After her parents are killed by sorcerers, Alex flees with her brother Marcel, disguising herself as a boy to escape Antion's brutal treatment of orphaned girls. The two are then initiated into Antion's royal guard, where they must fight to protect the heir to the throne in the war against Blevon.
When assassins threaten to infiltrate Antion, Alex must fight to stay alive and uphold her duty to protect the prince. With her alliances unclear and continuously tested, Alex must decide where her alliance and her heart lie.
The novel begins taught with tension. The visuals of fire and magic were effective, without being overdone. Larson is adept at describing things in a way that allowed me to connect with the protagonist and grasp each moment, almost as though I were there. The novel is written in a tight way. It emphasised the action packed moments and allowed the story to move at a rapid pace, which made it a quicker read.
Defy doesn't dodge the disturbing treatment of women. Alex doesn't pose as a boy to fulfil a dream of being a warrior, she does it to survive, and the herding of orphaned girls as "breeders" was something that the author addressed in all its stark horror.
Nothing was easy for Alex. Caught in a predicament of survival, she had to hold in her anger at the treatment of girls and young women like her in order to survive. It didn't make for a glorified heroine but it did make for a complex and realistic one.
The stakes for Alex were imminent throughout the novel and nothing was clean cut. Her years of being a guard gave her a sense of duty and alliance, but she is sheathed in fear from both sides of the war, those responsible for killing her parents and those who would enslave her if they discovered her secret. It made for a complex inner conflict.
Another source of Alex's emotional struggles was the muffled itch of romantic entanglements, which then proved harder to restrain as the story progressed. The romantic feelings aroused in Alex not only complicated her predicament but added to the already bubbling cauldron of conflict.
The romance in Defy was definitely dominant but the ripple of intrigue throughout the plot and the fast paced narrative balanced it fairly well. While I appreciated the heightened conflict the romantic aspect of the novel induced, I was more drawn in by Larson's tight writing style and well handled use of tension.
The novel stands well on its own but I believe it leads to further installments. I am curious to see how the character dynamics will continue to develop and to read more of Larson's craft.
I would recommend Defy to readers looking for a fast paced and adventurous novel, with a prominent element of romance.
Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse.