Defy: quiet and subtle lashings of feminist thought

Defy cover image

Defy cover image

Defy, a debut novel by Sara B. Larson, is a swashbuckling adventure tale about a girl-pretending-to-be-a-boy in order to save herself from the terrible fate that awaits her when she’s captured during a raid on her village. Her father and mother are killed by an evil sorcerer, while she and her brother are sent as prisoners to the kingdom’s capital. The terrible fate she avoids is the same that awaits all female prisoners of war in that kingdom—becoming part of a “breeding house” with the sole purpose that she should become pregnant and bear male children who will eventually become fodder—er, soldiers—for the king’s long-standing, decades old war.

Instead, Alexa—now known as Alex—joins the elite guard protecting a much reviled prince during a time of war. And as the best fighter on the prince’s guard, she holds a position that gives her unique power when the kingdom as they know it starts to fall apart and she has the opportunity to help create and build a new kingdom.

As an adventure fantasy tale, with a love triangle, Defy doesn’t position itself to deal in-depth or head-on with issues like prostitution, forced childbearing, female equality (and female vulnerability), but it does tackle them from a side-angle. Alex finds the breeding house revolting and it’s clear that it will be one of the first things to disappear in the new world she’s trying to help build. Furthermore, her strength and kick-ass fighting skills reveal her as a more than competent opponent to the men she faces—indeed, her adversaries and comrades alike are in awe of her abilities.

Though plot and characterization were uneven and sometimes I found Alexa’s ability to hide her gender a little unbelievable, Defy is sure to be popular. Overall, Defy is one of those tales that young readers will enjoy without feeling preached to in the slightest even as the plot quietly asserts the rights of all women to a free and equal status, no matter what world they find themselves in.


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