Defy by Sara B. Larson
Rating: 3 stars
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "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?"
Review: This is a difficult book for me to review. On the one hand, there is a lot to love about this story. I loved the jungle setting, the magic system, the warring kingdoms, the shady ruler, and Alexa's killer fighting scenes.
Actually, before we move on, let's take a second and give some serious credit to Larson's portrayal of Alexa's fighting skills. Seriously, Alexa is one hard core fighter. She's the best of the entire guard, better than men twice her age and thrice her build. But what made her fighting and sparring so much fun was how we were shown how good she is. Larson could have just told us that Alexa was a good fighter, and thrown in a couple of battle scenes so that we would believe her. But instead, Alexa's instincts, lightning reflexes, focus, and drive were a part of her very identity. It was so easy to believe that she was the best fighter, because we were shown it, scene after blazing scene. I loved reading about Alexa fighting. Those scenes were easily my favorites.
Other things I liked: I was shocked by a couple of the characters' fates, and I like being surprised, so that was nice. The plot unraveled nicely, and while there are certainly areas where the story can continue in ensuing books, this book still had its own climax and resolution. I appreciated that very much.
But not everything was well done. I felt like the characters all fell neatly into the good guy box or the bad guy box. I was hoping for a little more range between the white-horse/black-horse camps. But I still found myself rooting strongly for the good guys, and hoping there were minimal casualties since I cared for many of them.
And now for my biggest beef with this story. There is a big, huge, in-your-face love triangle in this book. It's discussed in every chapter. (Red flag number one.) Alexa's indecision between her two beaus plays a major part in this story. Now, I am a tough critic when it comes to love triangles anyway, but this one was particularly grating to me. First of all, there are only, like, two available males who even know that she is a girl. And both of them are inescapably, inexplicably, head-over-heels in love with her. (Red flag number two.) But what really got me was that Alexa was more focused on her beaus' bodies than their well being. (Red flag number three.) For example, when one gets hurt and removes his shirt, Alexa is more preoccupied with drooling over his bare chest than finding out whether he is alive or not. It really bothered me when certain characters professed their love, because it was so bloody obvious that they were just in lust, not in love at all. And all those Alexa-Rylan-Damian tent scenes? Gag me with a spoon. I can't tell you how many times I rolled my eyes at all three of them. The love triangle really killed this story for me, unfortunately.
Clearly, the romance aspect of this story and I did not get along very well. At all. However, if you like a strong focus on romance in your YA (especially in fantasy YA) then I think you'll be more forgiving of the lust/love issues than I am. I'd recommend this book to anyone in the mood for an exciting YA fantasy, so long as they really, really like romance as well. If romance or love triangles aren't your thing, I'd try something else.
Personally, although there was a lot that I loved in this story, that love triangle was so disappointing that I'm not sure whether I should continue this series or not. Those who have read Ignite, is it this bad in the next book? Is the angst level more manageable? I want to know what happens, but I don't want to wade through all the angst to find out. What should I do?
Review in a GIF:
Bottom Line: This story focuses heavily on the romance, with some adventure/fantasy on the side. I would have preferred those focuses to be switched. Those who don't mind love triangles are much more likely to enjoy this story.