Larson, Sara B. Defy
7 January 2014, Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Ever since the death of their parents at the hand of Blevonese sorcerers, Marcel and Alexa have been in the prince's guard. For three years, Alexa has been masquerading as Alex, since she is a fierce fighter, and the alternative to being in the guard is to be locked in a breeding facility. She is so well trusted and capable that she is soon chosen to stand guard outside Prince Damian's bedroom, because there is unrest in Antion. Damian's father has been at war with Blevon ever since a sorcerer there killed his wife, and things are heating up. Marcel is killed in an attack, and Tanoori, a girl that Alexa knew in her village, has broken into the palace and tried to kill Damian. Damian is kidnapped, and Alexa and Rylan are taken with him to Blevon, where the two guards find out about Damian's plot to overthrow his father, who is evil and in league with some black sorcerers. There is much fighting, intrigue, and a romantic tangle between Alexa and Damian, and Alexa and Rylan.
Strengths: This showed up as one of the most requested titles on Netgalley, and it sounded a bit like Pierce's Alanna books (or Cashore's Graceling), so I had to try it. It did have some nice touches, like a rainforest/jungle setting and main characters of color, and the plot was fairly easy to follow, which is not always the case with fantasy books with this much political intrigue.
Weaknesses: I had several issues with this that will put it firmly into the high school library realm. The breeding houses don't make a lot of sense, and aren't all that crucial to the plot, but the culture of rape is very violently described. Then, there is the issue with Alexa's inability to stop salivating over Damian and Rylan. Sure, Alanna had her difficult romantic choice as well, but I believed her as a fighter. We are told that Alexa is a good fighter, but I never quite believe it, since she spends most of the book recovering from one wound or another. This also felt like a standard medieval fantasy world, and the jungle setting was a surprise every time it was mentioned.
There are some people who liked it much more. I expect this to get a lot of love from the Young Adult crowd; I guess it's just not as good a fit for Middle Grade.
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