Defy (Defy #1) by Sara B. Larson

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Truthfully, from the blurb, this book aced every cliched story about YA Fantasy with main female protagonist. It have a first person POV girl character who hid her identity as a boy. A triangle love romance with a prince and a friend-zoned guy friend. A character who have the ability to fight better than the rest of the guys her age and older. And a kingdom that need saving. Basically, the amalgam of Pierce’s Alanna, Cashore’s Graceling, Maas’ Throne of Glass, Lahoux’s Thief, Fantaghiro, Hua Mulan and many others stories like it. At least, it was the better likable part of all the amalgams of the first female characters like Alexa since I completely dislike Graceling and Throne of Glass.

What I like most about “Defy” is that the story didn’t afraid to tell things as it is. It was possibly a complete feminist story even with all the horrifics that happened to all the female characters in this book. Alexa isn’t just a girl who disguise herself as a boy to be a knight or to honor her family or because its the only possible way for someone with her ability. No. Alexa became a boy to save herself from being forced into prostitution. Thats the honest truth of the story and it didn’t afraid to let in all the gory detail of the girls being raped repetitively in breeding house in less than three chapters. All female characters in this story was victimized and yes, it was a hard topic to venture especially in YA Fantasy with young demographic, but frankly, it made Alexa’s motivation more justified than every girl-to-boy warrior story I’ve read and made everyone else’s motivation superficial next to hers.

Weirdly enough, Alexa probably is the only gender bending character who suck at being a guy. It made sense since she had a twin brother with her in this charade but when she lost him, everything seem to unravel around her and so was her identity. There were some parts that didn’t made sense in the story especially how some characters simply know that she’s a girl. Since its a first POV type story, I guess, its a lot harder to know what others think but I best assume that they’re observant enough.

The relationship between her character and the characters around the story was a bit raw and unembellished as expected coming from a series. I like that the romance element in this book doesn’t keep the character distracted about the underlying storyline. Yes, there are some drama going on but mostly it was Alexa suddenly being in a situation between two guys and she didn’t know how on earth she got into it which is much better than what Alanna had. Since the blurb already spoil the love triangle parts. The story was actually sustained on sexual tension between the Prince and her when she still think that he didn’t know about her gender and think that he’s a spoiled prince which was just a facade in silent defiance against his tyrannic father. The awkward situation began when her friend and brother-in-arms revealed that he knew about her all along and was in love with her far longer than her attraction with the prince and was unable to act on his love because what Alexa felt to him was as a friend instead of a lover. Its complicated as all sort of love does. But what the author did right with this story was to use Alexa to remind the readers gain that although there are romance in the story, its still a very dark and political heavy story of an ongoing war and the rape of a country and its people and a conspiracy that would end everything or save everyone.

For me, the blurb nearly made me turn the book away but the book saved itself. The story was fast paced and unpredictable. I tried to think it was predictable since it was in a way like Tamora Pierce’s Alanna but the characters in this book was older than Alanna who began her journey as a child. This story isn’t a coming of age like Alanna. Its about survival and as it title said, of defiance. As much as similarities goes, “Defy” is a unique book on its own. Its emotionally intense and mature and really violent even for a YA Fantasy. It might not be anyone’s cup of tea but its definitely mine. The ending of this book alone set this book apart from every books I mentioned in this review and for that alone, I can’t wait for the continuation of Alexa’s story.

The ARC was given by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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