Monday, January 13, 2014

Defy by Sara Larson

Alexa and her twin brother Marcel were orphaned when Blevonese soldiers attacked their village and a sorcerer killed their parents. King Hector's soldiers arrived too late. Looking very much alike, Alexa had spent years growing out her hair to distinguish herself from her brother. Upon their arrival in the destroyed village, the soldiers would round up the survivors to take them back to the palace. The girls would be sent to the king's breeding house. To protect Alexa, Marcel cut off her long locks so once again she would be mistaken for a boy. Once at the palace, Alexa became Alex and she and Marcel would eventually become members of Prince Damian's personal guard.

Three years after their arrival, Alexa's secret is still safe. Everyone thinks the twins are twenty when in reality they are only seventeen. On duty one night while the Prince is having dinner, a young woman who Alexa hasn't noticed before asks Damian if he is thrilled with the success the army has had in stopping the Blevonese sorcerers. His mother, the Queen, was murdered by them. Damian isn't happy by her words and she knows she has upset him. He excuses himself from the meal. His guards follow. Once out of the room, Prince Damian asks Alex why he hasn't been informed of any news on the war and sends him to find Nolen, his "handler". Marcel lets him know that he is out visiting his sister. Damian sends the twins to get information from Iker, the king's most trusted adviser.

When they arrive at Iker's door, it is slightly ajar and no one answers when they knocked. Deciding to enter rather than go back to Damian empty handed. Iker is bent over something and is furious they have entered without being asked. Alex is suspicious over Iker’s actions, especially since there is the smell of blood in the air. He forces them from the room. He says to tell Damian that he will be informed of any victories at the king's discretion. As for the two of them, the king's guard is short a few men due to illness and their services are required to place the new orphans arriving shortly. Neither is very happy at their predicament.

Unfortunately, the twins are forced to help take the new girls to the breeding house. Alexa is shaken but Marcel tells her that she cannot blow her cover. He tries to keep her calm over the horrors they are about to see. Once inside, Alexa is so repulsed that she breaks rank and flees from her duty. As she is running away, Marcel shouts out a name, his own. Marcel finds Alexa back in their room when he is relieved of duty. Before the two of them can speak, another guard comes for Marcel and they leave. Alexa is left alone to contemplate her mistake. Over an hour later, Marcel comes back to their room. He took a lashing for her actions. When she asks why, he lets her know that her secret would have been discovered when her shirt was removed for the lashing. She bandages her brother's wounds and is grief stricken. He tells her that he was only trying to protect his sister. Alexa is suspicious of Iker and he will never realize how horrific their punishment really was.

The next night, the King is having a lavish dinner party and his guard is in the ballroom. Prince Damian's guard is patrolling the grounds. Alexa walks around while allowing Marcel to rest. She spies Damian inside dancing with a pretty girl and she notices how beautiful the prince really is. It is too bad that she knows what he is really like on the inside. Suddenly, Alexa hears a body fall to the ground. She drops down as an arrow flies by. She sounds the alarm and the King and Prince are whisked to safety. She calls for another of the Prince's guard, Rylan, to come with her. Marcel has already killed the attacker but he wasn't alone. Deron, the Prince's captain, has his men fan out and none of the king's guard comes to help them. Alexa and Marcel go off together into the jungle following their path. She spots an intruder and quickly dispatches him. Marcel comes up beside her and asks if he was the only one. Before he can finish talking or Alexa to tell him to be quiet, he is struck down by an arrow. Alexa strikes down the second assassin but it is too late for her brother. She is now truly alone with her secret.

After spending the night grieving, Alexa gets up the next morning for it to hit her again. She gets cleaned up and dressed just as Rylan knocks on her door. He has brought word that Prince Damian wants to see her. Rylan tries to give his condolences but Alexa thinks she needs to put on a strong front, like a man would. Damian questions her about the previous night before showing her a more compassionate side of him over the mutual loss of their own brothers. The moment is gone when he chastises her for not leaving one of the assassins alive for questioning. The guards’ protection of him will also be increased. She meets Rylan for a sparring match, easily defeating him. Deron pulls her aside afterwards to let her know she has one day to grieve before Marcel is replaced on the guard. She also needs to find another way to take out her grief and aggression than on the other members of the guard. She spars by herself a bit longer while memories of her family fill her mind. She had just finished up when Asher, another of the guard comes rushes to her to say that there had been an attempt on the prince's life.

Alexa rushes to his quarters and finds them in an uproar. The assassin, a girl named Tanoori, knows Alexa and tries to speak even though she is gagged. In a panic, she orders the girl taken to the dungeon before her secret can be revealed. Deron agrees and orders Alex, Rylan and Jude to guard the prince's door. The remaining members leave. Deron has Alex go into the room to check on the Prince. Damian’s guard is down a bit before becoming his usual condescending self. He wants Alex to make sure the assassin receives the full punishment of the law. Then in a sudden switch, he laments on his life and wonders if his father or anyone else would care about his death. Alexa is thrown when Damian asks her if she would cry. Faltering, she shows a bit of concern before recovering. He tells her to go. Outside, Iker is trying to gain admittance to the prince's chamber. Alexa is again suspicious of the king's advisor. The King has ordered that the Prince will be closely guarded at all times. One will guard the outside of his bedroom door and someone will be at his side at all times. Deron says that Alexa, as his best guard, will sleep outside the door at night. Angry at first, Damian seems amused that Alexa will be the one to guard his door. He retires to his chamber. Alex Hollen should have no problem guarding the Prince so closely but Alexa Hollen does.

Alexa goes to the dungeon to interrogate Tanoori. She promises to keep Alexa's secret and tells her that the only way to bring down King Hector is to kill his son and heir. She also says that if she wishes "to help change the course of events, if you wish to do something meaningful, all you have to do is follow the river. The answer lies in the heart of the rivers for those who want to find it." Alexa has no idea what Tanoori is talking about. Leaving the dungeon, she avoids walking past the breeding house and considers Tanoori's words. Now in a war that no longer seems valiant but destroying everything it touches, Alexa questions whether she can find the courage to stop King Hector's atrocities.

Sharing close quarters with the prince, Alex is surprised to find that her opinion of Damian seems to be wrong. Even startling to her is the fact that she is drawn to him and if she isn't careful, her secret will be exposed. On a break from the competition for the guard position, Alexa finds her mind betraying her when her thoughts not only stray to Rylan but Damian as well. On her second to last competitor, she realizes that something is off about. When she finally beats him, her suspicions are raised. Wearing a mask, no one seems to know who he was. Deron asks what is wrong but she says nothing. Alexa is unable to prove that he is a sorcerer. Her thoughts turn towards all of the unanswered questions surrounding her, especially concerning the competitor who called himself Eljin.

When Alexa's suspicions prove correct, it is too late. Prince Damian is kidnapped by the sorcerer and they take Alexa and Rylan along as well. They hope to hold him hostage so that King Hector will put a stop to the war. When they make camp the first night, Alexa's world and secret becomes unraveled. Not only did Rylan know that Alex was a girl (he overheard Marcel call her by her real name, he kept her secret and promised her brother he would keep her safe) but Damian knew as well and for a long time. With her secret out and with her heart struggling between two men, it is going to be a long trip to wherever they are being taken to.

Is there really a sorcerer in the palace and why? Who else knows Alexa's secret? What happens to her when they do? What answers lie at the heart of the rivers? Who is after Prince Damian and why? Is he really the cruel and aloof person he seems or is it an act? Can King Hector's war be stopped? What secrets is Iker keeping? Will the breeding house be closed or does Alexa find herself there? Will Alexa be able to keep her feelings buried or will she be torn between two men?

Fans will be eagerly waiting to see how Alexa's story plays out in book two out in 2015.

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