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Bumpy, but compelling.

By Rhythm, author of Touch

Feb 12, 2018: Disclaimer: This review was written as part of a swap.

The Fifth Defiance is not your standard superhero story. I mean this neither as a compliment, nor an insult. I simply mean that while it does conform to several of the more common tropes of the superhero genre, it has a few twists that serve to categorize it somewhat uniquely. I will go into these further in a moment, but first, a brief synopsis.

Kay, cliff notes. In the near future, someone invents a technology capable of harnessing hidden human potential and turning regular human beings into the superpowerful ‘Ultras.’ This went really really well for all concerned, right up until it didn’t, and one particular Ultra decided to destroy a vast swathe of the human population, claiming America and some of Canada as her domain, occasionally getting bored and picking fights with whole countries at a time.

In the slightly less near future, our story opens, with Jane Trent, a ‘Troubleshooter’ tasked with acting as an enforcer to the ‘Prevailer’ (The woman who broke the world) roving the Mad Max style, post apocalyptic wastes of the United States and making sure that the remnants of the surviving cities stay relatively in line and obedient. Except she’s also secretly a rebel sympathizer, and is searching for ways to help make America somewhat less awful again. You can call this a spoiler, but its in the first chapter, so honestly, I’m spoiling nothing.

As a premise, this works very functionally. Our protagonist has to pursue open objectives, while at the same time pursuing an entirely different, somewhat more subversive set of goals without her companions noticing. Its an interesting bit of counterplay, and I like it. This is as far as I will go into the story itself, as I would regard the rest as something of a spoiler. Suffice to say that if you like what you’ve read thus far, go take a look, it’s worth your time.

Now, back to that whole "Not your standard superhero story" business I was babbling about earlier. Point number one, our protagonist is elderly. This might sound like a small thing, but I think it allows the story to explore a very different perspective to the standard superhero arc. This is not about discovering powers, how they are supposed to be used, or coming to some kind of apotheosis. No, this is about an old, jaded woman trying to make a difference in the world with a power she very well understands, that she also knows isn’t really powerful enough to make that big of a difference on its own. This strips away a lot of the optimism from the story. It’s not about someone trying to win, but about someone trying really, really hard not to lose yet again. Second interesting thing, the system whereby superpowers are granted is tilted towards women, as they have a stronger chance than men of surviving the process of empowerment and becoming ‘Ultras.’ This allows the author to explore a very underexamined part of speculative fiction; A might makes right society in which women hold the lion’s share of power. This is not a complete trend, and there are male characters of importance and power, but it allows for some dynamics that may be considered rare in other examples of superhero fiction. Thirdly, and, perhaps, least interesting, the author devotes a great deal of time to worldbuilding, to the degree that every chapter, near enough, has a sub chapter dividing it from the next segment of the plot that contains some relevent segment of information on the world’s history, geo-political state, or whatever else the author felt like covering at the time. This makes the piece feel very explored and grounded, but I cannot call it a definitive positive because it also drags the pacing to a fairly slow burn, which some may find not worth the extra effort.

What I considered good: The writing is strong, and the characters well rounded. The author makes functional use of many literary systems to bring the reader in, and the end result is highly engaging. I would go so far as to say that the first few chapters got me hooked enough that I would have kept reading even if I didn’t have to for this review. The plot is interesting and the explorations of social systems and powers is thought provoking. The writer has something of a gift for finding inventive powers to give characters, and the strategic methods used and thought out are a pleasure to partake in.

What I considered bad: I will state straight up that my first concern may not bother you as much as it did me. The author has some issues with grammar (Lots of missing commas) in the early chapters, and that, coupled with a few editing mistakes, messed with my head a bit while I was reading it. This gets better as time goes on, so if you aren’t bothered by it as much as me, then by all means, feel free to ignore it until it isn’t there anymore. The story, while interesting, has a trend towards the bleak, and while I myself didn’t find this to be a concern, some of you may find it a tad depressing at times. Thirdly, and I put this in the negatives column not because I consider it bad, but simply because it seems the most appropriate place to put it, is that the story deals with a number of heavy duty issues, such as racism, wanton murder and instances of rape. It would be unfair, and hypocritical of me to judge the author for this, as my own story also contains some of these things, but it is the sort of thing that a prospective reader deserves to know about in advance, which is why I put it in the review.

Overall: I have quite a few good things to say, and not very many bad things. It did not stimulate me quite as much as some of the other things I have read, but also possessed fewer overall flaws than them as well. If anything, it is well executed, and Walter is to be commended on that.

Note: I have yet to complete my reading of the story as it is quite extraordinarily lengthy, and will be providing my full score when I get further into it. The score I provide for the moment is provisional.

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