Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to 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 assassinations 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.
The Unbroken took me a little while to get into, but once I’d hit my stride I found myself devouring it in hundred-page chunks, immersed in the beautifully drawn, albeit harrowing, world Clark has created. And what a world it is. We’ve got a heady mixture of military-based fantasy set against colonialist conquerors, with a rebellion brewing in the streets of Qazāl. One where the lines of good and bad are blurred. Characters make big, epic mistakes, and have to live with the consequences.
Speaking of characters, I loved the dynamic between the two main leads. Touraine, Lieutenant in the Balladairan army. A Sand conscript, taken from her Qazāli home some twenty years earlier, now returning. Hated by the Balladairans as the lowest of the low, but also hated by her people as a traitor, working for their enemy. She has a lot to prove, and boy does she not mess around.
Then there’s Luca, princess and heir to the throne of Balladaire. She’s come to Qazāl to prove herself worthy of that throne, currently occupied by her uncle, the Regent. So for her, Qazāl is just a means to that end. She wants it sorted, and is prepared to compromise if she needs to – though at times she’s not too bothered what lines needs to be crossed to get there.
The action comes thick and fast from the outset, as these two women, wildly different in background and social status are thrown together. Can Tour help Luca see what needs to be done to help Qazāl? Or will Luca do whatever it takes to seal her place on the Balladairan throne and become Queen? And can she find the Qazāl magic?
Beautifully complex, layered characters. A solid, intriguing world which explores colonialism and oppression. A will-they-won’t-they dance between our two leads, in a society where same-sex relationships don’t raise an eyebrow. A supporting cast of devious generals, priests, soldiers and others.
You’ll find yourself alternately on #TeamLuca or #TeamTouraine, wanting to give them a hug one minute and berating them for doing something spectacularly dangerous/daft/stupid the next. Or admiring Touraine’s biceps. That seems to be a thing. I’m there for that.
Big, chonky epic fantasy. What’s not to like? The Unbroken leaves us with a nicely rounded story, though I’m very much looking forward to book 2 to see where Clark takes us next!
The Unbroken by CL Clark is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Orbit Books for the copy to review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.
C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle and Uncanny.