Bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer is back with her latest high fantasy story, Defy the Night, a dramatic tale of politics and romance, with the fate of a kingdom hanging in the balance. If that summary sounds more than a little like you’ve heard it before, well, it probably should.
Many of the beats of this tale will likely feel more than a little bit familiar to fans of Kemmerer’s recent Cursebreakers trilogy: The fish out of water heroine forced to live and learn in an environment she had initially despised, the supposedly monstrous romantic lead who is secretly not that monstrous at all, repeated exploration of the ways that both love and politics require us to attempt to understand – and offer grace – to those beyond our own point of view.
And to that end, much of this story is easily predictable – most of its twists are fairly obvious from the start, and there aren’t any real huge twists along the way. (Oh, is the roguish outlaw secretly helping the sick find medicine also the cruel prince who punishes traitors? Whoever could have guessed? He’s just the second POV character!) But that’s not what makes this story an enjoyable read – or one that’s worthy of a sequel.
Defy the Night is set in the kingdom of Kandala, a land that has been suffering for years from an ongoing epidemic of a deadly fever. The plague can only be treated by an elixir made from a specific plant known as the Moonflower, which naturally only grows in two sectors of the kingdom. Young King Harristan is forced to maintain the peace with a ruthless hand – doing his best to provide medicine equitably to all his subjects, while ruthlessly punishing those who would steal it, with the help of Prince Corrick, the King’s Justice who viciously enforces his older brother’s laws.
But, to what is likely the surprise of no one, this system doesn’t entirely work – corruption is rampant, the consuls who control the sectors that produce Moonflower are constantly demanding higher prices, and the wealthy elites are using their considerable means to buy more medicine for the Royal Sector, while the poor who live in the outer realms known as the Wilds sicken and die with greater frequency.
Apothecary Tessa Cade does what she can to treat the poorest of her neighbors: Mixing medicine, treating those who are already ill, and sneaking out every night with her best friend – and sometime crush – Wes to steal Moonflower petals for those who need them most. She hates both the king and his cruel enforcer brother, convinced that they’re willing turning a blind eye to the suffering of the less fortunate and hoping that one day the people will rise up against their rule.
But as rumors spread about the availability and efficacy of the medicine so many have come to count on to keep their families alive, sparks of rebellion begin to flare in the kingdom’s poorer sectors and one act of of tragedy sends a desperate Tessa into the palace to confront – or maybe worse – the king herself. But what she discovers there will make her reevaluate everything she thought she knew about the king, Kandala, and politics itself.
Much of the emotional weight of Defy the Night centers around Tessa’s discovery that the world is full of more shades of gray than she ever thought possible. It’s easy to call for revolution when you’re unaware of the careful balancing act necessary to keep the kingdom at peace and to get the most medicine into the hands of most people. Just as its easy for those in power to punish those who steal – without considering the fact that desperate people are sometimes forced to make hard choices.
The fast-paced story is full of narrative twists and turns, to be sure, but it’s also full of a fairly cogent and nuanced argument that neither those fermenting rebellion or those agitating for the status quo are 100% correct. And Kemmerer should be commended for walking a fine, careful line – it’s easy to see both sides in the larger philosophical and moral arguments at the center of this story, and that’s no mean feat.
Much like A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Defy the NIght ends in a place that feels as though it could go either way – if this is the end of the series, it’s a satisfying conclusion; but if it’s not, there’s plenty of room for the story to expand and continue into a second chapter. I strongly suspect the latter is what will happen, and much like Kemmerer’s Cursebreakers books, I wouldn’t be shocked if the second volume in this series switches POVs entirely. (I am also desperate for some Harrison POV chapters, so I may be projecting a bit, but the young king is certainly the series’ most interesting character that we don’t spend much time with here.)
Defy the Night is available now. Let us know if you plan to give it a look.