Author: Sara B. Larson
Type: Young Adult
Tea: Anjou Pear Oolong, sounds intriguing and is good at first, but slowly loses depth.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
*I received this novel from Scholastic on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
What to say about Defy by Sara B. Larson. Well when I first got it on NetGalley I was super pumped. I, like everyone else, instantly thought of Mulan. Heck yes! Who doesn’t love that movie? So that instantly skyrocketed my expectations. As well as finding a YA marketed as high fantasy?! WHAT? Awesome! Safe to say I couldn’t wait to read it. But then I saw some ratings and got a little nervous, but went in expecting good things, because…why not? It sounds great.
Sadly, those reviews were correct.
Defy starts out interesting. We meet Alexa Hollen after her parents are murdered in front of her and her brother. In order to save her life from a rape house (“Um…excuse me?” you might be thinking. Fret not, more on that later) her brother, Marcel, cuts her hair and convinces her to pretend to be a boy so she can be in the army.
Flash forward three years. Alexa is pretending to be a 20-year-old man. First issue I have. How can ANYONE think she’s a boy? Yes, her boobs might be small, but you still look like a girl. You have hips, no facial hair and entirely different facial features. Plus she stares at all the half naked men all the time. But I digress. I ignored the fact that it would be crazy to try to pretend to be a 20-year-old man when you’re a 17-year-old girl because most 17-year-olds don’t even look 17, let alone 20. Sorry, ranted again. But the rest of the premise intrigued me and I was curious to see what happened.
I thought the world was interesting and vaguely reminiscent of Maria V. Snyder’s Study trilogy. But sadly that’s as far as it went. We get some vague description of a forest and some desert and some trees, but I know nothing else about this world or how it functions.
So all kinds of things start happening and you can’t figure out how they’re all connected, they’re just there. Like Marcel and Alexa find Iker (the king’s right hand man) doing something creepy with blood in his room and as punishment he sends them to…the rape house to bring unsuspecting girls in. Fantastic. What is the point of the rape house in the novel you ask? There is none. It’s basically used as a fear tactic and something to make you hate the king until you find out (AT THE END) the even worse thing he’s done. The rape house (or “breeding house”) is randomly thrown in at different moments and just doesn’t fit with the rest of the novel. For a novel that’s supposedly showing how strong women are, this and Alexa’s negativity really ruin it.
Some other stuff happens and Alexa winds up being Prince Damian’s personal guard. And all she can do is stare at his glistening, cut body. Really? Like…this is where this novel is going? Kill me now.
So for the next 100 so pages we hear all about hearts beating, chocolate eyes, ice blue eyes, glistening and heaving chests, and blushing. Lots of blushing.
Oh, also there’s some kidnapping and stuff in there, but that’s not nearly as important as this teenager in heat. And the first kidnapping seems rather pointless, everything that it supposedly teaches the reader could’ve been learned by word of mouth from another character. Waste of space.
So we find out Rylan (her crush who she abandons for Damian’s glistening pectorals) and Damian both know she’s a girl. Well duh! She’s in shock, but the reveals were SO simple and not surprising I almost passed over them. Also, how could you fall in love with someone that you barely spend time with and they aren’t actually acting like themselves? Also, wouldn’t it be weird, as a straight man, to fall in love with someone that is acting like a man? Even in Mulan they take it slow after the reveal. Shang doesn’t just profess his love, he comes over and stays for dinner (maybe forever if they can figure everything out). Here Rylan and Damian are falling over themselves to say “I love you!” first. And she keeps going back and forth between drooling over the two during a boring walk through the jungle, is this supposed to interest me?
And anytime anything “important” is discussed, such as Damian talking about the kingdom, all Alexa can do is think about how gorgeous he is. Uh, hello? You’re in danger. You’re freaking prisoners of war and you just wanna stare at his eyes? I understand that war brings out emotions, but her only emotion is wanna-get-it-on.
Also, how can you “love” Damian when you just learned he’s secretly not a giant dickwad? Another YA trap that this novel sadly fell into. And Rylan that she loved for so long in secret? He’s just my bestest friend now, it’s cool, he’ll be fine. But I’ll still ogle his body and eyes when Damian isn’t around!
So clearly the fantasy aspect has disappeared entirely, not that it was super strong in the first place. This is epic fantasy lite.
So the rest of the novel gets a little better, with some interesting twists (which some were kinda fairly obvious) and with a little less romance, but not much. And Alexa slowly turns into a whiny, selfish bitch.
Tanoori (a girl in their traveling party) gets injured and when she heals Alexa isn’t like “Oh yay, she’s better! I was so worried!” She’s like “Oh yay, glad I didn’t carry her for nothing and wasn’t tired for nothing. Cos I’m a bitch.” And even though the end is interesting and you want to see what is going on, the whole time she’s like “Are they doing this for me? Because of me? Me? ME? ME?!”
And then we find out another secret about Damian that makes him even more perfect. Does he have unicorns coming out of his ass? Like…really? And then Alexa continues to feel sorry for herself when it comes to their relationship.
So like I said, for a novel about “women power” this girl is not strong, she’s not a good role model and she’d fit the “needs a man” stereotype.
So if the middle of the novel (the heated jungle romance) and Alexa weren’t in this novel it would get a 3. But that pesky middle part and that silly main character are in it, so it gets a 2.
And on a scale of 1 to Mulan? 1.