Author: Sara B. Larson
Release: January 7th 2013
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, YA
#1 in the Defy trilogy
Sequel: Ignite (#2), Endure (#3)
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?
I am quite torn about this book. On one hand, it was very ... not good. On the other, though, they were some moments where I started to enjoy myself. However, the eyeroll moments were far more than the enjoyable ones, and I actually compiled a list of complaints I have that I'll work through in this review.
Let's start with my first complaint: there is a character death very early on in the book (I believe around page 25 or something), that felt very random and anti-climactic. I mean, I saw it coming as soon as I read the blurb to be quite honest, but the way it was handled was very underwhelming. The way it happened was unspectacular and the consequences were unremarkable as well. I mean, Alexa is upset and all, but other than that, it served no real purpose.
My second point: How did Alexa survive two (I think) years in the army, pretending to be boy? I mean, it's remarkable that she's managed to hold up her cover for one year in the guard, but seeing as she's rooming with her brother it's not that far-fetched that she'd, maybe, be able to do it, but in the army? Where there are barracks, and showering is not an act of privacy? I don't believe she would have been able to pull it off for two years, nope. I am not fooled. Which brings another question: During the course of the book, there is another character introduced, a character that lived in the same village as Alexa and her twin, but with whom they'd never had much contact, or been friends with. So, when this person first lays eyes on Alexa, who, let me remind you again, is posing as a boy, how come this person recognizes her right away as Alexa? Wouldn't the obvious conclusion be to think it was her brother standing before her? Why is she so quick to think it's Alexa, simply under the guise of a boy? It made absolutely no sense, and it is little loopholes/inconsistencies like these that irk me the most.
Something else I noted down was that we seriously cannot forgot, ever, that Prince Damian has "ice/crystal/clear blue eyes," because we are reminded literally every five pages. It got ridiculous after a while and I found myself staring annoyed into the invisible camera. There were generally a lot of repetitions, and I'm not sure how her editor didn't notice, since it really disrupted the reading experience for me a handful of times. Miss Larson, you should consider getting a new one.
Also, I've said this a couple of times, but romance is usually a large deal breaker for me. If done right, it can pull the book in the whole other direction (like it maybe did with Unbreakable, to be honest), and vice versa, if done wrong, it can really break the novel. In this case, it was the latter, unfortunately. We have a kind of insta-love, and they're soon after declaring their undying love for each other, also: making out while another person is sleeping in the same room not three feet away, which is just gross. Poor Rylan.
I'll admit, at first I had nothing against their relationship, but it soon got on my nerves because it all went way too fast and basically came out of nowhere, because there was no actual build-up for it. Damian just singles her out someday and starts flirting with her.
Oh and yeah, everyone has always known she was a girl, because that's just how it is. How else was she going to explain two boys falling for a boy? No, they have known a long time, and thus, were able to fall in love with her before she knew they knew and she officially acted like a girl. I would have actually preferred if there had been some kind of internal struggle in at least one of the two boys in this triangle, like him fearing he was gay or something because he was actually falling for the character of that one other dude and stuff, you know? Would have been interesting.
I'll give Alexa one thing, though, she makes a decision early on with whom she wants to be and doesn't lead the other guy needlessly on.
But that was one of her better moments. The main reason I actually bought and read this book was because of her name — Alexa — which is, you might have noticed, my name as well. I have read many books with Alexandras or Alexises or Alexandrias, but I've never read about an Alexa, which is my very own simple, simple name. So, I was intrigued: Is she going to live up to this prideful name? The honest answer is no, she doesn't. She reminded me a bit of Celaena from Throne of Glass, always bragging about how great and amazing she is, how she could take out so-and-so in 1 minute, blah, although unlike Celaena, Alexa does seem to be an impossibly skilled fighter, unbeatable, which makes her ridiculously perfect. It's tried to cover up later on with a nice explanation about her heritage, but still — it makes her a bit of a Mary Sue, because of course she's also an orphan, her parents were killed mysteriously, she's beautiful but doesn't realize it, she is nice and dutiful, etc etc, you know the drill. I didn't exactly dislike her, but I don't think she deserves my name.
Because I want to, I'm going to compare her to Arya Stark. Arya Stark, who has seen her father getting beheaded in the town's square, who has been so close to her mother and brother after a year of being apart, only to realize that a bloodbath has been going own and they have both been brutally murdered? Who has been on the run for over a year, also pretending to be a boy (incidentally), trying to escape those who wish to harm/kill or ransom her? Arya Stark, who has started to care for two boys, whom she considered her friends, her pack, only to have both of them leave her in the end? Arya, who has murdered men in cold blood and not cried a single tear about it. Arya Stark, who is nine years old.
Alexa Hollen? Well, she has pretended to be a boy in the army and the prince's Guard, for 3 years, together with her twin brother, who is apparently the absolute best fighter ever and has defeated anyone else, even though she is only seventeen, and... yeah, in the beginning of the story, that's all she did. In the end, she also defeats the big, bad, evil guy that only she can even hope to defeat, and saves the whole country and everyone and has two guys vying for her love, has the option to be made queen etc. I mean, her life is hard. Right? Especially compared to Arya's.
What I'm trying to say here: nine-year-old Arya Stark is by far way more realistic and badass than seventeen-year-old Alexa Hollen.
The other characters were mostly flat and uninteresting. Yes, Damian also had that two-faced split persona thingy going on, pretending to be the spoiled, egocentric princeling while actually being ridiculously perfect as well; in fact, he's out-of-this-world handsome, he's not lazy, no, he's always trained and worked out in secret (his personal guard apparently never noticed that) so he's an excellent swordsman and of course has a sixpack, he's kind and just to his subjects and everyone, he's nice to children (he even carries one on his shoulders!), he... basically, the author tried so hard to make the reader love him, she gave him too many likable traits so that he was actually unlikable. There was no real complex in him, no "gray morale" warring within him, nothing. And don't get me started on Rylan — he's just there to be the other guy hopelessly in the way so there's a reason behind this love triangle, which was agonizingly unnecessary by the way. Seriously, Rylan is even more 2D than Damian. Then again, that also means that he wasn't so ridiculously, unlikably perfect too, sooo... I don't really know whom I like most. Or the least.
All in all, it always hurts me to give debut authors mean and negative reviews, because I know they tried their best, but I seriously cannot give more than two stars. The actual blurb doesn't even start until halfway in, and I'm not sure if the story got better or worse after that happened. Actually, no, I'm sure it got worse after that. The Fantasy elements were barely there, as were the Magic elements, and I'm sorry to say it. Will I read the sequel? ... Probably not. Would I recommend this book? ... Not really.