Book Review : The Unbroken

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The UnbrokenThe Unbroken (Magic of the Lost, #1) by C.L. Clark
Published by Orbit on March 23rd 2021
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ
Pages: 442
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
Find on Goodreads
three-stars
Source: NetGalley

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.

I was immediately sucked into The Unbroken, and never wanted to put it down. For me the standouts of the novel were undoubtedly the female characters and their relationships, as well as the representation of LGBT+ characters and a disabled main character. I also was incredibly intrigued by the magical system, which sadly, I felt was a bit vague. My biggest issues with The Unbroken revolved around the main romance between a princess, Luca, and one of the people she colonized, Touraine, and the lack of credibility I felt of those characters in their respective positions. 

 

“‘Too many died in a war that’s not theirs.

‘Your rebellion would be another one.’

‘You’ll have to fight for one side or the other. Why not fight for the side that gives you freedom?’

‘Because I can fight for the side that’s winning”

‘Winning isn’t everything. It’s how you win that matters most.'”

 

I really loved the family dynamics in The Unbroken, which explores all types of families. Touraine was kidnapped and taken from her mother at a young age, only to meet her again as an adult, serving the colonizers her mother fights against. I really enjoyed how The Unbroken explored their often cantankerous relationship and believably dealt with the resentment Touraine felt towards her mother for the hand she was dealt in life. I also enjoyed how her mother, Jaghotai, coped with the harsh truth that her daughter had essentially been brainwashed by their colonizers, after a life of fighting in units of other kidnapped Qazali—known as the Sands—and being educated to serve the Balladairan empire, at the expense of their own culture, family, language, and entire way of life. The Unbroken does a great job of demonstrating all of the differences in beliefs, and the emotions both mother and daughter were feeling. It was nice to read a parent-child relationship that was anything but perfect.

 

“Touraine was starting to think it was impossible o come from one land and learn to live in another and feel whole. That you would always stand on shaky, hole-ridden ground, half of your identity dug out of you and tossed away.”

 

Besides this interesting and well-developed representation of a parent-child dynamic, I really enjoyed the representation of a disabled main character who isn’t helpless or a victim of her disability. Princess Luca was in a horse riding accident at a young age, which left her with a disabled and often painful leg. She copes with chronic pain on a daily basis, but still manages to even train herself to use a rapier for self defense (which she even keeps in her cane), and to govern the colony in a bid for her rightful throne, all while seeking the secrets of ancient Shālan magic. I was thrilled that despite Luca’s disability and search for magic to heal her people of a Withering Plague, her leg is never magically cured. I feel that in a lot of fantasy novels with disability representation, the pesky disability is just magicked away, like a less than abled body character isn’t worthy of being a main character. So I was really happy that she remained disabled and that The Unbroken even showed her coping with the chronic pain on multiple occasions.

 

“In the back of her mind, however she thought about how easy it would be to rule Balladaire if she had magic on her side. If magic actually existed. How people would look at her if she managed what her father could not.”

 

I was less thrilled with the main romance of the novel, which does provide LGBT+ representation as well. When I read the blurb of The Unbroken, I inferred that Princess Luca and Touraine would be on more equal footing in their plots. I thought they would be scheming plans in a council and enacting them together. But to my discomfort, that is really not the case. The romance between Luca and Touraine is very much that of the oppressor/colonizer/privileged and the oppressed/colonized/less privileged. Luca has complete control over Touraine’s life, saving her from death, granting her personal freedom, and disowning her on a whim. This romance was regrettably not in any way a partnership and I was puzzled how either character was able to pretend it ever was. Luckily, there are other LGBT+ relationships in The Unbroken that are healthier, but they don’t play as big of a part in the story. 

 

“If the soldier could play her role well enough to learn about the magic, all the risk would be worth it. Luca got a weapon; the soldier got her life. If the woman was loyal.”

 

What does play a huge part in The Unbroken is the countless mistakes both Touraine and Luca make in the course of the novel. Their awful decision making has huge consequence for the entire colony and the empire as a whole, and I was often gobsmacked that anyone followed their orders or believed them. I don’t understand how Princess Luca was not trained her entire life for the throne that her uncle currently holds as regent, and how she was sent to govern an entire colony with no advisors other than a few bodyguards and a mere tactical self-help book she uses for vague guidance. I know her uncle wants to set her up for failure and to make excuses that she is not fit to rule the Empire, as is her blood right, but I don’t understand how any young noblewoman is so underprepared for the task at hand, especially since the entire reason she was sent to Qāzali was to gain governing experience. Isn’t part of the government learning to ask for help when you need it and to learn to take advice and from whom? Poor Luca is just thrown into the ocean and told to swim. We are never really told what kind of education she has as heir to the throne either, so it’s hard to feel that she is up to the task.

Likewise, I cannot even begin to comprehend how Touraine was ever fit for command. She makes extremely impulsive decisions, betraying her alliances countless times, and it was pretty miserable to watch. She was supposedly given an extensive Balladairan education throughout her life as a conscript, with a focus on tactics, and was even the protégé to the infamous Blood General, and I don’t understand how she ended up this underprepared for her leadership roles. Supposedly she was a pretty decent Lieutenant of the Sands, but readers aren’t shown any times where she handled her rank well, except at the very beginning when she thought quickly on her feet and saved the Princess from assassination. But I can assure you, quick thinking isn’t Touraine’s problem, it’s not thinking enough. 

 

She makes decisions and split seconds, sometimes over time skips in chapters, and I was horrified to watch her make yet another reckless decision in what felt like out of nowhere. I wish The Unbroken had spent more time in the beginning establishing Touraine as a decent officer, maybe showing some of their other tours and how she handled difficult moments with aplomb. Instead, we are just told by her Sergeants, and sometimes General Cantic, that she is a good officer, but we never see it first hand. Instead, we see her destroying opportunities for peace at almost every turn. I felt like if characters interacted with Touraine,  they were betrayed by her, plain and simple, without even being consulted. As a result of her poor and impulsive decision-making, which had huge consequences for everyone around her, I really struggled to like Touraine, especially when she didn’t feel that bad for the far-reaching consequences of her actions. 

 

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

 

And what’s worse, there were people Touraine could have consulted for advice, but she repeatedly chose not to, instead following her emotions and loyalty of the minute. It was just really frustrating to watch her repeatedly play turncoat. I felt really guilty liking Luca better than Touraine, as Luca is the freaking colonizer, robbing people of their religion and hanging them left and right, but sadly, I preferred her to Touraine. I felt I understood the reasons behind why she chose the course of actions she did, mostly because her back was up against the wall many times, and Touraine instead just did whatever she wanted willy nilly. Still, I am uncomfortable that I liked Luca, the colonizer, more, but I just related to her struggle with her disability more and liked that she was willing to consult others and research at least before making her equally bad decisions. It just goes to show that The Unbroken is a realistic and brutal military novel.

 

“Besides, guns kill people just as dead as magic does. Sometimes less so, and that’s another kind of evil entirely.”

 

That being said, I wish a little more of The Unbroken had dealt less with the military decisions and their consequences and had dealt with the world outside of the colony. I felt like I didn’t really know anything about the outside world, other than a few references to the Sands fighting up north against bear-worshippers known as the Taargens, who somehow use magic to suck out something from their opponents that leaves their victims as husks and allows them to shapeshift into bears. Other than that, and references that the Sands and Luca took a ship to the colony, I don’t know where the capital city of the Balladairan Empire is, or how big the empire actually is and how many people were conquered by them. I would’ve liked to know these things to get a clear picture of how big the consequences of all these military decisions were and what they meant for people outside of the colony.

Also, I felt that there wasn’t nearly enough time spent on the magic system. I felt, much like Luca who is determined to sniff out any knowledge about lost magics, that I was following trail of very sparsely laid bread crumbs. And maybe that is exactly how the author wanted the magic to be, mostly a mystery. Every now and then The Unbroken would drop another magic bread crumb, but it was so few and far apart that it felt like a tease more than anything. I hope the next novel in this series will devote more time to uncovering the mystery. I am particularly interested in the lost Balladairan God and what magical powers it might have granted its worshipers.

 

Regardless of what magical revelations occur in future entries in the series, The Unbroken is a promising debut fantasy novel. Though not being a huge fan of military decisions and what not, the character development, especially between mother and daughter and their conflicting loyalties, was enough to keep me interested, even when I found these developments to not especially be a credit to the characters themselves. I also really reveled in the disability representation in the novel, which I thought was handled better than the LGBT+ representation, which I found problematic. Despite this, I am interested to see how Luca and Touraine will grow independently of one another in future entries of the series, and can only hope that they will learn better decision making skills, and am also excited to see what new magics they will uncover.

three-stars
Divider
Book Review : The Unbroken - Blogging with Dragons

Posted February 22, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

Tags: ,

Geek Out:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.