Alexa is a warrior who works as a member of the prince's guard. To get to this position, Alexa has had to pretend she is a boy named Alex for the past 3 years. Why did she have to do this? To avoid the rape house. What is the rape house? A very stupid idea. There's a war going on in Alexa's country that's been going on for a while, and the king is starting to run low on able-bodied men to be soldiers to fight. His "brilliant" solution to this problem is to take the women of his country, put them all into the same place, and rape them so they get pregnant. Female children will be put back into the breeding house and raped once they get their periods while male children are taken and raised to be soldiers. Let's just think of a few of the reasons why this idea makes no sense.
- Women don't give birth to fully grown men. They give birth to babies, which then must be raised and trained, if that baby is a male since this kingdom feels only men can fight. We're talking more than a decade of time and effort into each kid to hopefully get a good warrior out of the deal. Chances are good that the war will be over before most of the children are even capable of serving as a soldier in the army.
- With the poor conditions of the rape house, it's likely there will be a lot of miscarriages and birth problems. Being in a rape house, getting raped, and having the women around you getting raped are all stressful things, and stress is bad for pregnant women. If you want to increase the number of births in your kingdom, rape houses seem pretty inefficient.
- The women being raped are the women of the kingdom. Do all the citizens really just stand idly by and let the women just be taken away, locked up, and raped? Because having a king who kidnaps women to place them into a rape house seems like a really good reason to start a rebellion against your king.
- If the war has really put your kingdom in a situation where they're running out of able-bodied men, locking up your women to get raped and give birth to kids and do nothing else makes no sense. Even if you refuse to let women fight, they can do other things to help the war effort. Women can do more than give birth. I swear.
I'm not entirely sure how they decide which women get thrown in the rape house. I know if you're a female born in the rape house you stay there, but I'm not sure how you get there in the first place. That might have been mentioned, but I honestly don't recall if it was. The whole plot point of the rape house really only seemed to be there for two reasons—to give Alexa a reason to pretend to be a male and to show just how evil the king is and how not evil anyone who dislikes rape houses is. They didn't serve any point beyond that in the story, and those are really bad reasons.
Alexa very easily could have chosen to disguise herself as a man for reasons other than fear of a rape house. She could have wanted to not be separated from her twin brother, her only remaining family member. She could have wanted to join the army because she was an incredible warrior, and that's what she wanted to do with her life. Either one of those give Alexa more agency and make more sense than the king's rape house plan.
I am growing tired of seeing rape being thrown into stories just to show how evil someone is and then being easily brushed away. As we learn in the story, there are plenty of reasons to think the king is horribly evil without ever adding rape in there. I'm not opposed to rape ever being in a story. I just don't like seeing it thrown in to prove just how evil someone is and that's all we hear of it. Rape is horrible, but if you've got a villain going around murdering people, I don't need him to rape someone for me to actually realize he's bad. I see rape casually get thrown into a villain's list of crimes so often that it just feels like a lazy shortcut. That's what it felt like here. The rape house made no sense in the story. It felt like it was just there to show that the king is evil and people who don't like it aren't. And if your best argument for why a character is good is that he doesn't approve of rape, I think I'm not going to like him.
Just like I wasn't sure how the rape house exactly worked, I wasn't really sure about the world's layout. I know there is a jungle with jaguars and such. That at some point changes into pine trees. I think? And if you walk through it for a long time, you eventually reach another country? I'm really not sure. I was just very confused about the world, the differences between the country, and what the land looked like beyond there being a jungle there. I also don't understand magic in this book. It exists. Some people have it. I just don't know who. Sometimes kids get it from parents. I don't know its limits. It's there.
Back to the plot. Alexa is the best swordsman of the kingdom, and she and her twin brother are part of the prince's guard. Then her brother dies almost immediately after the story starts. After an attempt of the prince's life, Alexa is assigned to be the personal bodyguard of the prince. During a tournament to find her brother's replacement, Alexa realizes one of the fighters is a sorcerer. Sorcery is illegal. Instead of informing someone immediately about this, particularly after the attempt on the prince's life, Alexa doesn't say anything. She is then sent by the prince on a secret delivery mission that is only supposed to last a day, but ends up taking two. It is only after that that Alexa tells someone about the sorcerer. Way to be a good guard, Alexa. Shockingly, the sorcerer then shows up to kidnap the prince later. Alexa can't beat him, and the prince, Alexa, and another bodyguard (love interest #2) all get taken. The three of them are taken into the jungle toward the enemy.
It's said near the start that Alexa's brother was the smart twin. I believe it. Besides not telling anyone about the sorcerer immediately, there's the fact that everything has to be spelled out to her. Everyone kept hinting at their secrets very obviously, but it would go right over her head until it was said clearly. And I seriously don't understand how she went 3 years hiding as a boy. From what we saw, she's terrible at it. She was constantly slipping up, and so many people kept figuring it out. Then we learn that both love interests knew from the moment they met her, but both had no problems with her ruse. In fact, everyone who learned her secret was totally cool with it, which really further illustrates just how pointless the rape house was. I find it very hard to believe that the best swordsman of the kingdom who successfully hid the fact she was a female (except from those people who found out immediately) for 3 years would get easily distracted during a sword fight by two hot guys sparring to the point where her opponent lands an easy blow. She's lived around guys sparring for 3 years, yet she still gets super distracted by it? And hardly anyone figured out her secret? Right.
The love triangle between Alexa, the prince (Damian), and her best friend and guard (Rylan) took over the whole plot. More time was spent on her angsting over how hot they both were than the rape house, the war, or really anything else. And they both weren't great decisions. Throughout the story, we see Damian lie to and trick Alexa over and over again. She does not trust him and for good reason. Yet she loves him. On the other hand, we have Rylan who doesn't really get developed. But he has chocolate brown eyes. That gets mentioned quite a bit. Oh, and her struggle to hide being a woman for 3 years is nothing compared to his struggle to hide his feelings for her for 3 years. Not even joking. Rylan says that. He does apologize eventually and says he wants to be her friend, but he makes it very clear that he's doing it in the hopes that she'll eventually choose him. And that is exactly what I look for in a friend—someone who only befriends me in the hopes of sleeping with me.
Basically, Defy is a book filled with underdeveloped ideas (war, countries, world, magic, most characters), nonsensical ideas (rape house), and a bad love triangle. Mostly a bad love triangle.