Defy by Sara B. Larson
A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and heart-racing romance.
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?
Defy by Sara B. Larson
Defy Series #1
Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic
Published January 7th 2014 by Scholastic Press
Hardcover, 336 pages
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
At the heart of Sara B. Larson’s young adult debut Defy, is a wonderful story about a young girl named Alexa who is thrust into a dangerous world of dark sorcery, intrigue, and romance.
WHY I READ THE BOOK
I was totally captivated by this story from the very beginning, and was immediately drawn to the fact that the heroine is a sword-fighter girl who has to disguise herself as a boy. I immediately thought of the Ballad of Mulan and it's similar theme. I'm pleased to say that Defy not only satisfies in the sword-fighting department, but also as a terrific heroine story.
SETTING AND WORLD-BUILDING
Although the world of Defy has magic, sorcery and a fantasy setting in it, the main focus is on Alexa’s character, and is a story about identity. It is not a high fantasy. Rather it is about how she becomes a heroine. Not just by her ability to fight in the story. It's about her accepting and embracing her true self. This is one of the high factors in the story, and helped eclipsed the need for greater world-building for me. The world itself has a nice fantasy feeling, a teeming and dangerous jungle that is a constant threat, war and political intrigued, a despot king, as well as the use of sorcery and fighting that take us into a nice fantasy realm. Letting us forget where we are and simply enjoy the story.
OPENING SCENE - Why there's a Mulan feeling to the story. This happens within first pages, so I'm not considering it a spoiler.
Alexa has just witnesses a terrible devastation to her entire village and family. There’s this sense of terrible urgency as Alexa’s brother gently holds his sisters long and beautiful hair in one hand and a shears in the other. He looks at her, ready to cut it all off in order to protect her. It becomes clear that in order for Alexa to survive she must disguise herself as a boy, or else face being forced into a King Hector's breeding house. A place where young girls enter, never to come out again. Used by soldiers to repopulate the evil king's army.
Although this scene was short and so sad, it really set the tone for the beginning of the book and drew me into the world of Defy and Alexa's character. As the blades took away Alexa’s sense of girlhood as her long tresses fell to the ground, my heart went out to her. Sara B. Larson skillfully sets up this compelling story, with a heroine I adored and most importantly, felt for. One that is not perfect, and at times adolescent, but one that won me over nonetheless.
With Defy, the author has created a realistic teen heroine to admire. Alexa is strong female protagonist who isn't afraid to fight and face danger, yet feels all the emotions most adolescent girls go through. It was because she has these “normal” doubts and worries that I simply adored her. She felt accessible, and easy to relate to. One that teen girls are going to appreciate for not being perfect.
As the story progresses and Alexa must become "Alex" I could easily admire her and sympathize with her. One side of her must remain "boyish" and act in a way the other soldiers would expect. She is constantly fighting her feminine side. In fact, I often laughed and shook my head at her “Chest staring” and thought it was cute. I mean come-on, shirtless and sweaty soldiers practice fighting- who wouldn’t stare? But the really amazing thing about Alexa is that even with all the changes she goes through- she remains strong in character, a great example of a heroine for young adult readers.
“True beauty is what lies inside of us, not what the world sees. A beautiful shell that houses a vile soul becomes sullied over time. But an outer shell, imperfect as it may be, that houses a beautiful soul shines with that beauty, radiating it for all that have eyes to see.”
Yes, there is definitely romance. There is in fact a love triangle that develops in Defy with plenty of swoon-worthy moments. I actually didn't mind that it was a love triangle since it was done well. I really liked both guys, and could see how Alexa was torn between the two of them, although it becomes clear one holds her heart and the other her friendship.
THE SWOON PLEASE ( Caution: Kissing and swooning ahead )
His lips moved to my jaw, then down my throat, leaving a trail of fire on my skin as he worked his way toward my collarbone. I gasped for air, clutching at his tunic as he kissed me.
"Alexa," he whispered against my skin. "Do you have any idea what you're doing to me? I've never needed anyone the way I need you."
WHAT I REALLY LIKED
There’s something that occurs at the end of the story that was really beautifully done. I wish I could spoil it and tell you, suffice to say, Sara B. Larson has created a story about what we see on the outside is not all there is to us.
WHAT I WOULD HAVE LIKED
I have to admit that when I first picked up Defy, I was expecting a high fantasy with lots of world-building. I was a bit disappointed at first because the book is really more of a light fantasy with romance, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story anyways due to Alexa’s character. Hopefully, since this is only book one, the world-building will be expanded in the next book.
MY RATING 4.5 STARS. I really liked it!
RECOMMENDED FOR young adult readers looking for a strong and relatable heroine, light fantasy setting with sword fighting, sorcery, and romance. Especially recommended for those of you who like stories featuring a heroine who has to change her identity.