The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

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.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thank you to Orbit for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review! The Unbroken was released on March 23, 2021. 

Yes, I know this review is coming late on publication day. However I finished The Unbroken literally at midnight last night and have spent all day shirking my responsibilities while wondering how on earth I was going to write this review.

I primarily wanted to read The Unbroken for two reasons. Firstly, it’s an anti-colonial fantasy novel drawing from the history of French occupied North Africa. Secondly, look at Touraine’s arms on the cover. I thank publishing for giving us buff queer women with great arms in fantasy covers and beg for this design trend to continue. (Does two books make a trend? Publishers, please make it so.)

The Unbroken is a complicated, messy book that unflinchingly looks at the brutality of colonialism. Often fantasy books that draw inspiration from history are centered on the history of the British empire. Very rarely do I see fiction in English that covers France’s colonial history despite its horrors and impact. (If you have book recs, please hit me with them in the comments below!)

Reader, this book is brutal. Clark does an amazing job with the setting, history, and characters. Touraine is fighting for her family, only she doesn’t know exactly who that is anymore. Luca is trying to hold onto power, and is willing to make sacrifices she didn’t think she could in order to maintain order. The relationship between Touraine and Luca is the core of the book. Princess and soldier, colonizer and colonized, master and servant. The romantic and sexual tension between them is delicious as they each struggle with their roles within Balladairan society.

What I really like though is that Clark embraces how messy this relationship is. Touraine owes Luca her life. Luca needs Touraine to accomplish her goals and see her on the throne as queen. Touraine breaks Luca’s faith to try and save the people who are important to her. Luca fails to truly understand the impact of her power and actions, both on Touraine and the Qazāli, causing death and bloodshed she didn’t expect. This is not a ‘love solves all’ relationship. Despite everything though, Touraine and Luca are constantly drawn together and then pushed apart due to the power dynamic between them.

The Unbroken is a smart and complex book that is also entertaining. There’s a couple pacing elements that could have been tightened up a bit, but that didn’t detract from my love of the story and the characters. I’m very much looking forward to the sequel.

Goodreads | Author Website |

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