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Defy - Sara B. Larson

What I was expecting: 

What I actually got: 

For a trope as rich and interesting as Sweet Polly Oliver, I expect an awful lot. It's been done really well over the years and is a tough mantel to carry; unfortunately, Alexa Hollen does not live up to the trope. She barely tricks anyone. Everyone knew her secret before she revealed it, and even her reveal(s) were lame. There were no random breasts bared, no accidental discoveries after horrific battle scars. It was all just Alexa simpering and declaring herself to have ladyparts.

This book reads like it was written by Tumblr. It starts out with finding the most shockingly useless plot point in the history of useless plot points and then degrades into flushed skin and makeout sessions. I read patiently, waiting for there to be something worthwhile and discovered nothing.

Let's start with the setting, shall we? There are three kingdoms, apparently. One appears to be in the jungle and one appears to be on nearby plains or an unspecified cooler region of some sort. Even Minecraft has better generators for terrain than this. The third nation's topography is undescribed. It could be anywhere. It could be on the moon.

Now, the leaders of these nations are related to each other by intermarriage or by blood. Two of the nations are ruled by brothers, which makes the other the odd duck. Naturally, there is a war. Though, the reasons behind it are so convoluted and confusing even I lost track of the logic. 

Our main characters live in a lush jungle kingdom. Ruled by a corrupt king who decided to start a war for funsies. YOLO. The war has been raging for a long time, so long that the king thought, "Hey, you know what'd be awesome to do with these displaced orphans? We can send the boys to war and we can shove the girls into breeding houses." That's right, breeding houses. No, of course they're not there having babies willingly, but it's both a way for the soldiers to blow off steam and for the nation to gain a higher population of soldiers. Not that that makes sense. It takes how long for a new baby to even be considered an apt fighter? Maybe 15 years at a minimum? Considering their military has the standard 18 and over rules for their military that we see in the real world, this starts to make less sense. So, really, what is the point of these breeding houses? Just to make me feel dirty and gross? To have a motivation for Alexa to not want to be seen as feminine? Either way, it's dumb.

So, after being orphaned, Alexa spends most of her time pretending to be a boy. I've already mentioned that she does this rather poorly. She stares at flexing muscles and deep into other men's eyes, noting their color. She sighs longingly and blushes. But, she's such an adept fighter that she's moved her way up onto the prince's guard and, if not for a technicality (that of her age) would have been captain of the guard. Clearly, since she's so piss poor at pretending, they are keeping her around because she actually has some skill.

Things take a turn when the prince's life is endangered by an assassin. Alexa is forced to guard him day and night. The prince flaunts his upper torso at her and makes a few passes. Any reasonable person would either think the prince was batting for the other team, or would assume that the secret was out. Not Alexa. She flushes and sighs and daydreams instead of actually questioning the validity of what is happening.

The prince is captured by the enemy. Alexa is useless to stop them against the sorcerer they employ. She's brought along, because the penalty for letting the prince get captured is death, and we already know that the prince fancies her. The other half of her love triangle, another guard and one of her best friends, is also brought along for the ride. Despite appearances, the prince is pretty chummy with the enemy and it continues being this way.

The prince wants to overthrow the king and save the nation/stop the war. The only one who can help him accomplish this goal is, you guessed it, Alexa. She's a super special battle snowflake. With a flimsy plan, they run headfirst into danger and get a bunch of people massacred in the process. It's okay though, because they're the protagonists and nothing bad ever happens to protagonists! 

I probably should have known better and not attempted to read anything that blurbs, "a thrilling love triangle", but I was enthralled by the rest of the premise. No luck there. If you're looking for a simpering romance full of instant love and surface feels, dully written action, and a heroine who could use a few hard shakes, this is the book for you. If you're looking for an intelligent fantasy debut with some romance, you'll be sorely disappointed.