Monday, January 6, 2014

ARC Book Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

Title: Defy
Author: Sara B. Larson
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: Jan 7, 2014

Cover Impressions: The cover does not stand out particularly well.  The blade is interesting - but doesn't appear to have any significance to the story.  I like the faint impressions of leaves in the background that link to the jungle setting but the color of the title font is throwing me off - it just doesn't appear to "go".  

The Gist: Alexa Hollen is a natural born fighter.  She has spent years training with her father.  When the war reaches their home and her parents are killed in a Sorcerer's fire, she and her twin brother must flee.  In order to avoid the breeding houses where orphan girls are sent to bear sons to become soldiers, Alexa cuts off her hair and becomes Alex, prize fighter and guard to Prince Damian.  

Defy is the debut novel for Sara B. Larson, and you can tell.  The story is not particularly well conceived and, despite having a female main character who is prized for her fighting skills, it reeks of sexist attitudes.  A major plot point revolves around the existence of "breeding houses" for young girls.  Orphans are brought here and repeatedly raped in order to produce soldiers for the King's army.   Alexa avoids this fate by disguising herself as a boy and becoming a soldier and eventually guard to the prince.  Even though she has achieved a level of proximity to the king and prince that most assassin's would dream of, and a reputation as a fearsome fighter, Alexa does not actually DO anything to stop these atrocities until fate forces her hand.

The author appears to have some issues around "male behavior" and "female behavior".  The story draws some very clear lines around what is believed appropriate for each sex.  I realize that this story is MEANT to challenge those norms - but it doesn't.  In fact, when another character guesses that Alex is actually a girl, Alexa herself claims that she hadn't been acting like a girl "I'd carried Tanoori with three other men without complaining once for days.  I helped set up the tent, I took it down, I did everything every other man here did."  Am I meant to believe that only a girl would complain about trying to save another person's life or that only men are capable of setting up and taking down a tent and that Alexa should be considered "manly" for doing so with only her weak feminine muscles to help her?  In fact, it appears that every time Alexa is hindered in doing her job she blames it on the "female" part of her, particularly, emotions and desires.  She also seems incapable of resisting the attention of any man and spends a great deal of time describing their physique. To the detriment of my eyes which have begun to tire from the number of times they are spent spinning in my head. 

We also have to deal with a very weak love triangle which, I assume, is going to be the basis of some inner turmoil for Alexa as the series (there is at least one more book planned) goes on.  I actually held particularly high hopes for Alexa when I was introduced to the young girl who had bluffed her way into the Prince's guard and rose to become their best fighter - however, as soon as that fact is established and very shortly before it is revealed that her secret was not so secret after all, Alexa becomes the damsel in distress who needs constant rescue from the two men who are now fighting for her attention.  

I also wish the author had made some different choices around the timing of the story.  If it had started earlier in Alexa's life we could have gotten attached the Alexa's parents and brother.  As it is written - their deaths did not have any emotional impact and Alexa's belief that she has to appear stoic and "manly" (insert eye roll) mean that we do not see much of the impact that it has on her character either.  Some earlier development would also have allowed for some back story into why this war was being fought and avoided some issues with "telling" letter on.  Instead, once we get to the reveal-the-whole-plot part of the story we have long explanations of years worth of intrigue and secrets.  This appears to be the author's way of compensating for the fact that there is very little action in this book.   

I understand that there are several other one star reviews coming from people who simply could not bring themselves to finish the book, and I can respect that.  I did, however, see some redemption by the end.  Alexa manages to start making some decisions on her own and does show some character growth (though not nearly as much as I would like) which allowed me to raise my rating by a star.  I sincerely hope that the author is able to take care of some of the sexist issues before the publication of the second book and that Alexa is allowed to grow into her own as a character, rather than simply spending the book bouncing from one love interest to the other.    

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Use of "Breeding Houses" that feature the repeated rape and pregnancy of young girls, Swordplay, Death by Arrow, Death by fire, 
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None


Post a Comment