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Grim, but creative and engaging.

By Sharkerbob, author of Graven

Oct 13, 2018: Two hundred years from now, scientists unlock the secret to superhuman powers. Those powers immediately end up in the wrong hands, and a generation of Ultrahuman criminals conquer and devastate the world. Since that time, there have already been four failed attempts to overthrow the brutal regime of the tyrant Prevailer. Now, after years of careful planning, a group of rebels manages to position themselves within the ranks of Her chosen champions. But can even an enemy from within defeat a monster with the power to end the world?

(Note: I have reviewed this work previously, but decided to do an update since the story has come along quite a ways since.)

The Fifth Defiance is a fascinating and engaging read. This is not truly a superhero story, but a post-apocalyptic adventure that focuses squarely on a brutal society of superhumans, and the desperate champions that struggle to survive and overcome impossible odds. There are very few truly good characters in the setting; even among the main five protagonists, one is outright evil, and two are mainly just trying to survive. The two "good guys" of the main team are still forced into brutal, morally compromising situations in their quest to overthrow Prevailer.

Even still, while this is a dark, dreary world, it is filled with creativity. The lore is fascinating, with a very creative system for the super powers, and we’re constantly learning more about the world as the characters travel through it. The powers on display are a clever mixture of your standard physical enhancements combined with a wide array of esoteric abilities with a lot of creative applications. Fight scenes are often brutal, but well done, and make great use of how different powers clash.

Beyond all the lore and powers, though, the series’ biggest strength is its use of constantly rotating perspectives to both really dig into the minds of the characters, and get a much fuller view of all sides of the story. Interpersonal struggles are seen from all sides of the conflict. The world has been reduced to a simple set up of three warring countries in a delicate balance of power, but each nation has their own internal struggles on the large and small scale, which we see through the perspectives of side characters.

Adding to this, between each character perspective chapter, there is a "lore article" that does a lot to further flesh out the world. Almost all of these are flavored in such a way as to feel natural to the setting; they take the form of interviews, military reports, diary entries, propaganda readings, etc.

If I had any complaints for the serial, it would be the following points: While I do really like the aforementioned "lore article" segments, there are a couple times when I really feel these short bits could have been expanded further into full chapters. There is at least one pretty major event that just gets glossed over in the form of a brief battle report, and might have been better told in a full character chapter. Likewise, while I personally like the format of the chapter-article-chapter-article, it is a bit jarring at first, so some readers might find that format a turn off.

Otherwise, there is the occasional chapter that I feel is unnecessary, either because it feels like its stalling the action by having the characters sitting around talking or contemplating things for longer than feels necessary, or when a chapter seems to serve only to reiterate a point that’s already been made about a character before.

This is also one of those web serials that just mass-dumps tons of side characters into the mix, only for them to be relevant for just a couple of chapters, then they disappear or get killed. While this does perfectly suit the type of story this is, some readers may find this meat-grinder effect a bit exhausting, and it can be a little disappointing when a really cool character is introduced, only to get shuffled off shortly after, never to be seen again.

All and all, though, I highly recommend this work. I’d say that so far, its my favorite web serial, one of those stories that I didn’t know how much I wanted to read until I happened to stumble across it.

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