TL;DR The Unbroken is a breathtaking anticolonial epic fantasy. Set in a second world echoing the French occupation of North Africa, the book explores war, politics, colonialism, love, trust, and belonging. It comes out March 23 and you’re going to want to read it ASAP. Here’s the first two chapters in case you already can’t wait: https://www.orbitbooks.net/orbit-excerpts/the-unbroken-by-c-l-clark/
Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for providing an ARC in exchange for a fair review.
Listen: in full transparency, I requested this book for the cover. Sure, people Tweeted about how great it is, but I’ve read a lot of great fantasy (and a lot of fantasy that was supposed to be great but wasn’t). But. Look at those arms and tell me you’re not a little in love with Touraine already.
You are, aren’t you? I thought so. Just wait until you get to know her. Because, y’all. I’m deeply in love with this woman. Touraine was kidnapped from her homeland, Qazāl, as a child to become a soldier for the colonizing empire of Balladaire. We start the book with her on a ship back to Qazāl for a mission. On the same ship? The princess of Balladaire, Luca. She should ascend the throne soon, except that the regent, her uncle, insists she must prove herself ready. Luca’s mission: to strengthen the empire’s hold on Qazāl, where rebellion is stirring.
The thing that I loved most deeply about this novel, though, was Touraine’s struggle to understand who she was. I’ve certainly never been kidnapped and trained as cannon fodder for wars that were not of my own making. Still: I’m the daughter of immigrants; I’ve also spoken to a number of other immigrants and members of diaspora through my work with khōréō. This feeling of not knowing where you belong–of not quite fitting in in either place (or, worse, of being told that one part of your culture ‘doesn’t count’; yes, this happened to me and yes, I’m still bitter about it.)–is a haunting one, and seeing it reflected in Touraine’s own thoughts as she tries to find her way in the world was deeply meaningful. I’m so grateful to Clark for putting it to the page.
This book is sprawling in its scope, exploring intensely human relationships against a background of colonialism, which Clark interrogates ruthlessly. While there’s a clear core arc to this novel, it’s also a setup for an entire trilogy; the author plants seeds that will certainly grow into either bouquets or ensnaring vines in the coming books. There’s also a LOT at stake beyond the intertwined politics of, and power struggle between, Qazāl and Balladaire; we learn of other peoples who seem to have magic, an art that Balladaire has lost.
Because of the complexity of the politics at play and the need to introduce the potential for magic and its laws from partway through the book, rather than “naturally” from the start, the novel slows a bit in the middle. There’s just so much to show. Even so, I have to urge you: pick this book up and stick with it. It’s worth it. I promise.
The last thing I’ll say in praise of this book: it’s a queernorm world. The sheer number of badass women loving each other in whatever way they know how made my little bi heart so, so happy. I loved it because of how easy it was for people to love whomever they wanted to, at least in the abstract. I loved how hard Clark made it for a happily ever after to happen and how she somehow, through all of it, made sure that there’s always hope.
In all, I recommend this book with my whole heart to anyone who loves epic, complex fantasy with a lot of badass women and queer relationships. I’ve been shouting about this book from the rooftops since page 10. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world so y’all can revel in its amazingness with me. I
hope know you’ll love it as much as I do.