review: defy

Defytitle: defy
author: sara b. larson
series: defy, #1
publisher: scholastic sress
number of pages: 336
in a nutshell: fast-paced, engrossing, captivating and powerful story
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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I’ve never been an avid reader of high fantasy. Or more specifically: If I read high fantasy, the book has to be good, be able to captivate and fascinate me, make me  forget about “real life” all around myself.  Otherwise, my day is just bitched up. Why? I know it does sound strange, but: Although the genre clearly belongs to the fiction category, I often find myself lost in cheesy high fantasy books with a cheesily-written plot which is easy to see through (e.g.: evil sorcerer must be defeated, so  in order to find answers to the problem, the protagonist has to take a dangerous journey with some buddies which leads them through dark forests), so the story ends up being ridiculous and ludicrous.

Nevertheless, the author manages to stand out with her debut novel by simply shifting the focus of the book. No matter what, you’ll find yourself more than once overwhelmed by the emotions evoked by the book. There were so many things I liked about the book!

In the prologue, an issue is taken up which is often badly conveyed or poorly approached: The pain you feel when you lose half of your family, as it is for Alexa whose parents are killed by the army at the beginning of the book. She can survive with her twin brother Marcel at the last second but she must pay with her own identity, as from now on, she  has to pretend to be a boy to prevent being taken to the “breeding house”, where girls are sexually abused and raped since they’re supposed to give birth to boys for the Army. The author doesn’t mince matters to describe injustice and violence uncensoredly that are ever-present in Alexa’s Kingdom.
In addition Alexa’s love for her brother runs like a golden thread through the book – which was surprising for me as strong sibling relationships often either get lost or remain simply secondary in books; this and the love for her family are the sources of her inner strength for the fight for the safety of her kingdom.

Moreover, Alexa is not depicted as a helpless, selfish, headlong-acting, brainless person, but as a strong, marked-by-strokes-of-fate – and what is more – dutiful fighter, who has even managed to become a member of the crown prince’s personal “elite guard”. No man or soldier can outperform her fighting skills. Basically, she’s like a better version of Mulan – she’s even kind of half-Chinese as her world in which she lives, is devided into three kingdoms: Blevon (Asian), Antion (white – Alexa’s home) as wells as Dansiian (black). Antion has been at war with Blevon, ever since Blevonese sorcerers had killed the Queen of Antion. Oh, and sorcery has been officially forbidden in Antion ever since.Mulan

Unfortunately, this book also contains a love triangle (which, btw, is promoted on the blurb, so yeah, it was my own decision to check out this love triangle ). In this case, first love interests were Rylan, Alexa’s friend from the elite guard as well as Prince Damian himself. I would’ve really liked Rylan to be Alexa’s best friend, as e.g. is Roar for Aria in the UTNS series. Nonetheless he turned out to be a down-to-earth and loyal character, who could share Alexa’s pain and hopes in many respects she’s not always the “invincible” girl (or boy); ultimately, most of her life has merely been a façade, an image she had to create and fight for. She is accepted for things she never did as a whole.
Damian’s and Alexa’s relationship – on the other hand – is defined by their “soulematesship” which connects both of them: Their sense of duty, their mutual empathy, dreams for a better future. As time goes by, their mutual attraction as well as many similarities in their lives are no longer deniable.Their trust in each other plays another big role in their lives which is tested more than once, that also triggered lots of surprising twists in the book.  Once we get to know Damian better – who, at the beginning, seems to be a dull, lazy and shallow prince – he turns out to be a desperate, yet purposeful and self-determined person, fighting for a better future for his kingdom. The more he and Alexa spend time together, the more they know that an eventual splitup will only result in heartbreak. And Damian’s last secret….I really didn’t see it coming!
Insofar I didn’t find the love-triangle that disturbing since firstly, Alexa is able to choose a boy, and secondly, it forced the feelings of all of the three characters to the surface. Especially those of Damian. At the beginning, he was a hard nut to crack, but he turned out to be a much more admirable character due to his love for Alexa.

Although the story doesn’t take place in a “real world”, it often raises questions that have a sense of universitality. Issues such as How can you speak of your own identity if you can’t show your true colors? Would you be the “martyr” if you could ensure a better world for your loved ones?  What if duty fails? are taken up that give you some time to think about your own situation. (I know it sounds dramatic but really – it isn’t.)

Defy is a “visually”-in-your-head stunning, kickass and powerful book about family, friendship, inner strength and the everlasting fight for your own morally-justified dreams. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series (which doesn’t come out until January next year!!! omg!). But I’ll definitely check out more books in this genre!

#TeamDamian for the win

#TeamDamian for the win

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