Defy by Sara B Larson
Release Date – January 7, 2013
Publisher Website – Scholastic
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 336 pages
**received from publisher for an honest review**
Here is the Goodreads synopsis
A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.Expectations can help you pick up a novel. They can also hinder your enjoyment of it. Defy is a perfect example of this. It ended up being not quite what I expected, and didn't quite work for me as as result.
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?
The set up of Defy sounds amazing. A girl hidden as a member of a Prince's guard. A delicious love triangle, and above all else, some amazing action. The novel itself starts off strong. I found myself immersed into Alexa's world right away, and really respected her character. Sadly, about half way through the novel it felt like I was reading another book. One where the driven, focused heroine was reduced to someone was distracted (and defined) by the boys in her life.
I was expecting romance. I knew going in it would be the focus, because of the attention the love triangle is given in the synopsis. I didn't expect for it to define Alexa, though. She immediately becomes less focused as soon as the love triangle enters into the equation. She also deems herself unworthy of the Damian's affections. This is at odds with the focused girl we meet at the beginning. She unravels as the story goes on, and looses some of that edge I felt she had in the beginning. The romance itself felt rushed, and under developed. I didn't get a clear picture as to why Alexa liked Damian, other than his looks. He was mysterious, and perhaps held a certain allure, but there was nothing about their interactions that would lend itself to love. He's infuriating most of the time, and Alexa herself doesn't have very nice things to say about him most of the time. We see brief glimpses of a different man underneath but without interaction, it didn't feel earned enough. Rylan is the boy who has cared for her from afar (and obviously knows her secret) and is more believable in his affections. He has had time with Alexa, and knows her well. It is quite evident whom Alexa prefers, and who holds her heart, which is nice after a first installment, but I just wish I would have been allowed to experience the falling in love. I felt as if I was told, instead of shown.
The sibling relationship between Alexa and her brother is one of my favourite parts of this story. It's a bond that shows us more about Alexa. We see how much family means to her. We get to see how rough her life has been. We come to understand her desperation and what lead to her decision to disguise herself. They have an easy, protective nature between them. I wish this relationship had been a larger focus.
The set up of the world, and why Alexa is disguised as a boy is done rather well. The breeding houses and what they represent for the kingdom, and what it says about it's King are something that directly impacts Alexa. It gives her purpose, and it gives the reader higher stakes. We know what awaits her if she is found out. We become invested. It is something that I wish was explored more, as it is the driving force behind the 'why' of Alexa. Everything she does is to avoid this fate. It should have been fleshed out, and I feel there was much left unexplored. The jungle setting certainly felt a little undeveloped as well. The balmy, sweaty climate was captured perfectly, but I had a hard time envisioning the character's surroundings.
The direction of the story at the end of the novel is a mystery to me. Many of the events that happened in this installment I anticipated happening much later in this series. The surprise direction was welcome, and it made it feel not drawn out. The question, however, is where it goes from here. It may be the one aspect I am curious about as most of the other plot points are wrapped up by the end of this book. It felt like it could have been a stand alone, but that does leave potential for something entirely new in the sequels.
Do I think there will be others who fall in love with this book? Of course. There are things that present some promise for this series. It ended up being, overall, just not a novel that was for me. I think I wanted something that this novel was never going to be, and those expectations may have shaped my feelings going in.