Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NetGalley Review: Defy

by Sara B Larson

The Short Story
After Alexa's parents are killed, her twin brother helps disguise her as a boy so that she can avoid being sent to the breeding house. Together they can join the king's army. Three years later, she's become the best fighter in the prince's personal guard. And then her brother is killed. Alexa tries to keep her secret hidden on her own, but she can't do it forever. And soon she finds she's not the only one with something to hide.
A really spectacular third act can't make up for all the problems with the rest of the book.

 I'm not a huge high fantasy fan. But after how much I adored The Girl of Fire and Thorns series, I wanted to give this one a chance. It has a girl dressed as a boy! Like Disney's Mulan or Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan (both of which I loved). And it's by a local author. It seemed like the perfect combination.

But this was not the book for me. I can't overlook the world building issues. When Alexa's parents die, she has to hide the fact that she's a girl so she won't go to the breeding house. But there is no logical reason for anyone to go to the breeding house, even if they are orphans. Wouldn't neighbors or family take orphaned kids in? And there's no reason for the king's soldiers (who are apparently also orphans) to rape the girls in the breeding house. Wouldn't they all kind of know each other, or have sisters or friends there? If the king needs more soldiers, why not just have a draft, instead of raping orphan girls in the hopes of growing an army? And would they really take care of girls who were too young to get pregnant? What happens to the ladies when they're too old? Or reach adulthood? The whole business is completely illogical. It made it really hard to get through the first third of the book.

The second act focuses on a love triangle, where you immediately find out that Alexa's gender is the worst kept secret ever. It's such a lost opportunity, especially compared to Mulan or Leviathan, where the story has fun with with the fact that the audience knows the character is a girl, and no one else does. I was left wondering why having Alexa pretend to be a boy was part of the plot because it becomes such a non-issue so early on. Instead the story gets a bit dramatic, with two different suitors suddenly trying to win Alexa over. It felt like a very different story from the first part, and I was confused about where it all was going.

I wish the entire book had been like the last 100 pages, though. That could have easily been a 4 or 4.5 star book. There's a great sense of purpose (and plot). I became invested in the story. I felt like I knew where it was going, and it was going to a very interesting place. Seriously, that was where the story was. And it was riveting. It's just a shame the rest of the book doesn't measure up to the strong ending.

The Big Three:
Language: one or two swear words
Sex and Stuff: discussion of the breeding house, where orphan girls are raped
Violence: a fair amount of fighting with weapons and magic, characters are injured and killed, but nothing is gory or graphic

Just So You Know:
I received a free review copy from Scholastic via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Defy is now available.


  1. Hmmm, I have to take your review with a grain of salt because you don't like high fantasy but all the questions you pose make me wonder if I would like this one. I hate when things don't make sense in a created world. I can't decide if I should bother with this one.

    1. Yeah, it's definitely not my genre, but even if it were a different type of book those things would have bothered me. Kami and Suey loved it, though. So maybe you would too :)