Review: The Unbroken by CL Clark

CL Clark’s The Unbroken is one of those books that almost requires no introductions. As far as I know it’s one of the most talked about books on the book sphere right now, and rightly so. This book sounded absolutely incredible even before I picked it up, catered to everything I love to read in fantasy.

A huge thank you to Tracy Fenton and Orbit for my spot on the tour and for the chance to read this marvel. Don’t miss out on what the other bloggers on the tour had to say!

cover
Cover:  designed by Lauren Panepinto, art by Tommy Arnold

ℹ️ Released March 23, 2021 by Orbit | Genre: Military fantasy, High Fantasy | Series: Magic of the Lost #1


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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.


Review

The Unbroken is a glorious march on anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, a striking blow of narrative magic that leaves you breathless. Bringing to mind the French colonial presence in North Africa, C.L. Clark builds a world of flawed protagonists, bloody betrayal, and the intimate and brutal effects of colonialism.

Touraine was savagely kidnapped from her home in Qazāli at a very young age, forced into Balladaire’s military. To be used as no more than disposable steel against the enemies of the empire who took her, she has been stripped of identity and agency, given a new name and made lieutenant.

A military leader only in jest, Touraine commands the Sands, people just like her, seized from their homes all conquered as colonies for Balladaire. The Sands are seen as no more than war dogs in service of the mighty empire, but Touraine dreams of rising in the military ranks to one day build them a place as citizens of Balladaire.

When discussing the effects of colonialism, The Unbroken speaks of entrenched evil that speaks in whispers as much as it shouts.

That’s where the book really amped up for me— in the way it exposes even the slightest effects of a colonialist mindset that seeps into every layer. Clark masterfully carves out the moments when Balladaire cloaks its tyranny in veiled gestures; from the dissimulated way Touraine was trained by her General to how the oppressors parade stolen culture leisurely.

From microaggressions to more flagrant types of racism (no one less pervasive than the other), the narrative cleverly exposes the insidious ways colonialism breeds suffering and injustice. Touraine and Luca, our two POV characters, may share the same desires: to rise above, to prove themselves, to be better, but they represent vastly different realities.

Touraine’s character arc is splendid; getting into her psyche and witnessing her complexities broke my heart and mended it.

Pace can sometimes make or break a book, and it fluctuated a lot from slow to breakneck; but the story pulled me in at all the right moments, whether you’re a fan of cutthroat action, magic, or a well-told story of political battles and betrayal that, for many, brings out the best in fantasy fiction.

Whether you come for the blood, death, and battle, for the layered story of two queer women, or for the exquisite worldbuilding, The Unbroken grips you tight and doesn’t let go. With biceps like that, no wonder its grip leaves you breathless.

Possible trigger warnings:Torture, rape, colonialism, racism, death, gore

Support independent businesses and buy a copy at:

Bookshop.org UK | Queer Lit | The Broken Binding (use code VOYAGERARINA111 for 5% off) | Blackwell’s

Above are affiliate links for Bookshop, Queer Lit, The Broken Binding, and Blackwell’s. This means I will earn a commission off your purchase, at no additional cost to you.


Connect with CL Clark

Photo credit: Jovita McCleod

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 SkiesFIYAHPodCastle and Uncanny.

Find C.L. Clark on socials

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