Review: The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

Title: The Unbroken
Author: C.L. Clark
Rating: 4/5 stars
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.

It’s been a while since I posted anything, life has been crazy busy! I have been reading a lot though, and I am absolutely loving the “sapphic spring” as I’m calling it with a bunch of new releases featuring sapphic characters in these next few months! I was lucky enough to see Cherae L. Clark and Tasha Suri discuss their fantasy novels through the Orbit crowdcast earlier this month. I enjoyed seeing the difference in their writing and thinking process and similarities in vision for how to delve into colonial trauma in their books.

The Unbroken is set in a colonial North Africa-inspired world, where the colonizers are white skinned, blue-eyed, and speak French. There was just this subtle undercurrent throughout the book that the blue-eyed and blond characters were coded as the bad guys, and it was so refreshing because usually the dark-skinned characters are coded as villainous. There was never an outright condemnation of any character based on their race alone, but the little details really set this book up to be anti-colonial even though our protagonist spends a lot of the book in love with a colonizer princess. The magic and various religions of the world were also really interesting, and I wish we had seen more of the lore behind them. Considering most forms of magic have been lost in this world, though, it is understandable why there wasn’t more in-universe mythology about them.

I really enjoyed how morally murky all the characters in this book were. We have Tourraine and the Sands, who were taken from their home countries and cultures and trained to be loyal soldiers to the colonial empire. They will never be as respected or lauded as the white-skinned empire soldiers, but they are also lashed out at and abused by their own people back home who see them as betrayers. Where do they fit in, and who should they be loyal to? This question ends up playing a bigger part in the story than I originally thought it would, and takes us to interesting places.

We also see things from Princess Luca’s perspective, a royal who truly believes she is benevolent. She is willing to give colonized people some rights, unlike her uncle or other noble peers, and thinks this is enough to make her the savior of the empire. Luca believes her limp makes her able to empathize with soldiers who have lost limbs in battle; Tourraine calls her out and says that without a working body, these soldiers have nothing else while Luca still has everything. Clark is clear that Luca is misguided, and I loved that despite having her perspective, you were never meant to root for her.

There were a lot of secondary characters who I adored, but I don’t want to say too much about them for fear of spoilers. If you are looking for a complex fantasy book that tackles colonial trauma, complicated romance dynamics, and the brutality of war, this is the book for you!

A free e-ARC of the book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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