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Why You Need to Read: “The Unbroken”

Magic of the Lost, #1: The Unbroken

By: C.L. Clark

Published: March 23, 2021

Genre: Historical Fantasy, Military Fantasy

            Touraine’s faith in Luca’s ability to keep the rebels from turning the guns on the Sands dwindled to nothing.

            This time, the princess didn’t try to touch her again, even though now a part of Touraine wanted the warm touch of sympathy. But the distance between who Luca was and who Touraine could be gaped impossibly wide, (Chapter 21: Grains of Sand).

            Historical fantasy is one of the latest subgenres which continues to expand with both authors and readers. Fans and readers of this subgenre have read several fantasy stories with settings in different parts of (our) world and is based on the culture and on the history of the mentioned region. In recent years, readers have traveled to historical China, India, Russia, Central America and Africa. In The Unbroken—the first book in the Magic of the Lost trilogy and the debut novel by C.L. Clark—the focus are on the theme and the history of colonialism in Northern Africa.

            There are 2 protagonists in this novel. The first one is Touraine, a lieutenant in the Balladairan Colonial Brigade, Sand Division. She and her regiment are returning to their homeland, Qazâl, after being away for 20 years. This is NOT because of their commitment to the army, but because Touraine and everyone else in the Division were stolen as children from Qazâl, brought to Balladaire—the empire who forced Qazâl into a colony—raised and trained to serve in the military, and then returned to their home to serve the empire who enslaved theirs. Touraine has worked hard for her title and her rank, and she believes another promotion will give her the respect she’s earned from the Balladairans and the rest of the military, especially General Cantic, her commanding officer (Captain Rogan is her foil). Not to mention, Touraine hopes a higher rank will allow her to protect her comrades—and her friends, particularly: Aimeé, Tibeau and Pruett—from abuse from the Balladairans, and the Qazâli who see them as traitors. Touraine sees herself as a soldier, but a run-in with a Qazâli rebel leaves her with more questions than answers, especially after he calls her by her actual name: Hanan. But, before Touraine can think more about her repressed memories, she is accused of a crime she didn’t commit, arrested, stripped of her rank, and sentenced to death. Before her execution, she is “rescued” by someone who decides to use their “life debt.”

            The second protagonist is Luca Ancier, the Crowned Princess of Balladaire. She has come of age to rule more than 10 years ago, but her uncle, the interim ruler, believes she still lacks experience, so he sends her to Qazâl to “run the colony” as a “test” for her capabilities as a ruler. The main task for her is to put an end to the rebellion in Qazâl by the Qazâli denizens and to bring the colony back “under control.” Luca is a willful princess who wants to try a different approach. She believes a peace can be brokered between the Balladairans and the Qazâli, which will end the rebellion. The problem is, none of the Qazâli trust her, and some of the rebels try to assassinate her. Luca needs an individual who can represent and speak for both sides. When she learns of Touraine and her impending execution, she stops it and brings her into her service. In addition to Touraine, Luca has Gillett, the captain of her Royal Guard, assisting her with her plans. Unfortunately, with allies both old and new—including others she meets throughout the narrative—Luca is a naïve princess who has only learned of Qazâl from books, NOT from the people who reside there. It is only a matter of time before her “foolproof” plans fall through; and then, what will the heir to the Balladairan Throne do next?

            Both protagonists are complex individuals, and they develop as the story continues. While the interactions between Touraine and Luca present identical desires—especially for each other—the realities of their circumstances forces both of them to “choose sides” and act on the best interests for themselves. Sadly, it appears only one of the 2 protagonists understands how life is operated in Qazâl because the other fails to notice who the adversaries are, and their actions have affected EVERYONE. And yet, she continues to work alongside them. 

            The plot in this novel starts off straightforward, but evolves into a complex one quickly. Colonization is usually presented as a dualistic practice between the plundered country and the dominating country—often labeled as an empire. If anyone recalls what they learned in their history classes, then they will recall moments in history when conflicts arose not only between the ruling colonizers and the victimized natives, but also amongst the colonists and the confined natives. There have been moments in history when the colonists drove out the colonizers (i.e. the American Revolution), and when all parties restricted or drove out naturalized citizens (i.e. Japanese-American Internment Camps during WWII). However, many instances focus on either one conflict or the other. In The Unbroken, the plot focuses on how colonization and rebellion influence and affect all denizens and/or residents in Qazâl. Touraine and the rest of the Sands “belong” neither to Balladaire nor to Qazâl; Princess Luca represents the Balladairan Empire who has colonized Qazâl by force; the Qazâli—particularly, the rebels—fight to regain their freedom; and, the Balladairan colonists “work with” the empire as they struggle to maintain the lives they’ve made for themselves away from their “native” country. This plot assists with the world-building as readers learn more about each faction caught up in the conflict, which is just as complex as the characters. There is a subplot in this novel, and it is influenced by the plot; the relationship between Touraine and Luca could be argued as being the 2nd plot, but the 1st plot overtakes this part of the story, which causes both women to suspend their feelings for each other. It is obvious to everyone both Touraine and Luca desire each other. Unfortunately, the rebellion of the Qazâli and the mistreatment of the Sands keep the soldier and the princess on opposing sides of the conflict. Nevertheless, the subplot is essential for the plot; and, both develop alongside each other at an appropriate rate.

            The narrative is presented in 3rd person limited in the present and from the points-of-view of both Touraine and Luca. Through both of their streams-of-consciousness and their memories (presented as flashbacks), readers learn about the upbringing, the interaction, and the concerns surrounding the predicaments both women experienced throughout the duration of their lives and the rebellion. It should be mentioned both P.O.V. characters are flawed, and they make several mistakes throughout the narrative, which makes them more rounded, more believable—and more reliable. The way the narrative is presented makes it easy to follow by readers easily. 

            The style C.L. Clark uses for The Unbroken is a blend of historical and military fantasy within an epic fantasy. Colonization is presented as it was practiced; militarization is demonstrated as the buffer between peace and rebellion; and, the forbidden knowledge surrounding magic ties all of the parts together. One of the key reasons for colonization was for the dominant country to gain access to resource they did not have from another country. But, instead of making trade agreements, the dominant country invades the other one in order to steal the resources. In this book, Balladaire has taken just about everything from Qazâl; but Luca wants more. She believes obtaining and using magic will prove her to be the empress (in her uncle’s eyes), but she cannot accept she has no access to it, which “forces” her to capture the natives on the notion they are “keeping it from her.” This moment shocks Touraine because she begins to see Luca as the other power-hungry Balladarians she claimed were the problem with the arrangement for peace. Instead, Luca presents herself as someone who is willing to take what belongs to someone else. This is the practice of colonization, and the reality within the fiction. The mood in this novel is tension. Based on the narrative, the rebellion is about to breakout due to events of the past (mentioned by the characters) and the present. The tone in this novel is eruption. All of the pieces and the players are at the setting and everyone’s emotions have burst, which leads to the rebellion occurring, with all of the characters getting involved. 

            The appeal for The Unbroken have been mostly positive with many 4- and 5-star reviews on Goodreads, and was one of the “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2021” on Amazon. Yes, it is one of the “Sapphic Trifecta” (the other 2 being both The Jasmine Throne and She Who Became the Sun respectively), but it remains as one of the most underrated fantasy books of 2021. This book belongs in the fantasy canon, especially in the subgenres of both military and historical fantasy. In addition to the other books in the “Sapphic Trifecta,” fans of both The Rage of Dragons and Black Sun should read this book. And, readers can expect the next book in the trilogy—The Faithless—to be released in the near future.

            The Unbroken is an epic fantasy novel containing elements from the subgenres of historical and military fantasy into a balanced story which levels conflict amongst the characters and the setting. This underrated debut novel by C.L. Clark was my #1 Favorite Speculative Fiction Book of 2021. If there is a book from 2021 you should read immediately, then I’m suggesting you start with this one. Do not wait any longer to read it!

My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!

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