Four stars

THE PLOT: ‘The Unbroken’ by C.L. Clark is a fantasy novel set in the empire of Balladaire. It opens with Touraine, a woman from the colony of Qazal who was stolen from her family as a child to fight in the Balladarian army. Returning to her homeland for the first time, Touraine is determined to put down a Qazali rebellion and prove that she is loyal to the empire. Meanwhile, the princess of Balladaire arrives in Qazal to test her hand at ruling. She needs to end the rebellion if she wants to rule the empire one day. And to do that, she needs a spy… Although Touraine fits the bill on the outside; loyal to the empire and with the right heritage to infiltrate the rebels, will the ties of blood and homeland be stronger than either of them could imagine?

RATING: I’m giving this fantasy epic four stars because the excellent world-building hooked me instantly and the complex, strong characters won my heart. Although quite a familiar plot (rebels take on the empire = Star Wars vibes), there were enough twists and turns to keep me engaged. It’s also a very diverse novel with meaningful LGBTQ+ and disability rep, as well as an excellent social commentary and deeper themes of racism and colonialism. Overall, an excellent debut and I’d be keen to read the rest of the trilogy when it’s released.

GOOD BITS: The world-building and diversity of this novel felt accomplished and effortless. It’s common to read books where diversity feels like a bolt-on with a few token characters but the lack of gender stereotypes and embedded LGBTQ relationships in this novel felt genuine and realistic. I loved the variety, depth and breadth of lesbian relationships. I also felt the disability rep was good, as there were two strong female characters with serious health conditions that weren’t their main character arc or defining qualities, but were an integrated, realistic part of who the characters were and what they had to deal with.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: There were a few pacing issues that jarred my reading experience and deflated the tension. I’m wary of spoilers but I can think of three specific instances where the tension built up so effectively but then the plot didn’t deliver. To give an example, a strange encounter between the rebels and the princess at the midpoint didn’t feel like a logical culmination of the plot points so far. Similarly, there were a couple of chapters that seemed to have the same function in the story so it felt repetitive – as if the characters weren’t learning and growing from their recent experiences.

OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi and ‘Witches Steeped in Gold’ by Ciannon Smart, although I think this is a more successful “rebels rise up” fantasy than either of those books. Overall, if you like intelligent, well-written epic novels with LGBTQ characters, fierce women and relatable themes, then this is a book for you. Thank you to Orbit Press (imprint of Little Brown) who #gifted me this book about six months ago. This came through my letterbox with no explanation or email, so I put off reading it for a while but I’m really glad I got round to it in the end.

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