Review: Defy (Larson)

AUTHOR: Sara B. Larson
SERIES: Defy, book 1
PUBLISHER: Scholastic
PUBLICATION DATE: January 7, 2014
ISBN: 9780545597586
PAGES: 336
SOURCE: NetGalley
GENRE: fantasy

SUMMARY: Years ago, Alexa and her twin brother Marcel fled the burning jungle where their parents were killed by an evil sorcerer. In order to avoid the “breeding house,” Marcel cuts off all Alexa’s hair so she can pass as a boy. Now 17, Alexa and Marcel serve as royal guards to spoiled Prince Damian, whose father King Hector has imprisoned his people and forced children into being either soldiers or breeders. Only Marcel knows that the Prince’s best guard Alex is really his twin sister Alexa, a scared 17-year old girl.

REVIEW: There is a Seinfeld episode where Jerry dates a girl who is pretty in certain lighting and scary-looking in other lighting. George calls her a “Two-Face,” like the Batman villain. And that’s exactly how I felt about this book. I absolutely LOVED the first half. You have Alexa, a kick-butt girl who will do anything to survive and stay with her twin brother. She’s tough. She’s smart. She’s a brilliant fighter who is practically unbeatable. You have a corrupt king who must somehow be stopped. There’s a breeding house, where orphan girls go, and, well, I’m sure you can guess what happens there. There is a hint of romance, but at least at the beginning, it isn’t the main story.

And then, about halfway through, it all comes crashing down. Alexa sees our spoiled, lazy prince’s ripped abs, and it’s curtains for my tough girl. Gone is her resilient, anything-to-survive attitude. Suddenly, Alexa becomes whiny, needy, and such a stereotypical GIRL. As if that’s not enough, there is another boy–her best friend, as if we haven’t heard that before–who has known Alexa’s secret all along and has loved her from afar for years. Alexa is conflicted between the two boys, and much of the kick-butt stuff going on in the first half is replaced with Alexa trying to figure out who she loves and wants to be with.

So who does our lovely Alexa choose? SPOILER HERE–HIGHLIGHT TO SEE…Does she choose the loyal best friend who knows her better than anyone and has loved her and helped keep her safe all these years? NO! She chooses instead to fall in insta-love with the prince who she could barely stand to be around for most of her time as a guard. The prince whose personality is almost as vapid as Alexa’s. The prince who lied to her and intentionally deceived her all while asking her to trust him. WTH?

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE romance in my fantasy stories. I love it to the point that if it isn’t there at all, it feels like something is missing. But I have to believe it. I have to fall in love with the characters myself, characters who are well-developed who make good and bad decisions, for better or for worse. Sadly, none of the three major characters are developed well. I didn’t even LIKE the stupid prince, and I know little about Rylan (the best friend) beyond his love for the lovely Alexa.

And how can I forget the world-building? It’s easy–there was none. There’s this castle surrounded by a rainforest jungle area. There’s some other kingdoms far away trying to usurp King Hector’s vice-like grip on his people’s freedom. There are some sorcerers who it appears were born with magical abilities. And um…well, that’s it.

THE BOTTOM LINE: This book is a Two-Face. The first half is great; the second half just made me mad. Romance overruns the plot, and characters and the fantasy world are grossly underdeveloped. Skip it.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: It’s not out yet, but I do not plan to get it. Despite my irritation with it, the breeding house scenes are pretty horrific and mature for middle schoolers.

READALIKES: Graceling (Cashore); Fire Horse Girl (Honeyman)


  • Overall: 1/5
  • Creativity: 2/5
  • Characters: 1/5
  • Engrossing: 3/5
  • Writing: 1/5
  • Appeal to teens: 2/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 2/5


  • Language: mild
  • Sexuality: medium–some kissing; breast binding; the breeding house scenes are disturbing but nothing is shown
  • Violence: mild; sword fighting, bow and arrows, a few deaths
  • Drugs/Alcohol: none
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