Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: DEFIANCE by C.J. Redwine

Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses, host dinner parties, and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same boy who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.
This book appeared on my radar months ago thanks to its title and gorgeous cover. I even wrote a Wishlist Wednesday post about it and gushed for nigh on forever. Like most books that I've spent months obsessing over from afar, I was nervous that it would fail me. Some books do, you know. They just don't live up to the hype. I tried to prepare myself by reading other reviews but had to stop. I would just have to take the experience as it came.

But never fear, citizens of the web! For C.J. Redwine is the sweet yet utterly evil brain behind Defiance, and she put together a story that is now one of my favorites of the entire year.

Feelings, you guys. The theme of this review is feelings, because Defiance gave me ALL THE FEELINGS. The problem with feelings is that, when they're strong enough, I have a very difficult time translating them into intelligible sentences, but I'll try.

Let's start with Rachel. When the story opened with Rachel at the gates of the city-state Baalboden, watching as they shut and her father is unofficially declared dead, I nodded. It was a promising start, as it reminded me of Leia at the base on Hoth in Episode 5, waiting for Luke to return. (That's a Star Wars reference - educate yourself.) In those first few pages, we meet both Rachel and her grandfather, Oliver, and get our first taste of Rachel's indomitable stubbornness. Never mind that her father has been lost in the savage Wastelands for sixty days. Everyone else might think him dead, but she will never give up hope.

Rachel is precisely what I enjoy in a heroine. She's so intense in everything that any adjective I could use to describe her seems like an understatement. She's stubborn and strong-willed, hot-headed and brash, incredibly intelligent and loyal. Geez, if you thought you knew what the proverbial red-headed temper was like, you haven't seen anything yet. Sure, at times her stubbornness crossed the line into stupidity, which was a bit annoying, but she feels things so viscerally that I felt like I was Rachel. (See? Feelings.)

Her co-narrator Logan (Defiance is a dual-narrative story) is equally impressive, but for different reasons. Logan is the ying to Rachel's yang (or the peanut butter to her bacon cheeseburger, if you ask Ms. Redwine, but that's another story). Rachel leaps from one plan to another, bullying her way through with what sometimes seems like sheer willpower. Logan is quieter, methodical, always planning and thinking in Worst Case Scenarios. He's respected for his intelligence but is often otherwise underestimated, because unlike Rachel, he buries his fire deep inside himself. 

You'd think that quiet Logan would be a welcome emotional respite from Rachel, but you'd be wrong. Logan might bury his fire, but it's still very much there. He may have rejected Rachel when they were younger, but he feels strongly protective of her. She, her father Jared, and Oliver are Logan's only family to speak of, and he risks everything for them again and again. Logan is also driven by his hatred for Baalboden and its leader, the Commander, and that hatred burns almost as brightly as Rachel's. 

So like this, but with fire and bigger teeth and such.
Speaking of Baalboden, that place gives off a whole 'nother bucket of feelings. Years ago, a group of explorers mined deep into the Earth and awoke a group of monsters called the Cursed Ones. The Cursed Ones, by the way, are like a mix between Smaug the dragon and the asteroid worm thing in Star Wars - big, blind, fire-breathing dragon-worms. Can you say yikes? The military was destroyed in an attempt to kill the beasts, leaving one Cursed One remaining, and the group of explorers, who alone could repel the creatures, poised to take control. The explorers built mini-empires around themselves, city-states like Baalboden and its rival, Rowensmark. Separated from others and ruled by fear of the remaining Cursed One and their own leaders, the people of Ms. Redwine's world regress. 

Though the reason is never explained, women's rights in Baalboden are practically nonexistent. A woman in Baalboden is not to learn for herself (most can't read), speak for herself, or even think of herself. She is ruled by a Protector, usually a father or husband, and may not even go out in public without him. The world was so restrictive that in some parts I felt it difficult to breathe. I could feel my temper growing, my fists tightening along with Rachel's. IT JUST ISN'T FAIR.

But nothing - NOTHING - affected me like the Commander.

The Commander is the ruler of Baalboden and one of the more frightening and irritating villains I've ever read. He's the most awful combination you could ever meet - a disgusting worm of a man who acts like a demi-god and can get away with it, because within the walls of Baalboden, he is. If you cross the Commander, you die. If you speak against the Commander, you die. If you disobey one of the Commander's rules, however small, you die. If the Commander wants something from you, he'll threaten your family, they'll die, then you'll die, just because he can get away with it. He has no principles, no morals, no limit to what he might do.

Come at me, bro.
Really, I spent most of my time away from the book dreaming of a scenario where I could appear and put some proper fear into that man, preferably while armed with a Samus suit and a flamethrower. Also, I'd laugh in his face, because it would make him mad... which is why I'd have the suit.

The scariest part of the Commander - of the whole book, really - is the free rein Ms. Redwine gives herself to make her characters wish they were never born. People die, y'all. Really important people! And they don't just die. They die slowly, painfully, as they watch their last hope disappear into nothingness.

It's a scary thing, flowing along with all the feelings. Ms. Redwine uses her characters - Rachel especially - to really delve into the dark side of emotions. I'm used to reading a book where the main character is hurt or angry or desperate for change. But Rachel doesn't just want change. She wants revenge. She wants those who hurt her to beg for her mercy. I struggled between wanting justice for Rachel and Logan but wanting everything to happen in a way that allowed Rachel and Logan to keep their humanity.

I'm sorry if this isn't a very coherent review. I feel like I just went on a corkscrew-filled roller coaster and I'm still trying to regain my equilibrium. I hope when I've had more practice reviewing that I'll find a way to convey the emotions that I felt while remaining clear and concise, but I'm not quite there yet.

I'll leave you all with a screenshot of my Goodreads status updates:

Click to enlarge.

Feeeeeeeliiiiiiiiiings. You've been warned.

Points Added For: All the feelings, the scary Cursed One, the nice blend of a past-world society and futuristic tech, realistic and fantastic fight scenes, the Switch (I want one), a nice build to the next book.

Points Subtracted For: Some suspension of disbelief (I can't believe that Rachel hadn't gotten herself killed before the beginning of the book - she's just TOO strong-willed not to draw attention to herself); the fact that Rachel is only sixteen (it skeeved me out); I could've used a bit more world-building.

Good For Fans Of: Dual narratives, headstrong protagonists, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Eowyn's "I Am No Man!" moment in LOTR, villains that make you mad.

Notes For Parents: Violence, murder, torture, a few makeout scenes, one scene where Logan notices (apparently for the first time) that Rachel does in fact have boobs.

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