Sometimes a book will just put you off kilter. Either in a good way or a bad way you end up unsure of what’s up or down. I kinda felt that way while reading The Unbroken by C.L. Clark. By the end I felt off and I’m still getting my bearings locked on to how I really feel about it.
The Unbroken is a story about colonialism, identity, rebellion, faith, love and betrayal. Clark weaves these themes into the narrative and what emerges is a tapestry that will move you, even if a few threads seem a little out of place.
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.Goodreads Synopsis
First, let me say how much I LOVE the cover to this book. Just wow. There’s a lot to unpack in that cover from Touraine’s biceps to the statements about colonialism and who it is holding up the pillars that support an empire. It’s a really powerful cover and one that brings out so much of the story the reader is about to dive into.
- Imperfect Characters
- Sense of Place
- Themes: Colonialism; Identity and Belonging; Loyalty and Betrayal; Faith; Love
The Unbroken is told from two points of view, that of Touraine the soldier kidnapped as a child and trained to fight for those who took her, and Luca the princess of a powerful empire who is bent on taking her place on the throne but must remove her uncle the regent first. I’ll talk more about these characters below but I wanted to introduce them here (and from what is offered in the blurb above).
It’s the themes in The Unbroken that really make this story for me. It’s a story rooted in themes of empire and what it means to exist within imperial rule. The overarching theme found splashed upon nearly every page is colonialism. It can’t be avoided. The story is set entirely within a city and land under imperial rule. The setting is reminiscent of colonial North Africa (perhaps Morocco?) with the imperial power largely reminiscent of eighteenth or nineteenth century France. From the opening colonialism is splashed across the page with elements of the ruling power led by a princess (Luca) landing in the colonial land with imagery of conqueror and conquered on display. Landing with Luca are The Sands, soldiers (including Touraine) stolen away as children from this and other nearby lands and trained in Luca’s homeland to fight for the empire. Now they return to help keep the peace in a colony stirring with rebellion. It sets the tone for the entire book from beginning to end and everything in-between.
Identity immediately becomes a major theme from the beginning as well. The Sands, and especially Touraine struggle with figuring out who they are. Kidnapped from this land as children, trained to fight for another, and now returning to help subjugate the land of their birth. They are not thought of as equals by the empire (hence the derogatory name given to them) and they know it. But the colony no longer claims them either as they are now outsiders doing the bidding of the oppressor. Touraine constantly struggles with her identity and where she belongs. Often moving back and forth between feeling for the land of her birth, the empire that fed, raised, and trained her, and the community of The Sands who exist somewhere in-between. This theme exists for Luca too. She is a princess and the rightful heir to the throne but is being kept from it by her uncle acting as regent. She has been displaced to this colony to prove herself before her uncle will let her ascend. Identity and belonging…these two related elements will feed into the next.
With the struggle the characters have with identity and belonging comes the tension of loyalty and betrayal. Who or what is one loyal to if you don’t know who or what you are and where you belong? With the threat of open rebellion always looming in the story, the uncertainty of who one is loyal to continually heightens the tension. And when that loyalty shifts, even if only partially, it causes betrayals that threaten to ignite the powder keg that is buried under the soil. Tests of loyalty and the sting of betrayal are constantly present and the tension just builds and builds.
Surrounding all of this (Colonialism, identity and belonging, loyalty and betrayal) are questions of faith and love. The power of faith, and yes the power of love. In what or whom does one place their faith and why? And does love survive the various tests imposed upon the characters as they figure out their place and identity, and work through the betrayals.
All of the themes are woven together so that the each feed into and off of the others. They’re really inseparable. And it is the deft manner in which Clark writes these themes that really, really hooked me and which kept me reading even when I would start to pull away. As a reader you can begin to experience the pain, loneliness, and heartache of the characters through Clark’s skilled use of theme and imagery.
And then there’s the characters and all their imperfections. All of them, from the protagonists to the secondary ones are imperfect and I loved it. As I read I was constantly irritated with decisions they made and actions they took. From Touraine who is constantly trying to find a way to live in three worlds, to Luca who wants to help her colonial subjects without understanding they don’t want to be ruled, to the leaders of the rebellion who have divided loyalties too. All try to do what they think is right while subsequently making bad decisions based upon a poor understanding of their rivals.
Two things drew me out of the read at times however. One is related to those characters and their imperfections, and the other to the villain(s). The major problem I had with The Unbroken was the love story within it. Not the fact it had a love story, but the way it played out. On one hand it develops rather suddenly which could happen but it felt rushed and forced. Then, without giving away any spoilers let me say there are a lot of betrayals. Over and over they happen and I felt like the characters wouldn’t keep forgiving and longing for each other after so many. I found myself asking how many more times it would happen before one or both parties said “enough.” Apparently they never reached that point.
Then there were the villains. There are a few, but they felt a bit lackluster and underwhelming to me. I just didn’t get a complete sense of dread from them. Unless you count the main characters as the villains of their own story. That idea is somewhat intriguing and worth exploring.
I opened this review by saying The Unbroken was a story that put me off kilter a bit. I felt off because there was so much I loved about it (the themes and those imperfect characters), and then there were those things that kept pulling me out of the read (the forced love story and lackluster villains). As soon as I’d feel myself being pulled out of the narrative by what I didn’t like I’d get sucked back in by what I enjoyed. So really this book is a mixed bag for me. Overall I liked it, and what I didn’t like wasn’t enough to make me put it down and never return. I’ll definitely pick up book two when it comes out to see where things go, which could be almost anywhere given how it left off.
*I was sent an eARC of this book by the publisher.
Author: C.L. Clark
Series: Magic of The Lost #1
Publication Date: March 23, 2021
Pages: 442 (Kindle Version)