Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

The first book in the Towers Trilogy, Radiant, topped my best of 2014 list. Intricate storytelling, nuanced characters, distinct magic system, and an exquisitely written story of an unusual friendship made for a very satisfying read. With this second book, Defiant, we are once again plunged into the world of the floating towers. Where the first book explored the radiant aspect of magic, here we delve more into Xhea’s history/background and the terrible price of her unique magic. But the beating heart is the beautiful friendship of the two girls, Xhea and ghost Shai.

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Story: Xhea and Shai are living an uneasy peace within one of the Earthbound towers. They will let Xhea stay as long as Shai’s radiance powers their machinery; but the political situation is unstable, both within the tower and also amongst all the ground towers. When hostilities escalate, Shai and Xhea will find themselves thrown into a war with the fate of the people who live on the ground in the balance. For it turns out Xhea may just be as valuable as Shai to the floating towers. And each will have to develop their own magics to not only survive, but to save their friend.

Shai and Xhea remain very distinct characters through both books. Shai’s idealism and hesitancy counterbalanced by Xhea’s grounded realism and nihilism. It’s a reflection of their magic as well, one made of light and air and the other death and shadows. And although the girls are separated for a good part of the book, we learn a lot about both. Xhea will be forced to rely on others and Shai will have to mature and develop her own resilience. Both will come to understand their own magic much more as well.

All characters (major and minor) remain conflicted and real. Each has complex motivations and emotions, will fail and succeed, and surprise as well as intrigue. The strength of the Towers trilogy really is the psychology as the counterbalance to the pathos. It all feels so devastatingly real.

This is going to top my 2015 list. I am greatly looking forward to finishing the trilogy at the end of the year. It’s a book that is so good, I never feel I can do it justice in my review. Highest recommendations.

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