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B O O K T R A I L E R:
*This review was first posted on A Backwards Story on January 5, 2015.
(Note: At this point, the final book in the series, ENDURE, is out next week! I just haven't had a chance to finish reading it. I'm looking forward to doing so in the new year!!!)
I'm going to review both books today, but it's so hard to talk about IGNITE without spoilers, so I'm going to focus more on the first book, DEFY.
Alex is hiding a deep, dark secret: Her true name is Alexa and she is female. When her parents are killed during a war, her twin brother Marcel chops off her hair to disguise her gender. It's either join the army as a male or enter the breeding houses to produce as many future male soldiers as possible. Alex and Marcel rise through the ranks fast, and are soon personal bodyguards to Prince Damian. After Marcel is murdered in an attempt on the prince's life, Alex suddenly risks having her carefully concealed secret exposed. Who can she trust in this high stakes game brought on by war?
DEFY is perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce's Alanna books. Being a girl doesn't hinder Alexa's abilities to fight. She trains long and hard to be good, and was trained all her life by her powerful father. Unlike in THE CADET OF TILDOR by Alex Lidell, where the main character isn't as strong as the boys and must keep up in other ways, in DEFY, she is the strongest of them all. It isn't arbitrary, either, but makes sense in context and is believable in the same way that, through context, we understand Katsa's
strengths in Kristin Cashore's GRACELING. I really enjoyed the story elements that evolved through world-building and was eager to know the backstory of all the aspects being introduced.
There's also a lot of romance in the series, which, at times, creates drama and leads to the action taking a back seat. There's a really big love triangle that develops between Alexa, Prince Damian, and fellow bodyguard Rylan, after her identify is revealed. Love triangles often make me groan. They often aren't developed well and are lopsided, and lead to too much drama (And you know how I hate all the drama). This triangle had the drama, but it's also more fleshed-out. Not only is it hard for Alex to choose between the two, it will be hard for readers as well. Both Damian and Rylan are developed characters. They're both great guys with their own pros and cons. These days, I fear love triangles. Too many authors of decent love triangles have made the final decision easier by killing off the "spare." I don't want that to happen next year when the final book comes out, so it makes me nervous! Larson doesn't shy away from character deaths, and IGNITE's ending leaves the possibility of something bad on the horizon looming in its conclusion.
(If I can make one more comparison to other books in existence, Damian's character development reminds me a lot of Prince Dorian's in THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas. Neither Alexa nor Celaena quite know whether or not they can trust the Crown Prince: Is it all a ruse, or is the prince as close-minded as his father, the king with the bloodthirsty eyes and iron fist?)
I really like the diversity in the world of DEFY, though I'm ambivalent at the way we're introduced to such things through Alex's oogling of the males around her despite being disguised as a male. The diversity becomes more seamless later, and I really enjoyed its existence. I also liked seeing Alex battle her wants vs. her reality. She's been forced to hide during her formative years, and she doesn't know how to act after her secret is exposed. She goes through a lot of discovery in IGNITE, though this, at times, also creates a lot of drama. Her heart is in the right place, but she can be impulsive and doesn't always make the right choices, which creates extra hardships for herself and the people around her.
There wasn't a huge cliffhanger in DEFY, but more of a build-up. Many elements fell into place, there was a conclusion to the crisis at hand, etc. IGNITE rebuilds and introduces new elements and higher stakes. There's more of a drop at the end that makes readers want the next book now, but there are also a lot of decisions made and finalized; everything ends on a more decisive note, even as so much hangs in limbo. I'm looking forward to seeing how the finale shakes out!
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