The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost #1) by C. L Clark
Published by Orbit
Adult, Queer, Epic Fantasy
Release Date : March, 23rd 2021 (US & UK)
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.
Trigger Warning : decapitation, mutilation, gore, death, war, abuse, slavery, torture, attempt of rape, public executions, graphic animal attack
“We pray for rain.”
ARC provided by the publisher Orbit UK through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
After years of occupation the rebels is ready to make their move, in the middle of it all is a scholar princess with ambitions to win back her throne and a conflicted soldier discovers her true path in a society that forced her into a life of military obedience. The Unbroken is a riveting fast paced adult fantasy debut by C. L. Clark.
Looking at the books that I wanted to read this month I had to put The Unbroken high on my list as it was one of my most anticipated releases in 2021. Thank you to Orbit and NetGalley for the ARC (Advance Readers Copy) for me to read. The first thing that caught my eye is the magnificent cover designed by Lauren Panepinto and art by Tommy Arnold, the artist that also made the art for The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir. Tommy did a wonderful job bringing to life Touraine and the architecture of the Shal temple. With the Balladairan banner in the back too! The cover is stunning that itself is enough reason for anyone to go and read the book.
Going into this book I knew nothing about the story, not even the synopsis. I wanted to maintain a degree of mystery so I can go into it with zero thoughts. From the rating above it was an enjoyable read. For those who are interested in reading an excerpt of the book, it is up for free on the Orbit website (click here).
The Unbroken is the debut and the first instalment to the Magic of the Lost trilogy by C. L Clark. The story takes place in El-Wast, capital city of Qazāl, Balladaire’s southern colony, a place inspired by the deserts of North Africa.
There are two main characters in this story, Touraine, a conscript of the Balladairan Colonial Brigade and Luca, the crown princess of the Balladairan Empire. Lieutenant Touraine is a Sands, a word used to refer to the Qazāl born conscripts in the Balladairan military. All her life she has prepared herself for this moment, the moment where she will rise and become the first ever Sands in the Balladairan military to be promoted as Captain. Which will help the Sands by showing them that they can thrive if they cooperate with Balladaire.
Princess Luca crown princess of Balladaire, a princess that lost her throne to her uncle, is driven by her ambition to prove to him that she is capable to rule. Given the task by the king to handle the rebellion in Qazāl, the idealist scholar princess tries to find peace that can cement her reputation so Luca can get closer to her throne. To do this she needs someone to be her representative that can tether between Balladaire and the rebels.
Since their first encounter together Touraine caught Luca’s eye, after a series of unfortunate events Touraine’s reputation is jeopardized. Luca seeing an opportunity bargains with Touraine, taking her in as Luca’s assistant to negotiate with the rebels.
Colonialism is the main part of the world building, Balladaire is an empire that is reminiscent of France one of the European countries that colonized North Africa in the 18th and the 19th century. As cited from “North Africa Within the Past, the Present, and the Future” by Amin Shaker, translated by Halla @incernadine on Twitter.
“The French conquered Algeria in 1830 and began an extensive colonization program that led to Algeria’s annexation in 1870 as an integral part of metropolitan France. Yet annexation brought unequal benefits to the residents of Algeria. French settlers in Algeria enjoyed full citizenship rights and were represented by their own deputies in the French parliament. The indigenous people of Algeria were colonial subjects, reduced by law and practice to a subordinate status in their own land.”
The people of Qazāl doesn’t share the same rights as Balladairans that colonized their land. They live in poverty and is exploited by Balladaire to meerily exist as second class citizens that isn’t deserving of freedom. They are mistreated and underpaid by many Balladairans, for example Beau Sang, a Balladairan nobleman that is very fond in inflicting violence towards his servants.
The Balladairans enacted a compulsory military service for the people of Qazāl by kidnapping their children and then training them from a young age to serve in the military. Alienating the children from their family, their culture, their language, and they are forced to antagonize their own people by calling them “Uncivilized”.
The use of conscripts, Sands, in the story is hugely inspired by history, during the 18th century France has forced the military might of African soldiers in the World War. Cited from the same book, “North Africa Within the Past, the Present, and the Future” by Amin Shaker.
“… the French continued to recruit and conscript North African soldiers for service on the Western Front. Over the war years, more than three hundred thousand North Africans – 180,000 Algerians, eighty thousand Tunisians, and forty thousand Moroccans – served in France as soldiers on the Western Front.”
Based on history the colonial countries values the lives of the African soldiers as lesser than a white man. Colonial African troops during the war are known to be in the front lines just like the Sands, they are the first one to be sacrificed, as they are stationed in the most dangerous posts and the first one to engage the enemy. If one of the Sands chose to desert, the consequence is death by the hands of a stranger or a fellow Sands.
As mentioned in a letter by a senior officer responsible for West Africans’ training in the camp of Fréjus wrote in a letter in January 1918 that African soldiers were “cannon fodder, who should, in order to save whites’ lives, be made use of much more intensively.” (cited in Michel, Marc: L’appel à l’Afrique. Contributions et réactions à l’effort de guerre en A.O.F., Paris 1982, p. 323). Below is a quote from The Unbroken that depicts the position of Sands during warfare times in the story.
“Who is closest to the conflict? Who walks with it through the streets? How many times had Touraine told her the Sands were always at the front? And if the Sands were at the front, they would see the most.”
C. L. Clark has built a world that shows the inner workings of colonialism, that provides insight for readers that aren’t familiar with history that has long since been overlooked. Clark built this world with the intent of showing all sides of the conflict, from the rebels, the government officials, the Sands, and the innocent people in between. Social conditioning is used to control the Qazālis, especially the Sands. The world itself becomes the perfect base for a wonderful story.
Clark incorporated religion into the magic system, the religion of the Shal Empire gives their believers power based on their faith in the Shal. To be granted power by the Shal, one must pray and believe in Shal. Aside from that, one also must give something in order to gain something. There is balance to the magic system. The power Shal grants varies from healing, destruction, psychic powers, etc. With the power that is granted to the Shal believer depending on their intention it can also back fire to the user.
C. L. Clark has done a wonderful job creating a faith based magic system that is very well balanced. There is also other variations of magic for example Many Legged, they use magic that has something to do with the connection between the worshipper and the animals they worship.
It seems that the Many Legged are able to control the animals to do their bidding. The Balladairans on the other hand progressed as a nation, advancing in many fields such as : agriculture, medicine, etc; abandoning religion and their belief in Gods. Fear catalyzed the act of opressing the Qazālis as proven in their history when the Shal’s power was weaponized by Shal Empire’s last ruler to attack Balladaire.
“Every god had two sides, like a coin, and each gift had a price.”
The Shal religion is dying because of the Balladairan empire’s colonization of Qazāl. Religion is viewed as “uncivilized”, the teachings of viewing religious practices as “uncivilized” is deeply indoctrinated within the teachings of Balladaire.
There are two doctrines that exist within the society, the Droitist and Tailleurist. Both doctrines engraves the belief that condemns religious practices, which is applied to the colonized citizens of Qazāl and the Sands.
These social conditioning by Balladairans limits the activity and movements of the Qazālis, preventing them from having rights and making them a second class citizen. History is blurred to prevent Qazālis from using magic against the empire. Dwindling down the numbers of Shal magic practitioners to near extinction.
The Unbroken is a political heavy and character driven story. From both Touraine’s and Luca’s POV readers are given two contrasting views, from the rebels through Touraine and from the empire through Luca.
Touraine as a character in the beginning of the story is strict, obedient, and the epitome of a model soldier. She has dreams of wanting to show other Sands that they are capable of achieving something more. If they stay, obey their orders and do their duty for Balladaire. Since her kidnapping she grew up in Balladaire and looks up to Cantic, a Balladairan general and some sort of mother figure to Touraine.
Being raised from a very young age in Balladaire, all she knows is Balladaire and only Balladaire. Coming to Qazāl, Touraine views the place as a foreign land full of foreign people. Based on her upbringing it sparks inner conflict in Touraine that slowly grows more intense, as she questions her position and mission in life. Torn between two sides of the conflict, either defend the nation that has trained her and her friends or fight for the liberation of her people from colonization. This aspect of Touraine’s character is complex, Clark writes her struggles so raw and vulnerable.
Readers can feel the conflict brewing inside Touraine as she juggles both sides all the while discovering her true purpose. The shift in Touraine’s views from a conscript to a valuable member of the rebellion is built up beautifully throughout the story. Each decision and each revelation is written full of purpose by Clark to show a steady growth in Touraine’s character.
“Why would a god direct her life to this moment, this side of the rebellion? No adequate weapons, no actual soldiers, and it was a lot harder to dig out an entrenched army than to rout a marching one. This looked like the losing side. It even felt like the losing side. It didn’t feel like the wrong side.”
Luca on the other end is a sheltered princess with a mission to win back her throne. Her scholarly background and her position in the story reminds me so much of Elend Venture from the Mistborn trilogy (I am making this comparison because I read The Well of Ascension before this book). They share an idealistic point of view in politics but they are different when it comes to their personality and approach.
Luca is much more strict, rigid, and isn’t afraid in sacrificing anything to get what she wants. There is a power dynamic as well whenever other characters interact with Luca. Her ambition to prove herself and to be a better ruler than her predecessors is unbending. Luca truly believes that she is capable of saving her people, squash the rebellion, all the while gaining supporters to get her throne back. Luca doesn’t shy from showing her power and stature to intimidate other people.
As a character with disability Clark doesn’t boil her character down to that, Clark makes sure to show readers Luca’s strengths. Because Luca is the person that holds the highest authority, as a princess, she is accustomed to getting what she wants in life. There are moments when Luca doesn’t realize her position of privilege, even if she sympathizes towards the Qazālis she still has a lot to learn in becoming a better ruler than her predecessors.
I have learned your god says, ‘Peace above all.’ So let it be.”
Both characters shares the same drive to achieve their dreams and goals. But they also share responsibility for their actions in the story. Touraine’s and Luca’s judgement and decisions led to the outbreak of the rebellion. From this story arises the question of who is to blame for the series of events that led to the deaths of innocent people from both sides of the conflict.
C. L. Clark portrayed both characters in a way that sparks conversations about the strain of colonization towards the people that are being oppressed, showing the real victims as they are forced in a situations of constant fear of violence and death.
Relationship wise, watching the progress and growth of relationship between the two main characters is interesting. Clark showcased plenty of intimate moments between Luca and Touraine that is full of yearning and heated tension that leaves you breathless
(Spoiler : leg massages). Their power dynamics is uneven and sometimes down right unforgivably unfair. But I’d say this is what makes the story of The Unbroken so impactful.
Luca as a future ruler of the colonizer in this case is responsible for the havoc that her people has caused for the Qazālis, I hope in the sequel we get to witness this being done to see an outcome of movement toward decolonization. Though for me personally the way the final stand off reached its blowing point when the story peaks, it wasn’t as I expected. Everything happened so fast and in the end it felt rather rushed. But this did not hinder me from enjoying the whole story.
Final thoughts! I am very surprised and impressed. If this is the first book from C. L. Clark, I can’t wait to read more from them. The world building, magic system, and amazing characterization is intricate and detailed. To make things even better the plot is fast paced, the moment readers start reading they can easily slip into the story.
Besides the two main characters, the side characters are so well fleshed out and distinct. Though I must say, my most adored side characters lean towards the rebels more because of their found family aspect.
One of my favorite side characters has to be Jaghotai, she is unstoppable, a bad ass, and so snarky. Jaghotai is that b*tch with sick boots and flying kicks. I love her! To make it even more perfect is how ruthless she is, not to mention that she only has one arm which makes her even more deadly. The reputation of her kicks knows no bounds! Jaghotai’s sub plot is also one of the best in the story, a woman as bad ass as her showing vulnerability and love is too emotionally quaking for me to handle.
One thing I forgot to mention is the subtlety of the queerness is in this book. It is so classy and nonchalant the way Clark portrays the female / female romance. The tension and yearning is so deliciously lush *chef’s kiss*. All I want is for Touraine to wrap me up in her arms!
The Unbroken by C. L Clark did not disappoint at all! I am so happy I picked it up. Thank you again to Orbit and NetGalley for the arc for me to review. I highly recommend for everyone that loves political heavy military fantasy with strong female characters, mysterious magic, and yearning! So much yearning! This is the book for you. Also another thank you to Halla for helping me with the historical references in this review. Don’t forget to pre-order the book and to add it on Goodreads!
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
- “North Africa Within the Past, the Present, and the Future” by Amin Shaker, published 1958, page 167 – 170, translated by Halla from Halla’s Corner or @incernadine on Twitter.
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