Title: The Defiant
Author: Lesley Livingston
Series: The Valiant #2
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Published: January 23rd, 2018 (Razorbill)
Synopsis: Gladiator Fallon and her warrior sisters must face off against a rival gladiator academy in this lush sequel to the highly anticipated historical fantasy, The Valiant.
They call her “Victrix” now. Victory.
But winning the highest honor ever bestowed upon a gladiatrix in Rome has earned Fallon more deadly enemies outside the arena than she ever faced within it. And it is those dearest to Fallon who will pay the price for her success.
Now, Fallon and her warrior sisters are 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 Roman Empire.
“My sister told me what your Queen Penthesilea once said,” I continued, remembering clear as day the words Sorcha had recited to me when I’d stood beside her looking at the stone carving of the legendary queen and her warriors,
‘Not in strength are we inferior to men…the same our eyes, our limbs the same; one common light we see, one air we breathe. What then denied to us have the gods on man bestowed?’ I looked from face to face.
“Help me prove the truth of her words. Help me see that we are not only the equal of men, we are better.”
Fallon has become Victrix, favoured by Caesar and the darling of Rome’s masses, but her triumph has also earned her many enemies – starting with Nyx, the gladiatrix she defeated and subsequently freed. Set on revenge, a rival school threatens the home Fallon has found in the Ludus Achillea and the new family in her fellow gladiatrices. With Sorcha missing and presumed dead, the gladiatrices are framed as rebels and they go on the run, racing to find Sorcha and reclaim their home and freedom.
Readers who liked The Valiant will definitely enjoy this sequel. This is the first historical fiction series set in Ancient Rome that I have enjoyed since I read Kate Quinn’s Empress of Rome series a couple of years ago (and it set my standards really high for this time period). Even though it has been over a year and a half since I read The Valiant, it was very easy to pick up the storyline again. The message of sisterhood, friendship and loyalty that I so appreciated in the first book continued through this one – and the bond between the warriors of the Ludus Achillea remains one of my favourite things about this series.
Fallon is a strong main character and a determined, skilled fighter, but personality wise, she is very different in this book. In The Valiant, she was the fierce Cantii warrior princess determined to win her freedom – but this time around, she seems perfectly content to stay at the ludus and fight in the ring for the entertainment of the masses – a 180 that felt very odd. Side characters like Elka and Quintus played an important part in the story and even Cai (whom I did not like in the first book) has some character development and is more integral to the story. The action scenes are amazing, and more importantly, to my limited knowledge, time-period accurate. I also really enjoyed Cleopatra’s cameo appearance and the mock sea battle at the beginning between the two schools. As with the first book, Livingston succeeds in immersing the reader in an era long gone.
Once more however, I felt that the book was too short – partly because there is one single plotline from beginning to end, and it’s easy to see exactly where the story is heading. This is a novel you read when you want a book that is good – no more, no less. This is possibly one of the very few YA books I have read in recent years that actually fits into the YA genre exactly instead of walking that fine line. It has its fair share of bloodshed, violence, politics, backstabbing and more, but not in the way that makes one dwell upon it, or really get affected by it. There is nothing complex about this series – and sometimes, that’s a good thing! This was the perfect, fast-paced, relaxing and easy read I needed after a string of mammoth sized, extremely deep novels.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book and I’m looking forward to reading the final installment in the series, The Triumphant, which releases in just over a month!
Other reviews in this series: