December 30, 2013

Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

Defy (Defy #1)
Author: Sara B. Larson
Release Date: January 7th, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic
Page Count: 336
Source: ARC provided by publisher on NetGalley
First Reaction: Mmmm NOPE.
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?

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

This book is about a pair of twins whose parents are killed during an attack on their village. Instead of letting Alexa go to the birthing houses (AKA the rape houses), Alexa's twin, Marcel, cuts off all of Alexa's hair and tells her to masquerade as a boy so they could join the army. Fast forward a couple years and the twins find themselves apart of Prince Damian's guard with Alexa (now Alex) titled the best swordsman in all the land. But there's this war going on and things get really messy, really quickly and Alexa, Damian and Rylan (another member of the Prince's guard) get kidnapped. Enter love triangle and unnecessary drooling over naked male chests, all while going along with this bizarre kidnapping.

At First I Was All Like:

Dude. Cross dressing fantasy? I mean, really. Call my name louder, I dare you. Okay, there's a love triangle built into the summary but tough girls obviously have hot guys fawning all over them (see Alanna from Tamora Pierce's quartet of amazingness). Either way, I can work with this, it's gonna be awesome.

But Then...

I read the thing and realized all my excitement over a new, tough, fantasy heroine was for absolutely nothing. I'm pretty sure the only thing I liked about this book was the bad guy. Yeah. He was so awful and sadistic and seemingly all powerful that I was like, bro, I wanna be on your team (as long as you cut the birthing house where your soldiers rape all of the orphaned girls in your kingdom).

So what in particular was crazy underwhelming about this book?

1. Alexa: I don't get this girl. One minute she all tough and awesome and then the next minute she's a drooling teenager who can't look at a guy's bare chest without totally losing focus. I mean, I get it, you have hormones and can appreciate the male body, who can't? But you're also a trained soldier. You're the best sword handler in the land. You'd think you could get your focus on and deal with the fact you've been kidnapped.

And what's really irksome is that Alexa shows a lot of emotion for certain things but absolutely no emotion for other things - things that totally warranted a little irrational, emotional behavior. So, basically, main character, would be tough girl, I don't understand you at all, nor do I believe in you at all.

2. The Love Triangle: Completely unnecessary. I'm not a big lover of love triangles, but I have seen it work and this book is NOT a case of me seeing it work. If anything, it's built it to give Alexa a fallback option because GOD FORBID she be a single, independent woman who can think straight without the threat of hormones getting in the way.

3. Rylan and Marcel: There was actually no reason for either of these characters in this book. You could have cut them both out and the book might have even veen better for it. Go home, second love interest and twin brother. (And what does that say about this book when I want to get rid of two relatively major secondary character?)

4. Damian: The crown prince is actually bi-polar. Or has multiple personality disorder. To be completely honest, I don't actually hate the twists involving Damian, but I wish I didn't feel so completely jerked around by the constant, jerky shifts in his personality/behavior. The heir to the throne needed a little more finessing, really.

5. The Plot: Okay. I'll admit, the overall plot (ignoring Alexa being the world and this story-swallowing love triangle) was pretty cool. I just wanted a better execution: more action and fighting and magic and revelations, less lusting. I liked Eljin a lot. I thought his no-nonsense behavior fit with what I thought this book was supposed to be.

6. The Prose/Setting: In fantasy books, the writing creates the setting. This book doesn't seem to take this into account. As I read, the reading honestly made me feel like this book was taking place in contemporary times, not in some fantasy realm. Nothing felt jungle-y or magical or fantastical at all and you really need to have that extra bit when you write fantasy. So while the jungle bit was a really cool setting and I enjoyed the magical element of this book, I feel like the execution was so very off - prose contributing to that. 

The long and short of it?

Plot: Promising... but fell way short.
World Building: Sounded like it was going to be awesome, but, again, nope.
Character Development: Alexa is this bizarre mix of wall, flat, no emotion and incredibly hormonal. Damian's got multiple personality disorder. Rylan might as well not exist. The only exciting character is the enemy. The end.
Prose: Confused. Is this contemporary fiction or jungle, magical, fantasy?
Would I Recommend This Book?: Nah. Better to go re-read all of the Tamora Pierce books. or Graceling. Or Seraphina. Or Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Or Scarlet (by A.C. Gaughen). Or anything else that's actually awesome, as opposed to this big nope of a book.

Were you sucked into this one by the cross dressing fantasy? Or did you run at the first mention of a love triangle? Let me know in the comments below!