Friday, December 6, 2013

Defy (Defy #1) by Sara B. Larson

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?




Released: January 7th 2014     Pages: 336
Publisher: Scholastic Press    Source: Goodreads First Reads giveaway
First Look: ****It's a little too obvious that this book's art department was going for a Graceling vibe with this cover.  They're slightly different, but they're still the same thing.  (Except Defy's title font color.  What is that?  Bleh.)  Why does every YA high fantasy cover (especially books with female main characters) have to feature a weapon?  Seriously, look at this,this,this, and this.   I've written about this before.  Why only stick with the dagger/sword covers when there are so many other unique options?

Anyway, though, this still looked like an awesome book.  Of course, I'm in for basically anything that features a girl disguised as a boy.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Possibly because of Mulan and Eon: Dragoneye Reborn.

Setting: ****While the setting wasn't amazing or wholly unique, the author did a good job of capturing my attention and making me care within the first few chapters.  I could tell that some things--namely, the trip to the "breeding house"--was added to make me care, and even though I was conscious of this, it still worked on me.

I was intrigued by the idea of jungles--you don't see many of those in high fantasy settings.  I wish we could have gotten the chance to learn more about the type of world this is, because it's probably a unique one.  I assume I'll get to learn more in the sequel to this book.

Characters: ****Alexa was a three-dimensional, realistic character.  I could connect with her almost right away, even though we don't have much in common.  Still, I felt for her throughout the book.  I liked that she was a strong female character in more ways than I-can-beat-up-everyone.  She was strong emotionally, as well.  I got a little annoyed with her when she was torn between Rylan and Damian--for much of this time, she was whiny and moody.  Overall, though, I still liked her.

Rylan and Damian, the love interests, were also interesting, fully-realized characters.  Both of them had their fair share of flaws, but also likable traits.  Of course, to me, it was totally obvious which guy she should choose--but then again, when does a girl in a YA book with a love triangle ever make the logical choice?

Plot: ***** I was loving the plot, but then, cue the Pokémon battle music, a wild love triangle appears!  The beginning was compelling--secret plots, Alexa's struggle to keep her secret, political intrigue, yay!  The plot wasted no time getting started, either.  Almost right away, a major plot bombshell was dropped, which grabbed my interest.  A few of the other major plot twists were predictable, but others caught me by surprise.  

As soon as the love triangle became apparent, though, too much of the focus was on Alexa's moodiness instead of the impending danger.  Impending danger and complex conspiracies=cool.  Pages and pages of a character trying to decide which guy she loves=not cool.  The rest of the plot wasn't overlooked altogether, but it definitely took a backseat to the romance, when it was clearly less important to the overall goal of the novel.  

Uniqueness: ****Pretty much all high fantasy is just a mixture of familiar elements.  And yet, unique characters can give a book just enough uniqueness to make it stand out.  While Defy isn't something that'll make you say, "I've never read anything like this!", it didn't feel like it was crammed full of overused elements, either.

Writing: ****The writing was a highlight of this book, for me.  About halfway through the book, I realized that I hadn't been aware of the narration at all, that I'd just sped through the story without noticing individual words or phrases.  This is a sure sign of good writing.  I don't remember noticing any typos, either, even though typos in ARCs are not uncommon.  Apart from that, I have no other comments about the writing.

Likes: Damian's had a sweet relationship with Jax.

Not-so-great: It annoyed me that *highlight to read spoiler* basically everyone already knew that Alexa was a girl. *end spoiler*  There were so many opportunities for massive conflict between characters, if that reveal had been used to its full potential.  I felt almost cheated, in a way.  I wanted to see how the reveal would happen, but I never got the chance.

Also, how could anyone manage to keep up the lie of being a boy when traveling in close quarters?  If, when she was taken captive, her hands were tied, wouldn't that cause problems when she needed to relieve herself?  What happens when she gets her period if she sleeps outside the prince's door each night as his guard?  It's possible that these questions were ignored on purpose, since fiction likes to ignore these things, but they bothered me.

Overall:  As a whole, I enjoyed this book.  The main character, Alexa, was three-dimensional, and I could connect to her.  The plot was compelling, initially, and grabbed my attention from the very first chapter.  It was well-written.  Unfortunately, the novel was weighed down by an overbearing love triangle, which made Alexa seem whiny and moody.  If not for the love triangle, this might have been a candidate for a five-star rating.  With the love triangle, though, it's still a four-star book.  I enjoyed it, and I'll be reading the sequel.  It's been awhile since I won a First Reads book that I actually liked.



Similar Books: It features a girl disguised as a boy in a fantasy setting, like Eon: Dragoneye Reborn.  It has a female main character who can fight, along the lines of Graceling and its companion FireDefiance, or Throne of Glass.

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