Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

Release date: January 7, 2014
Author info: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 336
Format: Egalley
Source: Publisher provided through Netgalley
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
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?
Hmmm. When I picked up Defy, I was largely trying to feed a hankering for high fantasy. The synopsis seemed to fill the quota for that, but the book itself did not. While I enjoyed much of Defy, and am definitely planning on reading the sequel, I had several problems with it--just one being that it doesn't quite deliver on the high fantasy promise.

Instead of feeling like a whole new world for me to explore and get to know, Defy's world reminded me of the one established in The False Prince--just different enough to be fantasy, but without a defining characteristic to make it fantastic. We get a vaguely jungle-like setting, and maybe a desert one, but that's pretty much the details you get on the world. And just like The False Prince, the book was saved from my scorn by another aspect.

In this case, it's the storyline. The idea of a girl disguised as a boy and a part of a prince's guard immediately appealed to me (genderbending always seems to do that, and what girl doesn't love her Mulan?). But the plot kept me interested, always wanting to know what was going to happen next. Even against my will at times, I was pulled into the story and read this much more quickly than I'd anticipated.

Did you notice that I say against my will? You see, there were some other things that made me want to bang my head on a wall. First, Alexa, honey, if you've been disguised as a boy for years, why is it so very difficult to remember how to act like a boy? And acting all moony-eyed over boys is certainly going to undermine any kind of respect you've established for yourself. In the span of a few pages you go from kick-butt to annoying and back again. Please please stay your awesome self. Also, there's so much wasted potential with the genderbending aspect. So many different kinds of commentaries to be had and so many possibilities for a more profound struggle were lost by making everything work out just perfectly. Ho hum. None of this is to mention a certain breeding house that I don't even want to talk about...

So, most of this review is complaining. I see that. BUT, that's not to say I didn't enjoy reading Defy, though I am also very confused. On a total entertainment level, it's great; it really is. If you can take it as such, more power to you and have a great read. Like I said, I will be reading the sequel, but I can only hope it's a little more thoughtfully done.

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