REVIEW: The Defiant (The Valiant #2) by Lesley Livingston

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The Defiant by Lesley Livingston

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages

Release date: 23 January 2018

Amazon UK | Amazon US

Be brave, gladiatrix… And be wary. Once you win Caesar’s love, you’ll earn his enemies’ hate.

Fallon was warned.

Now she is about to pay the price for winning the love of the Roman people as Caesar’s victorious gladiatrix.

In this highly anticipated sequel to THE VALIANT, Fallon and her warrior sisters find themselves thrust into a vicious conflict with a rival gladiator academy, one that will threaten not only Fallon’s heart – and her love for Roman soldier Cai – but the very heart of the ancient Roman Empire.

When dark treachery and vicious power struggles threaten her hard-won freedom, the only thing that might help the girl known as Victrix save herself and her sisters is a tribe of long-forgotten mythic Amazon warriors.

The only trouble is, they might just kill her themselves first.

“We weren’t rebels or renegades. We were defiant heroes, on our way to reclaim what was ours.”

Fallon ferch Virico and her friends are back–stronger, sassier, and a good deal more defiant. I could cheer. Lesley Livingston’s still got the storytelling magic starting with a base of the glorious Ancient Roman setting, enhanced with fast-paced action sequences and seasoned with plenty of character chemistry. If you’re only going to read one historical YA series this year, make it The Valiant.

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The Defiant starts off gently, with “only” a mock sea battle between Fallon’s Ludus Achillea and their rivals the Ludus Amazona, where the goal is capture the flag and not actual death. Of course, if one or two deaths do happen, all the better to enrapture the audience. 20% into the story, the real action begins, and then it’s almost nonstop battles and schemes up to the end.

Even if gladiators, contrary to the traditionally popular portrayal, only fought two or three times a year and not always to the death, 1 in 5 fights still ended in fatalities. The Defiant doesn’t let you forget that, but it does take a more casual view toward death than most readers are used to. That’s in part a necessity, because there’s a lot of death in this book.

While The Defiant‘s pseudo-history doesn’t bother me, it does bother me a little that Fallon and Sorcha have so easily abandoned Durovernum, their Cantii homeland, and bought into the gladiator valour that’s hard to swallow when you consider how people were fed alive to lions in the arena. Secondary character Tanis is a good foil in that sense–she echoes the conviction that there’s little honour killing and dying for the Roman mob, and survival is all that matters. Of course, disenchanted cynics don’t make for heroic protagonists, so Tanis remains a secondary character in the cards for a big arc in the final book.

I guess what I’m trying to get across here is that The Defiant capitalises well on the rich backdrop of the Roman Republic’s last days. It fits so much into a relatively short book–from the political machinations of the historical Optimates and the fictional Sons of Dis to the story of the “Amazons” to character development for so many members of the supporting cast. Meriel, Kallista, Quintus, Charon, Cleopatra (the one and only), Arviragus, they all feel like fully fleshed out people in this larger-than-life story.

Cai, in particular, has one of the best arcs for love interests I’ve seen in YA. It’s so easy to write a male love interest who’s the book equivalent of a “Strong Female Character” from an action movie. That’s to say, badass, attractive and utterly devoid of depth. Cai isn’t that. When the time comes, he makes some bang on decisions, and they’re narratively just as important as Fallon’s.

Part of that epic feeling is thanks to Ancient Rome–we’re fascinated by this idea of a triumphant, glorious empire that spilled so much blood and accumulated such power–but part of it is just simple good writing. Lesley Livingston uses the same gift for plot twists that you saw in The Valiant to take the story in delightful, unpredictable directions, so that even if you guess the general idea of what will happen, there are bound to be at least some details in the specifics that you won’t see coming.

As before, Livingston’s fight sequences are amongst the best in YA. Well thought-out, suspenseful, and varied, they come alive easily in the imagination. With near zero knowledge of gladiator or legionnaire fighting styles, I was still able to discern exactly what was going on.

The Defiant would translate well to the screen. All the pieces are already there.

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