“If an opportunity presents itself, you must snatch it or lose it to someone fiercer. You don’t have time to think, because if you think, you starve.”
In Defiant, Spensa and company face down the Superiority for the last time in an explosive final endeavor that could bring lasting peace to the universe or destroy them all. Along the way, she finds new villains and friends in unexpected places. Defiant is very similar in tone and content to Cytonic, the previous installment in the Skyward tetralogy.
For me, a successful finale should do more than just wrap up the plot. It should leave me emotionally exhausted—the feeling of racing through something exhilarating and fighting to catch my breath at the end of it. Defiant is a satisfactory final book in that the conclusion of the plot is thoughtful and logical, we get to see characters from throughout the series interact with each other, and there’s an exciting final duel that leads to a satisfying end to this stage of Spensa’s life. But it didn’t wow me or leave me with a strong emotional impression like the ending of Skyward or Starsight. However, Defiant definitely succeeds in some signature Sanderson ways.
I like how all the characters contribute to the final stand in their own way. Even though Spensa is overwhelmingly powerful, she can’t do everything herself, which is one lesson she has to learn along the way. It’s very touching to see how many friends Spensa has made for herself on her journey and how many people now trust her.
Spensa is like a reader herself, given the opportunity to live out the stories she loves. She grew up regaled with tales of ancient conquerors and heroes, people who made larger-than-life achievements, people who never doubted themselves or questioned if the path they were on was the right one. She dreamed of becoming a heroine herself, of joining the ranks of those she had idolized. In a way, she got what she wanted, but reality was more complicated for her. Her moral questions, self-growth, and effort to understand people different from her make up the heart-warming backbone of this series. She’s truly a wonderful main character to follow, especially as she changes from a loner to a leader with intergalactic friends at her side.
My favorite part of the book was Brade’s character and her interactions with Spensa. Brade is a glimpse of whom Spensa could have been, either her polar opposite or her mirror image, depending on how you see it. I love their dynamic. They’re fascinated by one another. They recognize the power and potential in each other, but each wants to see it pointed in a different direction, dictated by their past experiences and the way they see the world.
Defiant is quite poignant, but more polished prose would have further elevated the emotional moments. There were plenty of scenes that could have made me step back, heart in my throat, to process—but most fell short for me personally because of their prosaic and almost rushed nature. In addition, the dialogue was strangely predictable, as if I knew what the characters (even the minor ones) were going to say and how they were going to say it, before they said anything at all.
Defiant is a solid ending to the Skyward tetralogy. It has action, politics, betrayal, friendship—everything you could want from a classic Sanderson novel. However, it did not leave me with a range of emotion that was varied or intense enough to make Defiant a memorable or impactful ending for me, so my final impression is ambivalent.