Romance. Mystery. Twists. This is how I summarize Defy by Sara B. Larson.
Summary from back: 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?
WHAT I THOUGHT: I will say up front I’m a sucker for a messy love story set against a fantasy world. I enjoy love sprouting in a barren wasteland, or though the cracks in the sidewalk where it’s impossible for it to thrive, but it does–it persists and refuses to give up. You kinda have to be this way to fully enjoy this book because a love triangle is a central theme throughout. If you despise this type of conflict, this book is probably not for you.
The book starts with an intriguing premise–there are breeding houses established by the maniacal king to produce warriors to support his long-term and unending war efforts. They are painted in sufficient depth as to create revulsion and disgust and set up a central part of the conflict, namely that Alexa Holden masquerades as a boy (aided by her twin brother) to avoid said houses and their abuse.
Of course Alexa can’t just be an ordinary “boy”…that would never do in a fantasy story. She discovers she has traces of a gift for sword-fighting passed down from her father who we find out was a sorcerer, in a land where sorcerery is frowned upon and made to be a crime punishable by death.
I liked the setting Larson situated the book in, a jungle, which added creepy crawlies and jaguars that aren’t in most YA fantasy. It was a nice change.
A few issues I had with the plot: We never understand why King Hector, the maniacal monarch, is the way he is. We also don’t understand why he is at war. He trumped up a bogus reason to get the people to fight against a neighboring kingdom, but we never understand why. We also don’t come to understand why certain people are sorcerers. What’s the background narrative about how sorcerers came to be in the land. We also never understand how so many folks knew Alexa was a girl masquerading as a boy. Perhaps that is yet to come in book two, but it’s certainly a question.
One other thing, Larson needs to expand her repetoire of ways to describe a character’s “inscrutible” look. She mixed in a few but way too many “inscrutible”s for my liking.
Overall, I enjoyed the read and give it 4 stars. I’m curious to see what book 2 has in store
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