Leah’s Review of “The Unbroken” by C.L. Clark

By: Leah

Originally posted on Leah’s Books.

The Unbroken 

  • Author: C.L. Clark
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: March 23, 2021
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Series: Magic of the Lost #1

CONTENT WARNING: violence, racism, blood, gore, torture, death, plague

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Plot Summary

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, she owes loyalty to only her fellow conscripts. But now her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassination and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

Overall Impression

This book had caught my eye, and after seeing my friend Aqua Venatus raving about this multiple times, it pushed it up on my TBR and I had to grab it from the library immediately. And I’m so glad I did. Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous cover? 

This is an amazing North African-based fantasy world, and it’s incredibly detailed in it’s scope. Clark has obviously done plenty of research on war and colonialism, and I loved the way we get to see both sides of the coin, since it’s told from two POVs, one from each side of the conflict. And it was fascinating to see how everything came together.

Touraine is a conscripted soldier, who has risen to the rank of Lieutenant but is still struggling to be seen as an equal, or to move forward. She is originally from Qazāl, one of many children that were snatched from their home and families, and raised to be soldiers for the empire that oppresses their people. And despite all their service and loyalty, they aren’t accepted as citizens or afforded the same rights as others. But once she returns to Qazāl, everything changes — including her prospects. She is a tough character, and I love how she’s portrayed as strong, fierce, brave, and everything else you’d want to see from a soldier. However, she struggles with anger and resentment, and this makes up a significant part of her motivation to do the things that she does. The fact that she’s such a realistically flawed character made her hard to dislike, even though I didn’t necessarily agree with all of her choices.

“Some Balladairans would never see the Sands as true citizens. Those people didn’t matter. Or they wouldn’t if the law would protect the Sands as citizens. And it didn’t.”

The other POV is Luca, a princess who is in Qazāl to put down a rebellion, and show her uncle, who is currently on the throne, that she deserves to take the throne she is entitled to. She’s not the easiest character to like, and this story clearly shows her as the oppressor, even though she has aspirations to change and improve her empire. I loved the fact that she has a disability, and struggles with that stigma in a world that values strength and able-bodied people above all. Sound familiar? But as the story goes on, it’s harder to empathize with her and her predicament, even when we see her rationalizations.

“By the sky above, she wanted to be enough. No. More than enough. She wanted to be a queen for the histories. Someone who changed Balladaire for the better. Someone who changed the world.”

Ultimately, these are both characters who are flawed and make terrible choices. Luca strives to improve life for all of her people, but doesn’t exactly view the people in the colonized areas as equal to Balladairans. She learns a lot throughout the book, and makes some difficult decisions based on limited options available to her. We also get to see her struggle with the consequences of her actions. Touraine also deals with the consequences of her actions, although she has significantly fewer options available to her. Everything she does seems to have some kind of blowback affecting her and the people she cares about, no matter what her intentions are. And we get to see her learn how to think for herself, making her own choices, and not simply follow orders.

“Every path seemed like a different kind of powerlessness, but Touraine didn’t know where else she could turn.”

“She was here because she was a soldier. A fighter. She didn’t know anything else and she was good at it. Cantic had made sure of that. And Touraine enjoyed it. She could still feel the glee of punching Tibeau for the first time. It would be the death of her, but she’d always expected that. She’d been raised for this, and she had nothing but this, even though she had tried so fucking hard to find something else.”

The representation is fabulous, and worked into the story so naturally that nothing felt forced. Characters belong to different ethnic and cultural groups, and sexual identity. Within the empire, sexuality seems to be much more open. Luca is openly bisexual, and sexually active with several partners alluded to in her past. Touraine is gay, and while there isn’t much actual spice involved in the story, there’s definitely some slow-burning sexual tension. And as someone who is disabled, I could identify with a lot of Luca’s struggles, making it feel very realistic to me. 

This is a brutal story, and it reminded me a little of The Poppy War in it’s military-oriented plot. There’s a lot going on, and although things were difficult to follow at first, I got into it very quickly. And once I got into it, the plot kept intensifying almost claustrophobically. Each of the characters was trapped and there weren’t any ways out for any of them. They were all locked into the aftermath of choices they made, both historically and recently. And even aside from the two MCs, the side characters were all very fleshed out. This isn’t an easy or happy story, but neither is colonial rule and the aftermath. And while it’s dark and painful, the book is amazing, and I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

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