Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review of Defy by Sara Larson, Or, This Is Why They Don't Let Girls Be Guards

On the cover: “A wonderful tale of adventure, romance, and embracing your true self.  Alexa is a heroine readers will love to follow!”- Marie Lu, bestselling author of the LEGEND series.  

Marie Lu, you have done me wrong.  I can only assume that Sara Larson is a friend of yours and you’re being supportive, otherwise I don’t know how you could have been an impartial reader of this novel and think it was up to par with YA novels such as your own.

This could have been an enjoyable novel if I hadn’t just read the Legend Series.  And re-read the Hunger Games.  And finished Divergent.  In a vacuum, there is much less to criticize about this novel, but in contrast with the YA novels I love, that keep me awake at night, that both surprise me with their ingenuity as well as speak to me on a personal level by realistically portraying human interaction and emotion… Defy simply did not deliver.

In the places it should have been fanciful and a stretch of the imagination, it fell flat.  In the last year I’ve read (or re-read) worlds where a whole wizarding society exists, where the color of your eyes indicates a superpower great or small, where children are thrown into an arena to fight each other to the death on live television.  So when presented with a woman knight in a medieval monarchy, I wasn’t impressed.  It’s been done, and Tamora Pierce does it better.
No contest.
I found myself caught up on details that didn’t make sense, when maybe I should have just tabled my disbelief and gone along with the circumstances. For example, How did Alexa best the captain in a swordfight when she was a mere 14-year-old girl?  Yeah, she practiced with her father, but that does not explain how she could be the “the fastest, the most skilled at archery, unparallelled at swordsmanship.”  That seems like a REAL stretch, and unfounded other than some passing comments that she worked really hard.  Foundation is important; an author needs to show me examples that would lead me to believe that Alex being #1 skilled guard is believable (same with creating a foundation for love interests.  Rylan’s “I’ll always love you” and Damian’s “It’s always been you” is such bullshit.  That came out of nowhere.  There were no indications leading up to these declarations).  Never underestimate the importance of foundation.

I also find the timetable pretty unbelievable. It seemed like taking Alex along in the “kidnapping” was a last minute decision… then it turns out she is the key to defeating the sorcerer… then they only give her two weeks to learn how to defeat the sorcerer?  But don’t worry because all it takes is a pep talk from Damian, telling Alex to “channel her anger” for her to suddenly be able to take on a super powerful dark magician.  If only I had a Damian pep talk when I was training for a marathon (“Kate, just channel your anger and run harder.”  Thanks, Damian.  So simple.  Why didn’t I think of that?).
Just go out there and do it!
Which brings me to… the love triangle.  She’s a girl.  Everyone knew it apparently, but only now have they decided not to treat her as a guard who has proven herself, but as a child who needs to have her tears wiped away and face constantly touched and brought to her room to rest.  What upsets me most is that Alex plays into it.  This stoic soldier who has learned to control her emotions (so she says) now can’t stop crying when she’s sad, frustrated, happy, relieved.  She won’t stop blushing every time she sees Rylan or Damian’s well-muscled body parts.  She’s suddenly “constantly aware that she’s a girl” which, frankly, wasn’t hard for me to remember since every other page you are acutely cognizant of your gender due to one of these men’s penetrating gaze.
*pentrating gaze*
It’s also dubious that this girl who has “never allowed herself to be attracted to anyone before” suddenly feels so at ease on the planes of love.  Wrapping Damian in her embrace, comforting words and unquestioned security in his love.  Sara Larson would have been better to add some doubt and insecurity.  My chest is bound- does he still think I’m hot?  I’ve never kissed before- am I doing this right?  OMG, I just finished a hard workout, do I smell bad? Sara Larson, if you’re going to write a fantasy novel, you have to give us some emotional foundation.
Awkward First Kisses
Last thought: Breeding houses *shiver* and when Damian tells Alexa that he plans to eradicate them when he is king, I was hoping for a little more encouragement or pushing from her, but all we got was a “That’s so great.  Yeah, I can wait til you’re king.”  Um, maybe do something about the systematic rape now-ish.



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