Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

Author:  Karina Sumner-Smith
Series:  Towers Trilogy 2
Publisher:  Talos Press, May 12, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  $15.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781940456263 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Once, Xhea’s wants were simple: enough to eat, safety in the underground, and the hit of bright payment to transform her gray-cast world into color. But in the aftermath of her rescue of the Radiant ghost Shai, she realizes the life she had known is gone forever.

In the two months since her fall from the City, Xhea has hidden in skyscraper Edren, sheltered and attempting to heal. But soon even she must face the troubling truth that she might never walk again. Shai, ever faithful, has stayed by her side?but the ghost’s very presence has sent untold fortunes into Edren’s coffers and dangerously unbalanced the Lower City’s political balance.

War is brewing. Beyond Edren’s walls, the other skyscrapers have heard tell of the Radiant ghost and the power she holds; rumors, too, speak of the girl who sees ghosts who might be the key to controlling that power. Soon, assassins stalk the skyscrapers’ darkened corridors while armies gather in the streets. But Shai’s magic is not the only prize?nor the only power that could change everything. At last, Xhea begins to learn of her strange dark magic, and why even whispers of its presence are enough to make the Lower City elite tremble in fear.

Together, Xhea and Shai may have the power to stop a war?or become a weapon great enough to bring the City to its knees. That is, if the magic doesn't destroy them first.

Brandon's Review

All the reasons I loved the first book in the Towers Trilogy still held true for Defiant, Karina Sumner-Smith’s follow up to Radiant.

We pick up shortly after we left off in Radiant following Xhea and Shai’s recent daring escape from the City above. The story maintains a fast pace as we follow their struggle to survive separately and together in a system and society that is designed to enslave them for the ‘greater good’. While Xhea and Shai may be out of the hands and off the immediate radar of the Towers above, the city below has uses for a ghost that produces more magic than most of the people of the lower city combined and a girl who can sneak about below the ground where other magic users fear to tread.

Many series expose the entire plot early on and you struggle to get peaks at the overarching plot moving forward, but I think Sumner-Smith does a brilliant job of feeding small bits of information about the larger story arcs and concerns into the storyline of each individual book. It reminded me of waiting for a certain dark purple tulip to bloom in my garden, each time I remember it I go to check and in the process I find a host of other flowers that take my attention. I don’t find I am disappointed that this flower hasn’t bloomed just yet, it just gives me something to look forward to tomorrow.

Sumner-Smith takes the opportunity to follow the characters separately and develop Shai’s character more than in the first installment, which I heartily applaud as I felt this was one of the areas that could use some development. Along those lines we definitely see a lot of development from Xhea - from a character unconcerned with the consequences of her choices to one who begins to come to terms with her ability to impact the world around her.

One of the lingering questions for me is about power. I hope the author continues to explore and question the experience and power dynamics of society, as so many great authors of speculative fiction tend to do.

In a story that has a lot of the usual dystopian subplots about questioning the role of government and existing social norms I find I am not quite convinced the Towers Trilogy so far does more than give this a passing nod. While Xhea is a character without the traditional and magical forms of power and prestige in this world and Shai is her polar opposite I think this dialogue is buried in the adventure. I felt in the first book Xhea’s struggle to find a way to survive in the system and her struggles as a disadvantaged person came through clearly. In Defiant Xhea is too easily distracted by the scars a lifetime of struggling leaves even after you gain access to some form of power. I would also argue that Shai hasn’t really had to struggle to come to terms with her privilege. Her development of a noblesse oblige in this novel is a little too cotton candy for me. It leaves me feeling like I need something more. Maybe I am asking for too much, but I think given the level of skill the author has presented so far I don’t think it is outside the realm of the possible.

Again, I really enjoyed Defiant. The world building and pacing so far are superb.


Towers Trilogy 1
Talos, September 30, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

See Brandon's review here.


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