"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 was a surprisingly good novel (at least at first) full of fantasy, action, and (of course) romance. That's almost always my least favorite aspect of a book, but I initially liked this novel a lot, despite its guilty pleasure status (after all this book is hardly challenging or literary). It's just a fun read, albeit with a lot of pretty horrifying scenes in it, mixes of awful reality and magic. The world created is pretty bland, with one exception: the awful, awful "breeding houses", where girls are conscripted to produce new armies for the deranged king. They were definitely shudder-worthy, and made up the grim aspect of the book.
The beginning of Defy was just great, introducing a strong heroine and somewhat interesting world. But as the book progressed, action development of many of the characters was put to the side, and for me there was just too much romance. For some parts of the book, almost everything that happened related to the love triangle. At first, I thought Damian was well portrayed, but it became clear that he wasn't actually; maybe there's another side to him, but it's pretty obvious. And Rylan was completely undeveloped; I barely had a sense of who he was. That was really annoying. Rather than being a strong, independent, young woman Alexa basically turned into a whiny, indecisive girl. Also, it seemed to me that she had much bigger things to be worrying about.
Nevertheless, I kept reading because the book definitely drew me in and it was a quick, exciting, suspenseful read. The general set-up was interesting; the world just wasn't developed enough, and it was rather vaguely described. The politics and power-play were fine though; I would have liked more of that, actually.
It strikes me that this book is really similar to Graceling, at least in terms of cover. I mean, both books have a dagger on the front, and the same kind of background color scheme (albeit with different colors, but with that same tone and fading). See what I mean about unoriginality? Graceling's cover is much more beautiful and interesting, both in terms of color, background color, and the dagger itself. Graceling is also undoubtedly a much better book, and although both Defy and Graceling feature female fighters, I prefer Katsa to Alexa by far. Katsa actually is strong, fiery, and independent. Defy does have more magic in it, although come to think of it that wasn't well developed either. The sorcery doesn't really come in until much later.
I raced through Defy and was pretty entertained, but looking back, I'm not really sure what I just read. Characters and plot weren't developed enough, and there was too much focus on romance. And yet, I finished the book, it absorbed me, so it's not necessarily a bad YA novel of its type. I just don't happen to like that type much. It's also Sara B. Larson's debut novel, and there's definitely potential for more. She writes fairly well. It's also possible that some of the issues were in the ARC that I read, though I doubt it. Defy comes out in January; I received a review copy from Scholastic Books.