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?
I was extremely excited to read Defy by Sara B. Larson when I picked it up at work. I love mistaken identity plots, especially when it involves a gender twist. One of my favourite Shakespeare plays is Twelfth Night, or its modern day version She’s The Man, starring my favourite childhood actress Amanda Bynes.
I love the inner dialogue that you get to read in this kind of mistaken gender identity book, and really understand the day to day struggles they go through to hide who they are. Defy started off well with ‘Alex’ ,aka Alexa, fighting off her feelings for a fellow guard to maintain her ruse and protect her life. The beginning was a good mix of the excitement from her guard duties, her intriguing ability to best everyone at sword fighting, and the undercurrent of possible romance. I understood and respected her decisions pre-kidnap, as they were intelligent and rational.
Unfortunately once Alexa, Rylan, and the Prince were kidnapped this balance basically went to shit (excuse my language). Alexa became so focused on her romantic feelings that her romance is practically all that’s focused on for the last 2/3 of the book. She doesn’t seem to want to figure out why they were all kidnapped, or ask questions as to why the prince is so calm about the kidnap. She seems to be completely resigned to the idea that they can’t escape and therefore doesn’t even try. She instead varies between makeout sessions and intense romantic talks with one of the two boys (pssh, I’m not telling you who) the whole time they’re kidnapped.
At one point she is even making out with said boy while the other boy is laying right on the other side of her (because of course all three of them have to share a tent, whyyyy?). Now I get that you might get carried away in the heat of new romance, but not with someone else laying right next to you (unless she just did like 10 shots of tequila????). The whole love triangle plot just ended up getting really weird for me.
In the end I did not enjoy where this book took Alexa’s story. I believe it focused too much on her super weird love triangle, which led her to irrational and frankly stupid decisions. Her character was not developed very well and I don’t feel like I saw her grow as a person, which I don’t always find necessary in a story, but in the case of a girl who’s been pretending to be a boy for years and is now finally able to discover who she is as a woman? Ya, there should probably be some growth. I had to force myself to finish this book and would probably not recommend it to anyone looking to read a fantasy teen read, unless you mostly want romance.
If You Enjoy Mistaken Gender Identity Plots:
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
The Disreputable History of Franky Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Pirates! by Celia Rees