Title: Defiant Revival
Author: L. Rockwood
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 300 Pages
Category: Fairy Tale/Fantasy
At a Glance: While I admire the ambition of this debut novel, the story itself fell short for me.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: To free the kingdom from the depravity of Cardinal Aldrious, Prince Micah Helvendeere must take his rightful place as ruler.
Unfortunately, the prince has been dead for a year.
Billiam Grimhart, former page to the prince, knows Micah’s assumption of the throne is the last chance to purge Casperland of the cardinal’s corruption. And for that to happen, the prince must be revived. Only one person stands a chance of achieving the nearly impossible: exiled enchantress Shemmy DuBois, a raunchy bog witch with an affinity for corpses and a heart of gold. Billiam sets out to coax Shemmy to their cause, despite what wading through piles of bodies will do to his favorite shoes.
If he can accomplish it, Billiam might finally get to consummate his love for the prince—something Shemmy is keen to witness. But first, they’ll need to steal Micah’s body, brave a land inhabited by vicious faeries, and accept the help of accomplices as vile and perverse as their enemies. They might be far from typical heroes, but sometimes those are the only people who can get the job done.
If you like dark and edgy high-concept fantasy that’s not for those with delicate sensibilities, join Billiam, Shemmy, and their Faelock allies as they stage their revolution.
Review: Defiant Revival is an ambitious debut novel. There are more than a few things I liked about the story and its setting, and there are some things that didn’t work for me, owing in part to the expectations I’d built up from all the warnings about the content; some others owing to the way the story has been divided into two separate novels.
Defiant Revival is, at its essence, a fairy tale, gathering a slew of motifs from the medium, and fracturing some as well. In that regard I have to say that if Cinderella’s stepsisters mutilating their feet in an effort to fit in the glass slipper didn’t trigger you, the violence in this novel likely won’t either—the tale is simply more Grimm Brothers than Disney. Having said that, the journey begins with the awakening of Prince Micah from a death consummated by the evil antagonist who is mimicking a pious man. Micah’s beloved Billiam is the Knight in Shining Armor who sets out to rescue his true love, and employs a disturbingly perverted and sometimes delightfully wacky enchantress, Shemmie, to resurrect the prince (the defiant revival the title references) so Micah can regain the throne, and he and Billiam can begin their happily-ever-after as husband and husband.
The author’s imagination is in high gear throughout the novel, introducing a slew of characters and placing them in dangerous and/or awkward situations. There’s a good bit of humor sprinkled throughout the story, a frivolity that complements and contrasts some of the more serious aspects of the plot. There are places along the way where it’s obvious the author’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek, while at other times it was more difficult to tell whether things were unintentionally funny simply because of the way the scenes were written. Overwrought is a word the author uses at one point, and it’s a spot-on descriptor—there’s a lot of crying and hysterical emotional outbursts and exclamations going on in the story.
There’s some dark humor at play too, which sometimes worked and other times fell flat. One of the ways in which the storytelling worked contrary to the way I think it was supposed to is that I felt a lot of sympathy for and commiserated with a character, Zan, who was supposed to be loathsome but wasn’t. At least, not to me. Part of my empathy for this character, and, in many cases, a disconnect from the other role players, has to do with the way the story is told. The narration is done in the omniscient first person point of view. It was working for me in a Dickensian way (think author as narrator in A Christmas Carol) at the start of the novel—until it’s revealed that it’s one of the side characters, Leke, Zan’s sister, doing the narrating. This character’s omniscience then made no sense to me because she was telling a firsthand account of story details that she wasn’t directly privy to. She was miles removed from some situations that she was narrating intimately, as though she were there and witnessing those scenes. That not being the case, it made her an unreliable narrator for me even though the author granted her complete agency over the storytelling.
The sense of misplaced compassion I felt for Zan, though, has a lot more to do with the fact that his sin, the heinous act that was supposed to make me loathe him, was far removed from the timing of this story. That it didn’t happen in real-time only gave it a peripheral despicableness. Sure, it wasn’t pretty, what he’d done, but the sense of villainy I was supposed to feel about Zan missed its mark, making me feel sorrier for the way he was being treated on page than his past crime made me hate him. This same sense of disconnect also left me feeling only mildly interested in Micah and Billiam’s romance. Leke narrating their sex scenes was just odd, for lack of a better word, and since all the falling in love had happened before Micah’s death, before this tale begins, his rebirth and the immediate I-love-yous had more of an insta-love feel to them. Although that goes hand in hand with the fairy tale trope, it still didn’t do much to help endear them to me as a couple.
The entirety of this story being divided into two separate novels was an unfortunate and what I feel was an unnecessary choice. There are scenes in this book that didn’t do much in the way of developing the characters or serving what will eventually be the overall story arc (at least I don’t think so—it was hard to tell), and characters who were introduced and then disappeared, seemingly without a solid purpose. Defiant Revival reads like one long introduction—the prince is revived and then there’s a journey with a smattering of turmoil and drama along the way. All the relevant action seems to have been saved for the next book. There’s some interest in what appears to be a glitch in the prince’s resurrection, but the rest of the story is so busy that Micah’s issues got lost in the drama shuffle.
I loved the diversity of the characters and the world they inhabited, and I also liked the magical elements the author has introduced in Defiant Revival. Overall, though, while I admire the imagination behind this novel, the story itself fell short for me.
You can buy Defiant Revival here: