Defy by Sara B. Larson
Alexa has always been talented with a sword and it's what saved her from being sent to the king's coucubine houses of horror when her family was slain and kingdom conquered. She and her twin integrate themselves with the king's army and rise to positions of safety, even if neither of them are too fond of the prince they have to guard. But the king is deeply mistrustful of everyone including his own son and soon Alexa finds herself tangled up in a more dangerous web of plots than she ever hoped to be in.
While it's not apparent from my review order, I did try to be careful and give myself some space between reading A Crown of Midnight and this book since a number of the plot elements sounded the same and there's nothing more embarrassing than confusing two different works in their own reviews. Thankfully it wasn't as big a problem as I had worried about, while the character set-ups are very similar (lead female character from a conquered land in disguise falls into love triangle with another solider on her level and with a prince) the actual plot is fairly different. While Throne of Glass/Crown of Midnight are currently lacking that "spark" to make me truly fall for the story I can't deny that they're both obviously planned out well in advance and that the author has spent quite a bit of time both planning and crafting the story. However, this story felt like a bit of a mess from beginning to end, both with how the characters were written and the plot.
To start with the characters, they're all very bland which isn't a good descriptive word for anything in life. Rylan, one of Alexa's love interests (and arguably the better one since he's not being manipulative, naturally you know how this goes) is so flat I can't actually remember any details aside from the fact that he's loyal to the rest of the guards and it's just not good to have only one descriptive word attached to you. Alexa isn't much better, she's a mish-mash of various "strong female character" ideas so while she's amazing with a sword (the best actually, oh and possibly has magic attached to it, the story didn't like to commit either way) she's just very unsure about herself. That by itself isn't a bad thing, just about every story requires the characters to figure out at least one aspect of themselves, but I don't think she even did that. I honestly can't blame that just on her character, important character number three, Damian the prince, was horribly manipulative so it's no wonder Alexa and Rylan have their hands tied in a lot of places, however there are ways to write around that! And more importantly, Damian is so throughly shady that I think the author did too good a job, you should have somWriting this review is e foreshadowing that not all is what it seems and yet the reveals for some of his plans were so unexpected that it felt like poor writing instead of suspenseful writing, I ended up truly disliking him by the end of the book which is unusual for me!
Moving along to the plot, it's all very standard "there's this evil kingdom with a bad ruler BUT not everyone in his family is Bad and our lead character accidentally finds themselves trying to make this all better!" Writing this review has actually reminded me of another fantasy YA novel I read a couple of years back, Mistwood (yes that review is terrible but it's still better than linking straight to Amazon), which actually had a much more interesting take on "good people ruling vs bad people ruling" and a very different, yet again I thought more interesting, lead female character. Nothing in this story set itself apart from any other story I've seen, not even the setting which I think was a bit different from the usual quasi-European one, and that's a damning recommendation if there ever was one. I'm also confused why Amazon is showing me a sequel for this book, despite everything else it did wrap up with a fairly solid, conclusive ending so I'm wondering where the rest of the conflict is supposed to come from....