Review: The Unbroken by C. L. Clark

When I found Net galley was a thing, I did the thing that I expect most bloggers do; I requested a bunch of books, my thought process being “I’m a brand-new blogger with a 0% feedback rating, I’m barely going to get approval”. Instead, what happened is I got approved for eleven in 3 days and now I’m metaphorically drowning in a TBR list that I keep adding to with physical books because Broken Binding is a store that everyday assaults me from their twitter page, feeding my addiction. So that’s how my March is going.

My first big ARC review, how exciting. Thankyou to NetGalley and Little Brown Book Group for the copy of “The Unbroken” in return for an honest review.

“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’m just going to say straight off the mark, that this was a fantastic book. The Unbroken has been on my radar for a while and I was super hyped to get approval for this. C.L Clark wasn’t an author I was familiar with and after reading this I was massively impressed with the amount of dedication she’s put into this book and the incredible amount of research really shines through, giving this book a real weight behind it.

2021 is really turning out to be an interesting year for books with release line-ups looking incredible all year round, but not only do these books look and sound remarkable, we have a year that in my opinion has some true diversity in the books that are being discussed. We aren’t getting piles of similar books all written by older white men about loosely based westernised fantasy, instead we have books like Shelley Parker-Chan’s ‘She Who Became the Sun’, Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s ‘Son of the Storm’ (I was just approved for the ARC for this and that’s super exciting), Tasha Suri’s ‘The Jasmine Throne’ and C.L Clarks ‘The Unbroken’. I’m not someone that focuses on who the author of the book is, but instead the merits of the writing itself. It is undeniable that POC need a stronger representation in the publishing world and I’m glad that’s something that’s finally happening,  because of this incredible diversity finally pouring through we are getting some breath-taking worlds, and some beautiful stories coming to the forefront of the genre and I couldn’t be happier about that

The Unbroken seems to be inspired by the French occupation of Algeria and Morocco in the 1800s, the Quaz-li and the desert tribes being based on north African countries and cultures. As well as the Balladairans mirroring the efforts of the French to pacify its people through fear and subjugation, attempting to eradicate their religion and kill off their culture. This story really focuses on the appalling racism and effects of colonization of a people, something that feels way too prevalent and is still seen too often today. Not only in our own western countries but places like China with the genocide of the Uighur people. But the world Clark has crafted isn’t all grimdark, we do get a wonderful queernorm setting, we have a story filled with LQBTQ characters and relationships that are so open and natural instead of the classic light suggestions or whispered words behind closed doors, plus a world with a lot less misogyny. It was fantastic to read a story with so many strong female characters in positions of power, something that would never have been done in our world, The Unbroken’s people definitely seem to be doing better than us at quite a few things. 

This book is described as a military fantasy, but not in the way I normally would expect. When I think of the term, I think of something more along the lines of the Power Mage Trilogy or Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The Heroes’. That’s probably my own misunderstanding of the genre but instead of an action-packed story, The Unbroken was much more about the politics and people, and weirdly enough the lack of action really didn’t affect me much. Clark excelled with her story telling and character development so much that this book was entertaining the entire way through.

Clark’s book focuses on Touraine and Luca, two characters from vastly different walks of life. Touraine, kidnapped as a child and indoctrinated to fight and honour the Empire of Balladaire, ripping away her culture and people. Luca, the Princess of said Empire, struggling to take control of her birth right from her Uncle. Clark’s character writing for me really was the shining light of this book, Touraine, and Luca both frustrating me to the point that I wanted to shout at the pages multiple times. I was angry at the decisions these two characters made, angry at the story for the way it was going, and at times caught myself being frustrated by the direction of the author. But honestly, this was all my own fault, it took me a while, but I realised that these choices I was frustrated at, the ones I believed shouldn’t have happened were actual realistic human decisions. They messed up in big ways but always while trying to do what they thought best at the time. They did these things because Clark wrote genuine human characters and had them act like the imperfect beings that humans are instead of the heroes that we are used to in Fantasy. These choices being the product of their upbrings and experiences they had faced in life to this point, and it took me a while to see that. Clark really did an excellent job of intertwining these two characters in a wonderfully written relationship, again showing their imperfections hundred times over, a friendship blossoming even under the constraints of their stations and the issues each faced trying to do the right thing for their people. I loved watching the dance play out between the two of them because without their meeting they would never have become the people that they needed to be.

On top of these two we have an excellent support cast joining them, Djasha, Aranen and Jaghotai being exceptionally well written, all with very vivid and intricate personalities that added a ton to the story. I would really liked to have read parts of the story from their POVs, which is such a rarity for me, normally wanting to cut down on POVs so I’m not being deviated away from the characters I love the most, instead I found myself wanting to see more. Also, a special shoutout to Captain Rogan and the Comte de Beau-Sang for being a truly disgusting human. I spent the entire book wanting to punch them in their stupid little faces, which is intended as a compliment to Clark’s writing, I haven’t disliked two fictional characters this much since maybe Joffrey in GOT…

“Beau-Sangs smile widened. “I also see you’ve taken my advice. They’re a fine investment, aren’t they?” He nodded behind her. This time, Luca allowed herself to look. Those think dark brows. The cold glare into the middle distance. That square, clenched jaw.

“That’s one of Cantic’s, is that right? The Lieutenant.” As if Touraine were a prize hound she’d purchased to race against his Richard.”

I need to say quickly as well how I really loved the prevalence of religion in the story as well, the idea of strength of faith or belief literally manifesting physical objects or magic has been explored a few times and I always love when it does. The complexities of magic in the story becoming more and more vivid as the book goes on, and really making you understand the need for the Balladairans need to pacify the Quaz-li people for more than just control, they are trying to eliminate the power of these peoples. I can’t wait to see how this continues to unfold in further books.

I loved the ending that we were given, and I will continue to make this point but I’m a big lover of wrapping up a story instead of a massive painful cliff-hanger, so a big thank you to Clark for that. But even without some massive book one cliff-hanger Clark left The Unbroken in a spot where this story can go so many ways and I can’t really guess anything, but I swear to god they better go visit that big library or I’m going to be angry. I’m so excited for the prospect of what can happen next in The Magic of the Lost #2.

An excellent book by and excellent writer.

If you want to buy a copy of The Unbroken you can get a lovely signed copy from – use my code DFREVIEW221 for 5% off your entire order.