Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

22 January, 2014 Reviews 45 comments

Review: Defy by Sara B. LarsonDefy by Sara B. Larson
Series: Defy #1
Published by Scholastic Press on January 7th 2014
Pages: 336
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

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.


The Good:

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.

Oh, the nights I've wasted there.

The Bad:

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.

Features include:

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.


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.

I hate everything.

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.


Final Verdict:


I doth proclaim thee to be a stupid fartface

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.

Meg out.

Drop the mic.

Meg Morley

Meg Morley

Co-bloggery at Cuddlebuggery
Meg is an all-around book nerd who just really wants to talk about books, preferably with other people but by herself will do. Find her on Goodreads.

45 Responses to “Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson”

  1. smiling_ina

    Wow, I can’t believe after reading all this that you actually stuck it out and finished the whole book! I bow down to you!!! That’s some crazy shit. I’m so glad you’re saving me from ever picking this one up myself!

    • Meg Morley

      It was a struggle, but I made it (I may have bribed myself with cake a few times).

  2. Tina

    Brill review. Will avoid this book like the plague!! How did she become a guard? Was she the only one picked up a sword and everyone else in the kingdom fight with spoons?
    Thanks for the heads-up!

    • Meg Morley

      It doesn’t even get into how she became a guard, like with everything else it just happened for reasons. I think it has to do with her being a monster-sword-skills-having person but HA! I’ll believe it when I see it.

  3. Ellis

    The Good: I would see that as an accomplishment. I have a galley of this because it was a Read Now on NG but guess who has two thumbs and is never going to touch that file except to delete it? THIS GIRL. So, you already win in that regard (and in so many others, but let’s keep the mushfest to a minimum in public spaces.)

    Oh, okay. The world-building is of the “here are the mountains, there is the sea” variety”. GOOD JOB.

    How did this chick not die on page 12? Ugh, stupidity like this should die as early as possible. Otherwise the concept of a cutthroat world = epic fail.

    DONNA. Donna is the shiz.

    NO. I hate comparisons to chocolate. *stabs book*

    APRIL. April is also the shiz.

    Hahaahahahahahaha. The “””romance””” sounds tragic. At best.

    Seriously, how is this chick still alive? Special powers. Oi.

    Meg is also the shiz.



    *applauds Meg* Seriously, you made it. EW and NO and FUCK YOU to the tragedy that is this book. *deletes galley*
    Ellis recently posted…Review – SecretMy Profile

    • Meg Morley

      DEFINITE PASS. It will drive you up the wall. JUST SAY NO ELLIS.

      Hahahaha, ‘here are the mountains, there is the sea’ EXACTLY (well, maybe slightly less detail but WELL PUT)

      I have no idea how she makes it to the end of the book, seriously, search me. I think it’s because he has a reliable stable of menfolk (either of the romantic or friendly variety) to throw down their lives her her. Excuse me while I go vomit.


      The chocolate comparisons put me off chocolate, which is impressive to say the least.

      APRIL IS ALSO THE SHIZ. I love Parks and Rec, so much.

      The romance made me want to peel my skin off. I would shudder and gag whenever anyone made gooey eyes at anyone else. I’m shuddering and gagging now just thinking about it.


      There was definitely not enough death. However, this is a series so I have hope. However I will not be reading it so as far as I’m concerned they are all dead to me.


    • Meg Morley

      You are a wise person. I should’ve stopped at the blurb but apparently I enjoy torturing myself.

  4. Gillian


    “(though I haven’t read the Alanna books, please don’t yell at me, I KNOW)” LOLZ. That was for my benefit, wasn’t it? I won’t yell at you. Not my Megasus, who has already suffered so much at the hands of this awful book.
    Gillian recently posted…Review: Evertrue by Brodi AshtonMy Profile

    • Meg Morley

      THANK YOU!

      (and yes, that was a Gillian easter egg. I pictured your sadness and disappointment as I was typing.)

  5. Erin

    This review….is just…I mean….perfect. Also I haven’t heard of Tamora Pierce so you shall not be alone in your non-reading but thanks for the info so now I can obsess. Also Cashore….I mean perfection in books! Just saying!

    • Meg Morley

      We can be disappointments to the YA community together. And yes! CASHORE ALL THE WAY!! There were many moments where it felt like Defy was trying to be Graceling and utterly failing at it.

  6. Joanna

    Nice review – so glad you’re not afraid to express your love & hate on the books you read. Although I love high fantasy novels, Defy’s plot device of disguising the girl as a boy turned me away from wanting to read Defy. I grow tired of this theme. I don’t understand why a girl can’t just be a girl?

    • Meg Morley

      Normally I like the gender-bending thing but that’s because it can be a really useful tool in pointing out the ridiculousness of gender roles. In this case it was just a thing that happened. Like everything else in the book it’s just there for…reasons?

    • Meg Morley

      You’re a nice person 😀 It filled me with too much rage and nausea to escape the 1 star.

  7. Ayanami Faerudo

    Okay, that’s it. I’m not ready the book. I have this as an e-galley and I read about two chapters before I set it aside because I wasn’t feeling it. I’ve been reading a lot of bad reviews about it and now I really don’t feel like continuing it. To think I was eagerly anticipating it.
    Ayanami Faerudo recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday (126)My Profile

    • Meg Morley

      Yeah, no. It doesn’t get better, only worse. I understand your pain, it sounded like it should’ve been so good!

  8. Kim

    You are much stronger than I am. I made it to 27% and quit. Literal *rape houses* as plot device. Whhhhhyyyyy. Raagggggeeee. You’re so spot on with everything here. What on earth was up to the constant chocolate comparisons?? Mystifying. I salute you for finishing this, Meg.
    Kim recently posted…Cruel Beauty: reviewMy Profile

    • Meg Morley

      I should’ve quit, I haven’t the foggiest why I forced myself through it. SO. MUCH. AWFUL.

  9. P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

    Brilliant review. I thought this book sounded a lot like Prophecy, which fell flat for me, so I didn’t want Defy. I know you didn’t like it for some very valid reasons and that’s pretty much all it takes for me to avoid this book like the plague. 🙂
    P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex recently posted…WoW – GildedMy Profile

  10. Natalie M.

    Love your review!
    The MC sort of sounds like Caelena from Throne of glass. We’re told that she’s awe-strikingly kick-ass, but not once does she demonstrate this kickassery.
    Definitely not going to touch Defy.

    • Meg Morley

      Even Throne of Glass Caelena could walk all over this girl (although, have you read Crown of Midnight? Caelena makes up for her lack of ass-kicking in ToG in a MAJOR way.)

  11. Cait

    HECK YEAH. Finally. At first I only saw “ohgosh I loved this book” reviews and I did NOT get it. (I think I gave it one more star, because I’m nice like that.) But seriously…what the heck was with the breeding houses?! And what the heck was with Alexa?! She was only a tough fighter until everyone knew she was a girl…and then she had to be saved again and again and AGAIN. (And, I totally like kick-butt girls, but how could she be the best fighter ever? Logistically? Aren’t there, like, heavier guys that could have won against her? *ahem*) I really struggled with this book. Great review! I’m with you! XD
    Cait recently posted…I don’t have a skull, discussions, and great Disney hairMy Profile

    • Meg Morley

      It was so disappointing. I HATE when female characters are whimpified like that. I see what you’re saying about the heavier guys being able to take her out, though I think it’d depend on fighting style. Example, Jujitsu is all about small opponents using leverage to take down bigger opponents. Either way I am NOT buying Alexa taking down ANYONE.

  12. Natalie

    Great review.

    I would have read this book for the cover alone (even though it is far too close to how I pictured a front cover of one of my WIP. Dammit).

    It sounds horrendous and I will stay well away.

    Yes to Cashore and Tamora Pierce (curtails urge to scream and shout at you – ALANNAAA). I shall have to check out Alison Goodman though. I’ve been looking for a new author to read 🙂
    Natalie recently posted…Sandry’s Book – 3/5My Profile

    • Meg Morley

      OOH! Check out Eon/Eona by Alison Goodman. THAT is how you do a girl disguised as boy and joining the army.

      And yes, the cover is very misleading. I saw it and immediately thought Graceling! which, hahahahaha no.

      • Natalie Crown

        Just looked up Eon on GR and it definitely looks like my sort of read. I mean…the word DRAGON does it for me, as well as your recommendation.

        Yes, Graceling is what I thought of too. Alas!

  13. Michelle

    I can only wish to have your skill with gifs. I particularly liked the calling out of tropes. You demolished this book and it looks like quite a few people agree with your assessment. It’s a shame to see a book so clearly disliked, but thanks for your honest review! 🙂
    Michelle recently posted…The Weekly Word: EffluviumMy Profile

    • Meg Morley

      Why thank you! Parks and Rec makes it easy. I hate to rip a book to shreds but UGH IT MADE ME SO ANGRY.

  14. Violette

    Okay, you convinced me not to buy this book and patiently wait to be out in the library. Seriously, I don’t my money to be frolicking into the the trash can.

    • Meg Morley

      Definitely hold out for the library, you are not missing out. I got it as a Kindle deal and $3 was WAY too much to spend on it.

  15. Lily B

    Oh gosh you have so many great points, I reviewed this and thinking back on it I should have sat on it more. I did find some parts that made me want to bang my head against the wall, like seriously. I half expected her to end up in that horrible house because somehow EVERYONE knew that she was a girl… everyone she met knew she was a girl.

    I loved the part when they told her to act cause she was starting to slip

    and she was like, wait I am slipping? HOW?

    and it’s like…
    well if you didn’t drool over the two men in front of everyone and played slobber face with the Prince maybe it wouldn’t show?

    Ha! the triangle, made me so angry.
    Lily B recently posted…Review: Ruined (The Eternal Balance #1) by Jus AccardoMy Profile

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