Sara B. Larson
Source: ARC from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
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?
Defy is an exquisitely character-driven fantasy debut from Ms. Larson, one that gives us a brief explanation for how the kingdom of Antion came to be at war in order to satisfy our curiosity before delving us deep into the life of young Alexa, a heroine who steals our hearts from the moment she appears on page. This is not a fantasy world with a breadth and scope that both dazzles and overwhelms, instead we're treated to a story set on a much smaller scale, drawn in through small intimacies and nuances in Alexa, Prince Damien and the remainder of his guard, so thoroughly invested in their lives we find ourselves hesitating to pick up another book upon finishing this one because we simply can't bring ourselves to let them go just yet.
Alexa is nothing short of extraordinary on every level, a young woman who's fought and won a spot on the prince's guard, her skill with both bow and sword outmatching all those around her. We're forced to endure a rather brutal series of opening chapters, details of just how horrifying life for a young woman under the rule of King Hector is setting us on edge now that we know what awaits Alexa should her secret ever come to light. Though she's a fighter through and through, Ms. Larson imbues her with just enough vulnerability to keep her from being fully defined by the steel she so effortlessly wields, letting us bear witness to her quiet moments when grief and fear exploit cracks in her nearly impenetrable defenses and show us what she can't afford to let anyone else see.
While the synopsis prepares us for a love triangle–one that seems as though it could be prominent enough to be off-putting to those of us who are so tired of this particular romantic shape–Defy proves itself to be one of the rare occasions where the love triangle setup works beautifully, Ms. Larson showing she's as skilled with a blade as her young Alexa, slowly carving up our hearts as the relationships between Alexa, Rylan and Prince Damien unfold. Alexa is not the type of girl who's cavalier about love, prone to waffling or playing games, instead she's forthright with both young men at every turn, fully aware of what's on the line for all three of them given the emotions involved. She has moments of utter confusion since romance has always been something far beyond the scope of her day to day life thanks to the pretense she must uphold for survival, but she's one who thinks before she acts and who makes her preference known to the other party with nothing short of a heavy heart.
The boys, for their part, are equally honest in their feelings; feelings that are more than believable given the three of them have known one another for years. This is not a case of two new guys entering a young woman's life and finding themselves opposing forces in a battle for love, rather it's a raw and painful revelation brought about by an unforeseen change in circumstances. The individual relationships Alexa has with both Rylan and Damien are equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking, their story one that's only enriched by the three points of this particular triangle rather than hindered by them, our cheeks decorated with the tracks of tears shed as battles–emotional and physical–are fought bravely and won, though they are done so with the steepest of costs.
Defy is a breathtaking start to this series, Alexa's journey dark but also undeniably hopeful, and I can only cross my fingers that this next year breaks records with the speed at which it passes by so I can get my grabby hands on the sequel all the quicker.
I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview Sara yesterday on the blog, so if you didn't get a chance yet, be sure and check it out!
This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review.
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.