Series: Defy #1
Published by Scholastic Press on January 7th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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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?
Ignoring the love triangle advertised in the blurb (first mistake: never ignore a blatantly touted love triangle), Defy should have been a good book. In theory it has some great stuff going for it (adventure! badass girl warrior! gender-bending! sorcery!) but in actuality, all of these things fell apart or flat out failed to show up in the first place.
Come along gentle readers as I break down the good, the bad and the OH MY GOD I WILL SLAUGHTER SOMEONE AND THEN BURN THEIR VILLAGE TO THE GROUND- I mean, ugly.
I…I finished it? I can’t really count that as a point in the book’s favor because it’s not like I continued due to any positive feelings, it was more the horrified fascination brought on by something spectacularly awful.
This book was a rousing game of Pick A Trope. Tropes themselves aren’t inherently bad, it’s how they’re used that makes the difference and in Defy’s case they were used in the most clumsily over the top way possible. Everything was so frustratingly predictable and convenient.
A total lack of world building.
There are other countries? And they’re at war? For reasons? Oh! And a jungle! There’s a jungle! (All of these hazy places are full of white people, naturally, because that is the kind of book this is.) I guess some people have magic because that is how fantasy works. That’s basically it.
Comically pointless gender-bending.
I don’t mean comically pointless in that there wasn’t a reason Alexa was disguised as a boy. There was (more on that fun bit later) but it didn’t seem to matter because apparently everyone already knew. Both love interests knew, (convenient as it allowed them to have loved her all along *barfs*) the bad guy knew, random strangers Alexa meets along the way knew. It was laughable. Apparently Alexa is the world’s worst actress and everyone in the story just went along with the charade for funsies.
A cringeworthy romance.
Not only was does Defy contain a love triangle, but it is the kind of love triangle that is the reason I hate love triangles. Standing in as one leg of the love triangle, we have Rylan, a fellow guard. Fun game to play with Rylan, take a shot every time Alexa compares some part of him to chocolate (just kidding, DO NOT DO THIS. YOU WILL GET ALCOHOL POISONING). Not that Prince Damion (the other leg) is any better. One moment a snobby, arrogant asshole and the next a thoughtful sweetheart (it was all an act! Duh!). Alexa falls in love with him approximately 30 seconds after he drops his douchebag mask. I can’t think of a single personality trait individual to either of them that hasn’t shown up in a thousand stories before.
For a significant chunk of the book, all three triangle points are forced to share a small space and while this would have been hilarious, either the love interests are fighting over Alexa as though she weren’t standing right there or Alexa is making out with/fighting with one love interest while the other is forced to watch.
I will award bonus points to Alexa for realizing this behavior is not cool, but immediately take them away because she does so by calling herself a harlot. You’re an idiot Alexa, don’t try and pass it off by slut shaming.
A “skillful” and “heroic” MC.
Did you catch my sarcastic quote marks? We’re told time and time again that Alexa is this legendary fighter with unparalleled skills, but as far as I can tell once the story opens, she completely fails to deliver time and time again. She’s continually being rescued by love interests and/or getting stuck in situations where she’s helpless. Either we were completely lied to about her skills in the first place or the few times she does display magically amazing fighting skills OUT OF NO WHERE seem downright Mary Sueish.
Instantly developed expertise.
You’ll be shocked, SHOCKED to know that Alexa has a special power. She’s the ooooooonly one with a chance of taking on a big evil sorcerer who is apparently capable of taking out an entire army of sorcerers. But not Alexa. Alexa can stop him. Because…well, because she can.
That right there caused me to roll my eyes so hard I almost knocked out a contact lens but the hilarity ensues when after managing to do the necessary thing a single time in practice, our scrappy band of heroes is all ‘BY GEORGE SHE’S GOT IT. LET’S GO OFF TO WAR IMMEDIATELY’ because if you’ve successfully accomplished a difficult thing once in your life, obviously you’ll be able to do every time after that.
And Finally, The Rage Inducingly Ugly:
Right, let me just say something really quick.
RAPE IS NOT A FUCKING PLOT DEVICE.
How does this need to be said? How is that not a completely obvious thing? WHAT THE HELL PEOPLE?!
Hold up, I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, Defy’s world has this charming little feature called breeding houses. In these breeding houses, orphaned girls are rounded up and put to work as
unwilling sex slaves breeders for the rapists army. The idea is they will be continually giving birth to new soldiers for the king’s army.
I could deal with this if it weren’t such a COMPLETE NON EVENT. As far as I can tell, the only purpose the
rape breeding houses serve is to show that the king is evil and anyone who disagrees is good. The houses are featured in one scene early on to depict how awful they are (except not really, I think the real reason we saw them at all is to add depth to Alexa’s relationship with her brother) and how important it is that no one see through Alexa’s ruse (LOLOLOL). From there on out, I think each love interest mentions them a total of once with a sort of token negativity to show that they are on the side of justice and light.
COMPLETE AND UTTER INAPPROPRIATENESS ASIDE (and that is a MASSIVE aside) where is the logic here? THIS IS A TERRIBLE PLAN. So, King Hector is sitting there thinking his thoughts one day and he’s all ‘hey! I have a super efficient idea to fill up my army! I’ll round up a bunch of girls and systematically impregnate them so that MANY YEARS FROM NOW I will have a continual supply of soldiers!’ Oh sure, that makes total sense. If so, where are the birthing houses? Where are the babies? WHERE IS ANYTHING OTHER THAN THIS THROWAWAY REFERENCE TO RAPE?!
Every aspect of this plot point (I use that term in the loosest possible way) is so pointless and it makes it even more offensive that it was included in the first place.
Just no. I can’t.
As an alternative I recommend checking out Kristin Cashore, Alison Goodman or Tamora Pierce (though I haven’t read the Alanna books, please don’t yell at me, I KNOW). I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of the first two and have heard from many trusted sources of the legendary epicness of the third.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go scrub the memory of this book from my brain with bleach.