Book Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

17406847Title: Defy 

Author: Sara B. Larson

Format / Length: Hardback / 336 pages

Publisher / Date Published: Scholastic Press / January 7th 2014

Category / Genre: Young Adult / High-fantasy

Source: Library

Goodreads |

Description: 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?

damn animated GIF

Defy, defy, defy. Even days after I’ve finished it I’m still uncertain about how I feel about it. Did I like it? Yes. Did I think it was the amazing, beautiful and incredible read I thought it was going to be? Unfortunately, no. I know I will read the sequel, Ignite — and maybe I’ll enjoy it more now as I will know what to expect from it.

Defy was described as a lush read with a tough, kickass heroine.

But was it, really?

No . . . I didn’t think so; and actually, the worldbuilding and characters was where this novel fell flat, as well as the romance. Well, romances.

Here, though, was the best thing about the novel: it was so quick and easy to read. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump — but once I got into the story it literally took me only a few hours to devour the novel. The writing style is simple, yes, but so, so easy to read. That, I thought, was where the novel excelled in creating a page-turner, because it is so easily written.

I truly understand where the author was trying to go with the novel, and as a fellow fantasy-writer I can appreciate it, but I felt like she missed the mark in many areas of the novel that could’ve been fantastic. Take, for example, our main character — Alexa. Or, Alex, as she’s known from the rest of her guard. In the typical sense of the word, she was “badass” and “tough” but I don’t believe that was enough to sell her character to me as a reader. She was a little . . . and I hate to say this . . . but boring. The only thing I really knew about her was that she was a good fighter. That was it. When you create a badass character, I feel as though the author needs to make her flawed in a way that makes her loveable and realistic at the same time.

the lord of the rings animated GIF

Speaking of characters, a lot of them die. Which is a common thread when it come to fantasy, right? And that’s fine; it highlights a brutal world. But when it comes to death in fantasy, you want the reader to feel it, not just witness it. And I felt for a novel that was written in first person — which is usually much more emotive than third — I didn’t feel much. Even characters that were close to our protagonist, I felt oddly disconnected to the whole thing.

Love triangles. They can either be good — or bad. I wish, I truly wish from the bottom of my heart, wish that I could say I loved it. So in Defy our two main love interests are Rylan — one of the boys in Alexa’s guard — and Prince Damian. Not sure I really cared for either one of them. The thing that bothers me so much about love triangles is always the main character’s attitude toward them — she’s always bouncing between the two, with conflicting monologue that is tiresome to read. And, I thought that the story was too focused on the romance. If the author had pulled back on it a little I think she would have had more of a chance to expand on the world she had created — which I speak about in the next paragraph.

Next issue I had with Defy was the worldbuilding. Or — more like it — the lack of worldbuilding. Here’s the total of what I knew of Defy’s worldbuilding: there were jungles. And a monarchy system. Jungles are cool, don’t get me wrong . . . but what else? A vague mention of “God”. WHAT GOD? This is high-fantasy, a whole new world, and I can’t just assume things about a religion that’s not even there. There was also a distinct lack of history in the world; bits and pieces of it scattered here and there, most of which was cobbled together in a confusing manner, and I didn’t really get it. Something about sorcerers? And evil people? When the worldbuilding is stretched as thin as it was in Defy it’s hard for me to look past it in a positive way. You can’t be fully involved in a world you don’t even understand. Yes, I realize this is a series, but even so, this story almost lost me at its poorly developed world.

So, all in all, not a great high-fantasy.

Enjoyable in some regards, but also underdeveloped.

Have you read Defy? Let me know what you think. Also, how important is the worldbuilding of a fantasy novel for you? For me, it’s pretty much everything.


16 thoughts on “Book Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

  1. What a bummer with this book, it seems like it fell flat in all aspects :( I can usually forgive bad worldbuilding/characterisation but not both of them at once, especially not with a book is within the fantasy genre. And the romance…so cliched and typical. Definitely not a book I’d be picking up, I hope you enjoy the next one a lot more Kara xx

  2. Ugh, bad world building sucks! On another note, this book looks and sounds so similar to Graceling that I can’t help wondering if it’s a bit of a rip off. What do you think?

    • Hm, that’s an interesting observations. No, it’s NOTHING like Graceling if you ask me. If anything, it’s more similar to Tamora Pierce’s ALANNA series. But really, it’s unique in its own way; I just wished it had MORE depth when it came to the characters / world.

  3. I haven’t read Defy, and I probably won’t in the future, having read so many reviews complaining the same thing that ticks me off. But I’ve read Throne of Glass–and felt pretty much the same as you did about Defy. It’s like if it’s young adult, there GOT to be romance. Well, no. The same with the worldbuilding–there isn’t enough, and worldbuilding IS the one of most important things in fantasy, especially high fantasy. It’s quite a shame to see books with so much potential turn out to be not what I had expected.

    • To be completely honest, I pretty much NEED some sort of romance in the books I read. It’s just what I like. But with this I felt like the romance overrode the main storyline a little too much. I felt like the author could have expanded more on the actual characters and worldbuilding rather than setting up the romance, but eh — that’s just my opinion. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who loved this one. It just wasn’t for me. :)

  4. Haven’t read Defy but world building is what I live for in fantasy. I mean, it’s an expectation, right? You’ve created a whole world and it has to be real, to the reader, to the characters – to the whole thing. It’s where a lot of fantasy novels fail for me I guess, because without successful world building the whole story pulls apart and collapses.

  5. I’ve been looking for more mild fantasy reads, and although it sounds like the emotion was lacking, this might be exactly what I’m looking for. I can see what you mean about being promised that tough, kick ass heroine. It sounds like she was tough, but pretty undeveloped beyond that. That’s a real shame. With the premise, it could have been awesome, rather than just a meh kind of read. Lovely review Kara, going to check this one out regardless <3

  6. You basically summed up ALL MY FEELINGS. hah! Except I was very sure I didn’t like it when I finished. I was frustrated because Alex was so…bland. And ergh, I felt the whole love-triangle totally made them PAUSE THE PLOT so they could hash it out in the jungle. Aren’t there important things to be thinking about?! Um, like staying alive? *Sigh* And, I’m not being sexist or anything, but I was dubious at how Alex/Alexa could be so so strong as a fighter against any many in the kingdom. Surely someone would squash her from pure weight, right? Especially in swordplay. *shrugs* But I don’t really know, so I shall shhh.
    Totally agree with this review!

    • From the review I’ve read, pretty much the main complaints are the romance and the worldbuilding, aha. xD Ooh, you make a good point there! I dunno, really. Men are biologically stronger, right? And I suppose when you think about it Alexa being the the BEST fighter isn’t realistic at all.

  7. I totally know what you mean about a book that just goes through the motions without really adding a lot of passion or feeling to it you know? Like fair enough stuff happens but make us feel something! The world building would really bug me as well. I need to know about the world in detail for fantasy and dystopians! Great review Kara.

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