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Defy - Sara B. Larson This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

A lurching stomach. A neck that grows hot. Flushing cheeks. An aching skull. Trembling. For me, these are symptoms of a bad case of the flu. For Alexa, the supposedly brave, ruthless warrior in Defy, this is how she responds whenever a male looks at her. Which is often.

Alexa pretends to be a boy named Alex, the most skilled guard to Prince Damian. She hides her identity because in this kingdom, ruled by Damian’s father, women are only useful as “breeders.” The “breeding houses” were described in detail at the beginning of the book, and they are a horror. Little girls are imprisoned until they reach physical maturity, and then they are raped repeatedly until they become pregnant. Understandably, Alexa is not thrilled with this. But I think both she and the author have a limited memory, because these breeding houses are barely referenced after their introduction. It’s also never made clear how or why this society would tolerate (or even embrace) such a horror.

But let’s forget about the breeding houses, because Alexa has more important things on her mind. Namely, the love triangle, which is the entire purpose for this book’s existence. There’s arrogant, douchey Prince Damian on the one hand. (Of course, he’s not really an arrogant douche. He just pretended to be one for about 20 pages for reasons I still don’t understand.) And then there’s kind, gentle Rylan on the other. They both think she’s a boy, so WHY ARE THEY STARING AT HER LONGINGLY??? ARE THEY GAY??? Absolutely NOT. Of course, they are MUCH TOO HOT to be gay. They know she’s a girl, so it’s OK! Whew! Gay crisis averted. I have no idea why the gender-bending plot was a factor here. As the story goes on, it’s revealed that more people knew than didn’t that Alexa was a big ol’ fake. Maybe they were just being nice and decided to humor her by playing along. Was she ever really in danger? What was the point of all of this? And why, when these guys knew all along that Alexa is actually a girl, did they suddenly and simultaneously decide to start pawing at her?

Alexa, this tough, brave fighter, immediately turns into a simpering, whining, sobbing, tantrum-throwing mess. Who cares about breeding houses when she’s sleeping in a room between these two guys (don’t ask) while they fight over her? It’s not exaggerating much to say that Alexa’s blushing, flushing, aching, trembling, and crying take up nearly half of this book. With her boy craziness, I don’t know how she found the time to become the most skilled fighter in the kingdom.

Don’t expect to find any world-building here, and there’s only the barest hint of a plot featuring -SPOILER ALERT – the easiest overthrow of a king in the history of mankind.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.