Defy (Defy #1)
Sara B. Larson
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Synopsis on Goodreads:
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 listened to the audiobook of DEFY, read by Rebecca Mozo. This review is way longer than I meant it – how is it I have more to say about books I hate?! DEFY is actually one of the worst books I’ve read this year and that says a lot considering most of my 2017 reads have been 4 and 5 stars. Slight spoilers in my review below:
TW: rape, abuse
DEFY by Sara B. Larson is a derivative fantasy with boring, forgettable characters and flat world-building. The pacing of the plot was all off and there was no excitement or action to it. There were also hugely problematic aspects. I usually have a better experience reading a book versus listening to the audiobook because I’m a very visual person, but it was the opposite here. The narrator convinced me to listen to the entire audiobook (8-9 ish hours), whereas if I’d been reading the book I probably would have DNFed it. I’m a slow reader and I doubt I could handle more than 9 hours with this book. The writing itself wasn’t bad and I see the potential but DEFY is one of those books that should’ve never seen the light of day.
There is nothing in this book we haven’t already seen in YA fantasy; the author is unable to make it stand out. DEFY is trying to be GRACELING but falling short. We see one kingdom warring against the other, a love triangle, a king hated by his heir and a special snowflake protagonist – and it is all badly executed. RED QUEEN is a good example of a book that takes things we’ve seen in fantasy and makes something different of it. DEFY not so much.
I can’t tell what was worse – the plot, the world building, the characters or the problematic aspects. If I’m on chapter 10 and still waiting for something to happen, there are issues with the pacing. Sometimes when there’s a lack of action, there’s at least a focus on characterization but not with DEFY. There was very little character growth and honestly, the only characters I remember are the protagonist Alex/Alexa, her twin brother Marcel, the Prince Damian and Rylan, another member of the prince’s guard and the other love interest. I also remember the king and an assassin, but not their names.
The world building was very confusing and I couldn’t catch enough of the details, although that may be because I listened to the audiobook. If I miss the name of a character or place, I can stop and rewind it, but I can’t see how it’s spelled etc. I cannot for the life of me remember the names of the two kingdoms, I don’t really know what sets them apart and I am only 50% sure of when and how the war between these two kingdoms started. I do know the kingdom the MC lives in has a jungle-like environment and thanks to a review (read after starting this) I know the other kingdom is supposed to be desert-like. I assumed the rest of the fantasy world fit a European medieval period.
I usually don’t have a problem with the “special snowflake” protagonist but it’s not believable that the MC is the only girl ever who thought to cut her hair and disguise herself as a boy. You have the strong heroine surrounded by male characters. The one other female character is Alexa’s side enemy *didn’t see that coming* and the queen was murdered before the beginning of the book to start a war and move the plot along.
Onto the problematic aspects!
This book needs a trigger or content warning. The world building and plot are based on rape and abuse. The kingdom the MC lives in has these “breeding houses” where orphan girls are imprisoned, abused, and raped so that they can “breed” new soldiers for the King’s army. This is usually not triggering for me but the summary I’d read for this book had nothing about breeding houses?! I’d seen so much praise and hype for this book, but nothing that mentioned this (I didn’t read any Goodreads reviews prior to starting it).
The king would either take orphan girls from his own kingdom and send them to the breeding houses or they were orphans from the enemy kingdom that his army captured (or both?). I’m not too sure, it’s one of those details I missed. The orphan boys were however forced to join the army… This is why the MC disguises herself as a boy. Orphan boys join the army and orphan girls are sent to the breeding houses. Not only are rape and abuse just thrown in, but there’s no *logical* reason and it isn’t examined in the text. The king apparently does this to increase the size of his army but the war only started 5-15 years ago (I think). I don’t know if the author forgot, but children take a long time to grow. The king doesn’t want child soldiers either. The MC was orphaned at 14 and had to lie and say she was 17, in order to join the army. Not only that, but having an army of people you’ve enslaved is probably not a good idea – I’m surprised there were no rebellions or rumours of soldiers wanting to assassinate the king. This was just so sickening to read. I don’t want a fantasy book that is based on rape and abuse and isn’t even examined in the text.
POC are described as food. One of the main characters was continually described as chocolate. As far as I can remember, only one character’s skin colour is described so I had to assume the rest were white.
Lots of toxic masculinity. Since the MC is disguised as a boy, she would constantly talk about the things she can’t do because people need to believe she’s a boy. Things like “boys don’t blush, boys don’t have long hair or high-pitch voices, only girls do this, etc”. I understand what the author was trying to do but I don’t think it was done well.
I feel like I should be reimbursed for the time I wasted reading this.