Review of The Unbroken by C.L. Clark
I’m going to start by saying that the content of The Unbroken is incredibly rich and in-depth. The first half reads like a non-fictional account of the climate, politics, art, history, etc of Qazāl which is a plus for world building but a heavyweight to carry for pacing. Just when scenes seem to be taking off with dialogue and character interaction, the author breaks in with 3x as many details of, for example, the courtyard they are entering or fabrics that went into the making of their clothing. In the end, I think most of us read fiction for characters or action and that is lacking in the first half. The second half is better.
There are battles, intrigue, magic, the story moves faster from one point to the next. I’m not saying it is lightning quick, just explaining that it picks up.
Now here’s the part that frustrated me the most, I did not like the two main characters very much. Balladairan Princess Luca Ancier is young and hopes to take her place on the throne very soon. Her uncle believes that sending her to Qazāl, a nation that they hold under subjugation, will give her the necessary experience to rule or maybe kill her off which would make him the king. She’s an okay character but I wanted so much more, not just the fact that she uses crutches due to her permanent injuries. There’s a person there and I wanted to know her but that’s what happens when we get so much architectural information rather than character-defining scenes.
Finally, Touraine, who I badly wanted to hero-worship because one look at the cover and I was won over. She is a Lieutenant with the slave soldiers who were stolen as children from Qazāl and raised to be fighters for Balladaire. Of course, it’s a bitter homecoming. They’re viewed as traitors by the locals and yet are slaves to the Balladairians. It’s a powder keg that’s due to set off, not only because of the “Sand’s” return but also because revolution is in the air. Back to Touraine. She’s confused, not the brightest, oftentimes weak, and worst of all, cannot make up her mind which causes much turmoil. Not the stuff of heroes but maybe that is the author’s aim. Luca and Touraine have an interesting dynamic together which is still hazy at this stage but I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship evolves. Interestingly, I found many of the secondary characters to be much more impactful even though their appearances are brief.
Let me end by saying the writing is top-notch and the author’s turn of phrase is magical. I intend to keep reading this series because it’s worth it and I still recommend it because the author unabashedly went all out to create something special. There are shortcomings but I have no doubt, they will be straightened out and there will be amazing works in the future.