Summary: In an epic fantasy unlike any other, two women clash in a world full of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire.
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 North African inspired military epic fantasy set in a queernorm world told from two POVs with complicated characters, messy decisions, political tensions and deep rooted colonialism. If that does not catch your attention, Touraine’s arms on the cover sure should.
Touraine was uprooted from her home, a conquered colony, to serve as a soldier in the Balladairan army along with fellow conscripts derogatorily known as “Sands”. With the memories, the culture, the language of her homeland erased from her system, all she knows of Qazāl is what her educators drilled into her in the name of “civilizing” her. She believes that winning the favour of her Balladairan superiors will bring her rewards and recognition and hopes to set an example for the Sands. But returning to her homeland on a mission to quell the rebellion changes her beliefs.
Touraine’s loyalties are constantly tested — she’s torn between fighting for the country that raised her, her newfound family or her fellow soldiers who always get caught in between. That’s what makes her character arc so powerful. Because while she’s deciding whom to forge allegiance with, her heart is always with the Sands who have grown up and bled with her. Whatever decisions of hers that follow, however impulsive, are so she could save them. Between her dumb decisions and good intentions, her character is frustrating as well as understandable.
❛It was the mountains and the trees she had fought for, the bread and the herbs her soldiers had died for.❜
Luca, the other protagonist is the princess of Balladaire sent to Qazāl to prove herself worthy of the throne by subduing the rebellion. She’s smart, ambitious and doesn’t back down. Not going to lie, I loved reading her POVs in the beginning chapters because we get to see through her head and her reasonings — even though she’s a part of the colonisers and following the same path as that of her father. Later in the story, like the rebels, I just wanted her to leave. Clark nailed her narrative in this sense and I loved that she included Luca’s POV to show us this perspective.
Together — Touraine with her strategies and Luca with her idealisms — are characters with aspiring motivations and interests. They’re both flawed, both struggling to find the balance between what’s right and what’s expected of them to do and they both go to the extremes to achieve their goals. They’re drawn to each other, but their power imbalance makes them drift apart.
The Unbroken, being influenced by the French colonisation of North Africa, portrays the effects of colonialism in an unflinching and brutal manner. The effects of it are shown not only on the protagonists, but also the rebels, soldiers, the high ranking officials and the innocent common people. Clark perfectly captured Touraine’s anguish and struggles of not feeling like belonging to either sides. And Luca, who wants to make things right and give the people their freedom but not without wanting something in return. All the while, her version of peace still keeps the people under Balladaire’s control. Powerful dialogues hinted at the colonist behaviour, dialogues that made me pause to process their depth.
❛Balladaire was a land of gifts and punishment, honey and whips, devastating mercies.❜
What I loved best in the book was the mother-daughter relationship. It’s angsty and tense for all the right conflicts and reasons. I’d love to see more of this in fantasy. The side characters too had interesting interpersonal relationships and their stories, well written. And the character who was referred to as they/them *chef’s kiss*.
The only complaints I had with the book was the pacing and the romance. I gave it time for the pacing to pick up, because adult fantasies do have intricate worldbuilding and history, especially a book like The Unbroken. But halfway through the book, I realised the pacing had not improved much. The story got interesting, yes, but it moved a bit too slow for my liking.
As for the romance, it was the last thing I was interested in. The few delicate moments between Luca and Touraine had potential for developing into more but that did not deliver. I really wanted to feel the sapphic-ness but their relationship was underdeveloped. I do believe the line “It’s a crime to keep those arms of yours hidden away in an army coat” is truly iconic. There are other wlw relationships that were a delight to read.
Overall, fans of a mix of fantastic worldbulding, magical intrigue and complex characters should definitely give it a try! If you don’t mind a slow buildup, this book should be enjoyable for you. I’m eager to see how Clark takes the trilogy forward given how neatly book one wrapped up.
❛We pray for rain.❜
As usual, if you’ve read The Unbroken I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you haven’t I hope you are inclined to reading it!