Book Review: Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of The Towers Trilogy
Publisher: Talos (May 12, 2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
This series definitely deserves to be getting more attention. Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel Radiant was one of the most unique speculative fiction titles I read in 2014, and it’s so good to see that its follow-up Defiant is still pushing genre boundaries and keeping things exciting.
Two months have passed since the events at the end of the last book, and we catch up with Xhea as she attempts to heal from the chaotic aftermath, though nothing seems to be helping her badly injured leg. She and the ghost Shai, her ever faithful friend, are holed up within one of the towers called Edren. Shai’s radiant powers essentially makes her an enormous battery, so her very presence is making Edren magic rich and that is definitely not sitting right with the rest of the towers who are stirring up political trouble in order to balance the scales again.
As things heat up, Xhea and Shai find themselves embroiled in a brutal power struggle. Everyone is looking to get their hands on Shai, but in a shocking turn of events, it is revealed that Xhea may be just as important to the survival of the towers. For someone who has always been dismissed, disdained or pitied for her lack of magic, this is a great change for Xhea. At last, she learns the dark nature of her own power, and it’s something that both thrills and frightens her. Then tower Farrow proposes a deal, offering her something she’s ever only dared dream of, but is it going to be worth what they are asking her to do?
Defiant expands greatly upon the world that we were first introduced to in Radiant, now that Xhea’s no longer on the streets scrounging work from people with ghost problems. Her life may have been hard, but at least it was remarkably simple: find food and a place to sleep every night. Ever since she met Shai though, things have become infinitely more complicated – and dangerous. Now we’ve shifted from the hardships of the Lower City to the cutthroat political arena of the towers. It’s a whole different ballgame, and yet this sequel retains so much of what I enjoyed most about the first installment.
As ever, the dynamics between Xhea and Shai make me cheer in support for meaningful friendships between strong female characters. Their loyalty to each other warms my heart, it really does. In fact, one plot development that got me down early on in the novel is the fact that Xhea and Shai become separated after a disastrous incident, and neither has any idea about the fate of the other. It’s only been one book, but already in my mind it feels wrong to see Xhea without Shai, Shai without Xhea. This could probably account for the part right after in which I felt the plot faltered, when Shai’s chapters felt weaker and lacked a bit of direction compared to Xhea’s after her tether to her friend is severed. Thankfully, the story picked up again very quickly, and even when the two of them were apart, their concern and thoughts for each other served to deepen their friendship in my eyes, adding another layer of complexity to it. Without each other, they were still able to accomplish some great feats on their own, proving just how powerful each young woman is in her own right.
There’s also a greater focus on the magical systems and concepts. In this world of radiants and floating towers, everything runs on magic. It can be found within its denizens and in its very infrastructure. Magic is treated on such a vast scale here that it boggles the mind; it’s infused everywhere to such a degree that an entire city literally comes to life. I’ve only read a handful of books where a physical location or the actual setting itself is rendered akin to a living breathing entity, and it’s always an amazing thing to experience.
As far as I can tell, there’s no sophomore slump here; this sequel is as rich and engaging as the first book and gives us even more in terms of surprising twists and revelations. Like its predecessor, Defiant is a brilliant cross-genre piece that blends elements from many sources so that the result is something new and never-before-seen. Looks like Karina Sumner-Smith has scored another hit with her second novel, offering a spellbinding story and characters who are sure to captivate a wide audience.