My copy was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Some things may be changed in the final version.
Defy is Sara B. Larson's debut YA novel and my first eARC from NetGalley. I was a little wary of picking up this title based on the emphasized romance in the synopsis, but I took a chance. I think I can best sum this up as Mulan meets Twilight. Alex is masquerading as a boy in the army/Prince's Guard and there's a magical background and a love triangle. Had the story focused in on the Mulan elements, I think I would have liked it. Unfortunately, it was almost all romance and love triangle.
What I liked:
I was interested in some of the supporting characters, namely the other members of the Prince's guard; they seemed like fun guys with a lot to bring to the table, and I would have liked to learn more about them.
I'm still confused about this fantasy world (South America-inspired? South Asia? India?), but I liked the general idea of two warring nations with an imperial catalyst and magical soldiers in the middle of a jungle. Again, though, I wish there were more. The lack of world building made it difficult to invest myself in the world's politics and wars. It wasn't fleshed out enough.
Marcel, Alex's twin brother, and Rylan, a member of the Prince's Guard and Alex's friend. I don't know whether Marcel was a "genius,' but he seemed to be a good big brother and I'm a sucker for those characters. Rylan was a genuinely good-hearted guy, loyal and understanding. He would have been great except for a certain piece of dialogue near the end that resulted in my taking away his Man Card.
What I didn't like:
Alex/Alexa: She is supposed to be an unbeatable fighter who has been in the army and passed for a boy for years. Her narration and actions made this premise completely unrealistic for me. There was no way she had not been exposed as a girl after three years in the army/Prince's guard unless her brother was both Einstein and Houdini.
Perspective: Alex's narration sounded like a hormone-crazed, lovesick teenager. I think the story would have been more enjoyable in third person point-of-view or from a different character's perspective.
Telling v. Showing: The majority of the first-person narration centered on Alex telling us stuff, often romance related. There were few fully described, played out scenes; and the scenes we did get often centered on her romantic interactions with the love interest(s) instead of the war, kidnapping, etc.
The Romance: I don't like love triangles, and in this case, there was nothing to be angsty about once Alex made a choice ... which she did. But then she kept whining and agonizing over it. It got old fast, especially when there were matters of life, death and country at hand.
I was pretty disappointed with this one. The story had some interesting ideas, but they were never fleshed out and took backseat to romance. In the middle of a war and being kidnapped. Alex was supposed to be a butt kicking soldier, but all she thought or talked about was the love triangle. She was the poster child for women who over-think relationships and, on several occasions, a damsel in distress. Apparently there's a sequel in the works, and I hope it does more world building and explains more about the magic system.