Book Review: Sara B. Larson’s “Defy”

I oughta write a book. 

Have you ever thought that? I have thought it so often that a few years ago I enrolled in a writing class offered by our local Arts Council. I met many incredibly talented people in that class, all of whom should write a book.

Well, it turns out that not only have most of them written books, a few of them have even gotten publishing deals. One of them a quite spectacular deal with Scholastic. Sara B. Larson, of My-Writing-Class-That-Sara-Came-To-And-We-Totally-Bonded fame, has got a rather amazing first book coming out on January 7th, 2014. The book: Defy. The genre: Young Adult High Fantasy. The enjoyment factor:  SUTLRBIHTKWHN* (*Stayed Up Too Late Reading Because I Had To Know What Happened Next). Grade for effort: about a billion. Because anyone who lives through the incredibly hard process of writing a book, not to mention pitching and selling it, deserves that many points. Plus free Ben and Jerry’s for life.

Sara’s book was a joy for me to read. And while I’m sure I’ve lost some objectivity to my fondness of its author, I think you’d like the book too and should run out and buy a few copies for stocking stuffers. (Late stuffers, since Defy releases in January.) All providing you enjoy Young Adult fiction with booty-kicking female protags pulling a Mulan and fighting with the boys in the King’s army–which, yeah!. Is the book perfect?. Well, not many are. But there is a lot to like about Defy, so I’m cool with that.

First the story. To quote the book-blurb: “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.” 

See? Cool. There is a love-triangle. And yeah, that’s sort of become the characteristic du jour of YA books. But what I admire here is that the romance — which is sweet and a big part of the book — doesn’t completely hijack it like most books in this genre with this plot device. There’s still plenty of plot to go around, what with war, evil sorcerers, personal secrets, desperate people, and narsty evil kings. If triangles aren’t your thing, or YA romance ain’t, there’s plenty of other stuff going on to keep you turning the pages. Including some difficult details that keep the book just gritty enough that you don’t get comfy in your glittery YA cloud. That works for me.

And then there’s the writing: you don’t notice it. No, no, this is a compliment. When writing reaches out and slaps my frontal lobe, I am taken out of the story. I don’t love that. But when writing is seamless enough that I don’t think about the words I’m cruising through, that’s like a can of root beer you stick in the freezer just long enough to go slushy on a very hot day: ahhhh.

As I said, Defy isn’t perfect. The romance does get a bit palpitate-y at times, but this is YA. Also, when there are little details the author doesn’t address — like no one noticing that Alex never shaves, or that “he” doesn’t, erm, relieve himself the way the other guards do– I get a bit OCD about it and want it fixed. But I can live with all of this. Sara has written an intriguing first book that I kept picking back up, despite my total Christmas-prep-hysteria. I hope all the characters grow even more fully into the shoes their author has started sewing for them. And I look forward to the next book. Hope you do too!

About Janiel 433 Articles
I have managed to keep the same husband for nearly three decades, and the same four children for almost that long - although one or two of them say it has been much longer. I have been writing since I learned to hold a pencil, and trying to make people laugh even longer. I hope to do some good in the world before I go the way of it. And if not, I'd better at least get to visit Ireland.

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