The short: 4/5 ✦. A precise, well-written book with amazingly strong characters and world-building, though a shade repetitive and slow-paced.
I think I might like this novel better than its predecessor, Radiant. Not that there was anything wrong with that book at all, but in Defiant, I felt less lost and more sure of what was going on (even though I read it way back in January). Xhea is less . . . grumpy, I guess you could say. It’s partly sad because she is severely injured, but it also makes her a slightly more likable protagonist. She and Shai were severe opposites at the start of Radiant, but by the end of Defiant, they are far more like equals, both in personality and in power. Luckily, that doesn’t make either of them bland. Xhea is still gritty, determined, stubborn, and a little callous, and Shai is more sympathetic and optimistic. They go well together, which is why the series works.
It also works because the plot tries to stay as grounded in reality as possible in a story about magic. Xhea’s dark magic prevents her from healing properly, and she hobbles around weakly, which is why the story kinda starts off slow. Most of the first chapters are spent catching everybody to the current situation re: Xhea’s injuries, her magic, and Shai’s abilities as a Radiant ghost. Then Something Happens, and the rest of the plot fairly rockets along. We not only learn more about Xhea herself, but also – thankfully – about dark magic, ghosts, the Walkers, the skyscrapers, the Towers, and the City. Shai comes to understand that she is more than just her magic, while in contrast, Xhea fears she herself might be less. Overall, the focus is on the characters and exposition, as the world does not explore much beyond the Lower City, unlike Radiant, where Xhea went everywhere.
I would say that Defiant is a filler book, but that’s not strictly true: it’s more of a helpful, fascinating bridge between Books One and Three, not to be disregarded at all. I felt that Sumner-Smith was more secure in her writing and in this world she created (to the point of repeating details quite a few times). I still loved that there was no romance whatsoever, with friendship still being the most prominent relationship between most of the characters. I highly recommend this series – and the third book is already coming out soon!
Header image: Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith, published May 12th 2015 by Talos.