August 28, 2018

The Defiant

Written by Lesley Livingston
HarperCollins
978-1-44344-631-0
371 pp.
Ages 13+
January 2018

Gladiatrix Fallon went from king's daughter to human chattel and fighter and finally Victrix in Lesley Livingston's The Valiant (HarperCollins, 2017) but, instead of resting on her laurels and rewards as bestowed by Julius Caesar himself, she's still fighting, now to restore sister's legacy and keep her fellow gladiatrices alive to battle another day.

The Defiant begins with a mock sea battle between Fallon's sister Sorcha's academy, the Ludus Achillea, and that of their rivals, the Ludus Amazona, which belongs to the nasty Pontius Aquila whom Fallon discovered in The Valiant to be part of a dark cult called the Sons of Dis who feast on the hearts of fallen fighters.  But that rivalry explodes when Pontius Aquila arrives claiming that the gladiatrices at the Ludus Achillea have revolted against the Lanistra (Sorcha) who is absent and must be dead. He has bought the ludus from her second in command, Thalestris, who is now also gone. Aquila who had been thwarted when he first wanted to purchase Fallon is determined to have her fight for him. With a little help from her Roman paramour Caius and his fellow legionnaire Quintus, as well as a few unlikely allies, including a kitchen slave, the murderer of her first love and a supposedly-dead Gaulish chieftain, Fallon with many of her oath sister gladiatrices escape and embark on a new struggle: to save Sorcha from the vengeful Thalestris and reclaim the ludus.

I wish I could tell you so much more about the plot of The Defiant, including the legionnaire's instruction of the formidable gladiatrices in coordinated team fighting; the battle with the Amazons, a reclusive group of women on Corsica; Fallon and Cai's romance amidst new trust issues; the reappearance of the vile Nyx, Fallon's rival in Caesar's arena; and a myriad of characters whose trustworthiness is always in question. But a single post is not sufficient to share the richness of Lesley Livingston's newest book.

However, I can tell you that, like every book I have ever read of Lesley Livingston's, there is so much complexity to her plotting, a blend of fantasy infused with well-researched reality, here the history of ancient Roman times, that readers will experience the full effect as a sensory experience. There is brutality and inequality, discrimination and power struggles, and moments of tenderness, sorority and much passion.   

Most importantly, The Defiant has positive messages about the strength of women to battle for themselves and determine their own destinies as they can.  Fallon and Sorcha, and even nasties like Nyx and Thalestris, defy the odds to rise in a paternalistic world, to choose for themselves beyond the rule of men, an intriguing concept for their time. They are sisters in arms and philosophy.
Help me see that we are not the equal of man, we are better. (pg. 248)
But Lesley Livingston goes beyond that decisive message and masterful plotting and characterizations.  She writes with command of language.  Every word embeds the reader in the time and place of The Defiant, often with colourful imagery that reveals and amuses.
The next morning I awoke with a head full of sheep's wool and bootnails. (pg. 37)
Fortunately, The Defiant is not the end of Fallon's story. In February of 2019, The Triumphant, the conclusion to the Valiant series, will be published, and there is news of a series in development at The CW based on the first book in the series.  There may be much in her world that wants to put her down but readers of Lesley Livingston's fantasy would never let her fade away.  She is valiant, she is defiant and she will be triumphant.

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We're delighted that Lesley Livingston will be joining YA authors Natasha Deen and Kari Maaren on a speculative fiction panel at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival on Sunday, September 9, 2018.  We're sure to have a great discussion and you'll get a chance to hear the authors read from their works, to ask a few questions, and to even get a book or two autographed.  Do come and join us!

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