-so-snobby? You’re telling me Alexa had to choose between one of her closest friends and someone who manipulates her throughout the book? I love bad boys, but this is stretching it. Alexa and Damian not only make no sense at all, but she literally starts falling for him after she saw him shirtless. All it takes is a flash of those pecs. It was so illogical.

The action at the end doesn’t make up for any of the horrors that the reader has to endure throughout the book. In fact, I would’ve understood the action at the end better if not for the fact that I didn’t understand the sorcery at all. It’s upsetting because Defy could’ve been really good, but I think it has far too many holes for me.

I will probably not be reading the second book in the series.

I received a free galley of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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