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Review: The Unbroken by C. L. Clark

Review: 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.’

The Unbroken is a fantastic read and one that I really enjoyed and look forward to reading future instalments of. I’m a huge fan of books that explore politics and history (or what is not yet truly history), and combined with its characters and setting, it’s easily one of my favourite reads of the year. It does take quite a while for the plot to get going, but without that which comes before some of the more serious events and twists in the narrative, it would rob these moments of their impact, and so while the pacing is a little inconsistent at times, I did like that events don’t simply charge ahead, but that time is spent more directly on character exploration and development.

The relationship between Luca and Touraine is one that it’s not easy to feel immediately or consistently comfortable with, owing largely to their power imbalance and an understanding that Luca is less frequently led by her feelings than Touraine is. There are times where it seems that Touraine could be dangerously expendable to the woman she is developing feelings for – and not only because Luca’s politics, but because Touraine herself doesn’t often appear to hold her own life in too high a regard. This is something impacted by her upbringing and what she is learning about her past; her questioning what she has done, in whose name, and what she feels about those who have and have had almost complete control over her life and what she has been taught to think. Their romance is perhaps not fully developed in this first book, but I liked that their power imbalance is specifically addressed in instances where Luca makes it clear that sex is not an expectation she has, and that if Touraine wants her, she wants it to be purely what she wants and for no other reason. The situations they find themselves in don’t allow for a great deal of openness or honesty, and I hope that we get to see more discussions between them in the next books.

Touraine is a conflicted – and conflicting – character, who spends much of the narrative with her loyalties pulled in so many different directions that it feels as if it simply isn’t safe to make assumptions about her or what she will do next, and this is one of the features of the story that I loved. She doesn’t always make what some might consider the smart or right decision, but she is living a life in which there are increasingly few ‘good’ decisions that she can make that won’t have consequences that she can’t anticipate due to the murky nature of the loyalties and politics of those around her. Paired with the fact that she finds herself in situations she hasn’t been in before, with personal feelings and identity involved, and she is having to make choices based on information she doesn’t necessarily have the whole (or the truth) of, and with emotions she isn’t sure she can trust further complicating matters. It feels like who Touraine wants to, could, and should be (in the eyes of more than one group of others) are all different people, and it’s no wonder that she has trouble treading the line between them, especially when she is all too frequently reminded that her best may never be good enough in the eyes of any one group or person – that to some, she is nothing more than a tool, and for others someone they need, but not exactly as they want.

I admittedly found it difficult to want to support Luca for much of the time, for though there were moments where I sympathised with her, I couldn’t really consider her motives to be ones that are easy to get behind. There are occasions where there seem to be flashes of her gaining a greater understanding of the world around her and the situation she’s in, yet it ultimately feels as if she is too much out for her own gains and willing to use those around her as and when needed. I don’t need to like a character for them to be a good character, so this isn’t to say that I don’t think she is well written – and I do wonder if the reader is meant to ‘like’ her at all, given her politics and lapses in consideration for others. Luca’s lack of understanding of her own actions and what they look like to the people she is trying(?) to support are an accurate portrayal of what has gone on through the ages and continues to this day; she just doesn’t understand why things aren’t as simple as she wants them to be and that she is more likely to be part of the problem than the solution. She feels that she is suffering and therefore can understand the suffering of others, which is a big assumption to make, and doesn’t ever really quite grasp that her world of privilege and power is one that causes damage, frustration seeming to edge her behaviour when she isn’t immediately trusted or gets her way because she claims to have ‘good’ or ‘different’ intentions compared to the rest of her people.

The Unbroken is out today! Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a copy for review!