“Sometimes it seemed like those with the most rotten interiors were blessed with the most exquisite exteriors.”
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?
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There is an ongoing war between the Kingdom of Antion and its neighboring country, Blevon, making life inside Antion difficult to its people. During the war Alexa & her twin brother Marcel witness their parents killed by a powerful sorcerer which they assumed to be from Blevon. In order to avoid being separated from Marcel and end up in the breeding house, Alexa pretend to be a boy as Alex.
Together with Marcel they joined the King’s army, and with Alex/a’s impressive fighting skills and the same looks of her twin brother, no one bother to question or even think about her sexuality. She joined the Prince’s personal guards, and become the best fighter of Antion. If not for her young age she may even be the first in command from all the Prince’s guard. She is a great fighter trained by her father, not even Marcel who was trained by the same man can defeat her. But as skillful as she is, Alex/a is no match against a powerful sorcerer, who abducted her, the Prince, and Rylan (also one of the Prince’s guard). While captured Alex/a’s identity is easily at stake. What will she do if someone find out that the best fighter of Antion is in fact a girl? Can she avoid the breeding house forever? Is she good enough to save the Prince, Rylan, and herself? Can she end the devastating war?
For a newly debut author, Sara B. Larson‘s writing is surprisingly captivating. The palace of Antion, the devastating war, and the jungle is drawn with ease for readers to easily imagine. It’s not fully detailed but it provides enough imaginary for readers to play and enough set-up for this first installment of highly potential fantasy series.
Even the brief mention of griefs and sufferings from the breeding house is horrifyingly palpable. The way the author portrayed those griefs and pain were very convincing even without putting gruesome details. I sometimes shiver reading those parts that I have to stop imagining the possible scenes to come. I’m just glad that the author know where to stop feeding details to her readers.
Defy used the usual ingredients of fantasy novels, there are sorcerers, magics, kings, prince, and epic journey. But in-spite of a formulatic elements Defy managed to differ in most fantasy books I have read recently. Instead of creating impossibly miraculous things, or high fantasy tales, Larson’s deployed formulatic things and blended them to the real world. In doing this she made Alexa’s world not only believable but also interesting. It’s like the magical and real world were blend seamlessly by the author, pushing the readers to enjoy without doubt the world and the characters.
Alex/a as the main character is obviously strong not just physically but more as a person. Having witness her parents death then pretend to be a boy overnight isn’t easy to pull off but she managed to do so, fooling almost everyone around her. She is a skilled fighter but she isn’t all tough, because inside, she is still a seventeen year old girl. And behind all the acts and pretensions is a soft-hearted girl who love her brother so much and a true soldier who will serve as best as she can.
“True beauty is what lies inside of us, not what the world sees. A beautiful shell that houses a vile soul becomes sullied over time. But outer shell, imperfect as it may be, that houses a beautiful soul shines with that beauty, radiating it for all who have eyes to see.”
Then we have Prince Damian, whom I believe is the real gem of the story. I keep on questioning his motives, trying to solve the puzzle that he is while reading. I wasn’t sure which way the author is going but I know that behind all the facade there are mysteries about him waiting to be unfolded. And I keep my hope that his secrets are more good than evil. Figuring him and her motives is really fun. I enjoyed discovering new things about him as Alex/a did.
On the whole, Defy is a beautifully crafted fantasy novel that offers an interesting world, engaging plot, and likeable characters. This is an impressive work for a debut author which simply means that I’ll be coming back again to this world once Larson’s next book comes out next year.
*This review is based on a copy I received courtesy of the publisher, Sholastic Press Philippines in exchange for an honest opinion.