Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

Thursday, January 16, 2014
Why I chose this book:
As a lover of all things Tamora Pierce and Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass series), I knew this was a debut novel that I couldn’t pass up. I was lucky enough to get an eARC through NetGalley, and I read it in less than a day, continuing to buy it in hardback the evening it was completed.

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publish Date: January 7, 2014
Format: Kindle
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Action, Adventure
Buy: B&N || Amazon || Indiebound 

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? (Goodreads)
3 things you need to know about this book:

   1. Feminism.
   This book is not about embracing femininity and getting rid of the patriarchy. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place. But this book is about surviving as a female in a man’s world and learning how to find strength from inside oneself.

   Though the world Alex Hollen lives in is quite unsavory toward females, which is putting it mildly, she survives by disguising herself as a boy. She kicks butt and takes names, and she is the best at what she does. No one can beat her when it comes to the sword. This story doesn’t immediately start out as female empowerment, and for once, I’m glad it didn’t. The theme grew with her character, and it was astounding to see how her character grew and matured into an adult woman by the end of the novel. It started out with her fear of allowing her feminine qualities to reveal herself, then fear that people would treat her differently after knowing she was a girl, then finally not caring one way or the other.  Ultimately, she cries, she jumps to conclusions, she can be vain at times —just like any woman and just like any man. It was a beautiful novel about a girl growing up in a man’s world and finding her own inner strength to combat a world full of evil.

   2. Another love triangle, but it’s not what you think.
   So you’re typical love triangle is two men fighting for the love of one girl. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are two men:
             A) Rylan: Alexa’s best friend, aside from her brother, and confidant. One who knows her in and out and is always there for her.
             B) Prince Damian: An unexpected friend whom carries young love’s sudden passion and mystery.

   One is safe, the other dangerous and consuming. Granted, both of them love her (which fulfills the triangle part), but throughout the novel, she never asks herself the question: “Who do I choose?” That never comes into play, and I will forever thank the YA lit gods. I’m so glad they did not predestine this book as a quasi-medieval fantasy Twilight. I would have been so disappointed had it been anything other than what it was. The relationships between Alexa, Damian, and Rylan were realistic and honorable, and something I wish I found more of in the love triangle part of the YA lit genre.

   3. This book isn’t for the faint of heart.
   This book deals with some hard issues, so needless to say it’s not for those who would faint at the sight of blood. This book, as I’m sure you would have guessed by the synopsis, is full of violence and death. Alexa is the best of the Prince’s Guard. She knows how to wield a sword better than any man in the country and is more likely to flay you than hug you. Blood is spilt by her and by those around her. Keep in mind though, your tears will mix with the blood spilt.

   Going even further, I found that there was one topic that was the hardest for me to read. In the country of Antion, an evil king is hell-bent on feeding the flames of what seems to be a never-ending war. In order to keep men in his ranks and build up a new, younger generation, they force all orphan girls to go into what they call “breeding houses”. Yes, that is exactly what you think they are. They send girls young to adulthood to these brewing houses, which are essentially rape house in order to procure more boys to serve as soldiers to fuel this never ending war. This was the hardest thing for me to read about because, just as Alexa, you feel so strongly for these girls and women who are forced to live a life that is so horrendous. However, I am very glad that Larson decided to include this bit —as terrible and nightmarish as it was. It revealed the evil power the king had and fostered, and it showed that this was a sore that festered in the city’s walls that only the next king of Antion could destroy.

   Final Thoughts:
   This was a fantastic read, in my opinion. I read it in less than 24 hours and loved every minute of it. I felt deeply for each of these characters —so much so that I was crying over them when I was only 11% into the novel. Larson created a beautiful debut novel with surprising characters, scarily realistic-ish settings, and an intriguing web of lies and omissions. This is definitely worthy of a spot on your YA fantasy shelf.

I gave this book 4 stars on my Goodreads

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