Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

DefySource: Scholastic/Netgalley – I received this book in exchange for na honest review.
Publisher: Scholastic
Series: Defy #1
Edition: eARC, 336 Pages
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
Rating: 3/5

A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.

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 is a book that hardly turned out the way I expected to it to be, which is both a good and bad thing. We are treated to a new world where Alexa must hide her true gender in order to survive and be free, all the while protecting the prince and fighting a war. It has some tender moments as well as some thrilling ones, that make it a rather decent beginning to a series. Defy in a few words is: Easy, fast, and different.

When it comes to high fantasy I expect world-building, and I’m incredibly fond of extreme detail. However this is where Defy began to worry me, the world building is minimal. I really loved that it was set in a more tropical place where there is humidity and rain forests, instead of the typical temperate areas I usually read about, but I didn’t feel the immersion that I’m use to in novels like this. We don’t get a lot of details about the world of Antion or Belvon that would have cemented these places are ‘real’ in my mind. I do see this as being a great beginner’s high fantasy novel though, where someone who isn’t use to the immense details can wet their palette without drowning.

The pacing is quick and I found it easy to blow through pages in a couple of sittings. The over all plot was quiet enjoyable and I really liked the gender-bending aspect of it, I do wish that it had lasted a bit longer though. It’s not something I’ve seen in a lot of books and it makes for a really tense moments while you’re hoping the character’s acting ability holds out. The summary does tout a ‘thrilling love triangle’ but I honestly didn’t find it to be all that thrilling or that much of a triangle. It’s obvious where the true chemistry lies so I found much of the back and forth on Alex’s part to be highly unnecessary. In fact the relationship takes up a good portion of the book and while I didn’t really mind, it also didn’t really help further the story. I would have loved to see more of the training and instead of being told how hard it was, I would have love to see the actual struggle. There were moments where discretion was key but there honestly felt like there was no danger. Of course there are also some really great bits that I wasn’t expecting like the direction of the plot, how self-reliant Alex was, and the initial gender bending moments.

Alex is a mostly independent girl in the guise of a man on the Prince’s Guard. She’s an incredibly skilled fighter and the best guard on duty. However I didn’t really find her to be very strong minded, which is even pointed out by her brother early on…she’s the fighter, he’s the brains. Which is fine, not everyone can have a strong will…but it felt odd for her to crumple so easily when her whole life has been founded on being a guard in an army. I wasn’t fond of how once her secret was out she seemed to change, despite the fact that she didn’t want anyone to treat her differently. This also applies to the two male leads Rylan and Damian, who up until that point had treated her like they would treat any male friend. They knew ‘he’ was strong and capable, but as soon as she became common knowledge suddenly there was a lot of need to protect her. Despite all of that I did like her friendship with Rylan before it became kind of muddled, and for the most part Damian’s relationship with her was satisfying. I do wish the gender bending had played more of a role in their relationships to be honest, there was no negative tension or surprise really.

Overall Defy holds a lot of potential but fell a bit short for me. While I enjoyed the overall story and premise I felt that certain key elements were not fleshed out enough for it to truly pull me in. I do think this would be great for those who want to ease into the genre without having to worry about new vocabulary or pages of characters to remember.

3 star

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11 Responses to Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

  1. I think the gender-bending type books are pretty fun to read, to see what they have to go through. Too bad this doesn’t have a better world building foundation, but I do like the sounds of Alex. I might still give it a try. 🙂 Great review.

  2. bhwrn1 says:

    I had the same feeling. Mostly I felt like the characters were not fleshed out enough. And I was annoyed by the relationship between the Prince and Alex. It just bugged me. I felt like there could have been better use of the fact that she was posing as a boy, as well. It all fell apart so quickly. Not enough build up in my opinion.

  3. I enjoyed it but I am on the other end of world building expectations in fantasy

  4. Pamela D says:

    This sounds like a fun read. Hopefully, there will be more world building in the next book.

  5. I am going to see how the next book goes, but I agree with a lot of your points.

  6. I am still excited for this one because of the gender bending aspect – I Love Tamora Pierce’s books as well as Graceling for that reason.. But I think I shall go into it a little more wary because I trust your opinion!

  7. I’ve been seeing this book on various blogs, but I think I’ll add it the the TBR now. Great review!

  8. I took this one off my wishlist for now, so many reviews share your exact issues with it, I am holding off for reviews of book two since everyone said it has potential. Wonderful and thoughtful review Michelle

  9. It’s a shame Defy was disappointing, I’ve heard other reviews that say it wasn’t done too well either. Thanks for your in-depth review on it! At least it was a quick read for you.

  10. I’ve been looking forward to reading this, but it sounds like it has both strong points and weaknesses, much like many debut novels.. I do appreciate good worldbuilding, so thanks for warning me not to expect too much on that front. Perhaps I’ll enjoy it more if I don’t go into it with my expectations too high; the publisher’s blurb/description set the bar pretty high.

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