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 is a powerful, undiluted and unapologetic military – political fantasy which delves into the impacts of war, colonialism and empire resulting in a truly gut wrenching novel. I’ll say straight off the bat, this book won’t be for everyone – it’s slow moving at times, painful and ugly, and the characters are as morally grey as you can get, they make decisions that you’ll hate them for but it’s all so well done, I couldn’t help but appreciate all these things anyway. C.L. Clark has performed a coup here by bringing all these threads together in this way and wow is it effective.
One of the highlights of this book – of which there are many – has to be the characters. They’re all so incredibly complex but even that’s an understatement, Touraine, Luca, Jaghotai and others are like riddles wrapped in an enigma. You’ll think you have them figured out or what their next move is going to be and they’ll surprise you, maybe even anger you – whatever it may be, they draw a visceral reaction.
I loved that we got to read through dual perspectives – both Touraine and Luca are two of the main players so this opportunity to really get into their minds is great. Touraine in particular was spectacularly written – taken as a baby from her homeland and family, raised as a conscript in an army which deems her and her people as ‘uncivilised’ and refers to them using the derogatory term ‘Sands’. Touraine’s journey from initially seeking validation and doing anything to advance her position in the army, then coming in to the service of the princess is instrumental in making her come to some key realisations about her place in the world and who she wants to be going forward. In fact I think Touraine and the other conscripts known as the ‘sands’ – Pruett, Tibeau, Aimee, Emmeline and Noe – were some of the most interesting characters, as they each have differing experiences and are the only family Touraine has known. In many ways they were the emotional core and constant for her.
The relationship which develops between Touraine and Luca had me so conflicted. On one hand there was enough build up and a clear connection but on the other hand the differing power dynamics, especially at the beginning made me feel some type of way. I liked that Clark interrogated this power dynamic though and took time to display the challenges of this. Luca is essentially a part of a colonising empire and Touraine and her people are the colonised so it was kind of a troubling dynamic to read about at points for sure and I’m sure this is intentional. I did like how Luca grew as a character and realised that the idea of empire and ‘helping’ others by spreading Balladairan ideals is corrupt and she was challenged on this, so she doesn’t get off scot free either.
An integral theme in the novel is interrogating and exploring the impacts of colonialism and empire, and Clark does this to devastating effect. The novel is set in a desert city inspired by North Africa and this is quite evident once you really get into the novel, with certain architecture, names etc being signifiers and the Balladairans representing French colonial occupiers. I appreciated how Clark delved into the key issues with no holds barred; the constant power imbalance between the coloniser and the colonised, the realities of living under a brutal occupation and of course, revolution and seeking freedom. It was interesting to read where Touraine and other characters find themselves amongst this harsh political landscape and reality, with shifting motivations and differing ideas on how peace can be achieved or whether this is even possible.
Overall, The Unbroken is a true feat and I can’t express just how much you need to read this book, if you’re interested in reading a challenging, vast fantasy which can be comped to The Poppy War and other grim dark military fantasies.
Until next time,