The Unbroken (Book Review)
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
The Unbroken is an ambitious adult fantasy that strives to broach important themes of colonization, racism, and privilege with an overarching story involving political intrigue, personal growth, and violent rebellion.
The story follows two women: Touraine, who was stolen from the city of Qazal when she was a toddler and raised to be a soldier, and Luca, heir to the throne of Balladaire, whose people have colonized Qazal and other provinces. Both are in the city to maintain Balladairian control after it is beset by rebels attempting to free it. It’s a political-military fantasy.
I definitely enjoyed this novel, and based on my rating system, it’s 4 stars, but it did suffer from some middle-story lag, a romantic subplot that felt half-baked, and some of the minor characters needed a bit more time on the page.
But what did I enjoy? Most of it!
The novel revels in its queerness, with more characters than not who are part of the LGBTQAI+ community, including the two main characters. The novel also feels like the inverse of lots of fantasy novels, where you have mainly men with a few women, as the cast is predominantly female with some male side-characters. Gender parity is improving quite a lot today in adult fantasy, but traditionally it was very male-centric.
As I stated before, there are two main characters: Touraine, a loyal soldier, and Luca, heir to the throne of Balladaire. Luca is set to Qazal as a test by her uncle, who is holding the throne until Luca is “ready” to rule. Luca was interesting in that she is a royal who has to balance what she knows is morally right with her own ambitions - she tries to walk an impossible line; she knows what she should do but also tries desperately to satisfy her own plans. As such, Luca’s motivations are understandable, and despite being the head of a brutal empire, I found her a likeable character. She also has a physical disability, which is an important part of her character but doesn’t define her; this aspect was very well done.
Touraine’s story arc is a little bland in comparison, as nothing she did really surprised me, but she’s a complete badass, so I liked her. She’s one of those people who can take a beating and suffer through it with impressive stoicism.
As such, both women have different strengths and weaknesses that playoff and complement one another. It’s unfortunate the romance angle was not as developed, as they could have been a power couple.
I enjoyed the fight scenes - they were gritty, at times brutal, and well-described. There were other moments of tension that kept me enthralled. The political intrigue was somewhat lacking - Luca really only had to deal with a general, and an ill-intentioned lord - others of the ruling class existed only on the periphery. It’s def not a court battle novel. As such, the middle of the novel suffers slightly for pacing - I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, and at that point, I wasn’t sure where the story was going. But the last quarter of the novel is fantastic, with some great fights and interesting turns. There’s a magical element that wasn’t Deus Ex Machina, and the comments the novel makes throughout about racism and colonialism are poignant but not didactic. The novel takes a stance on this issue, as there is no indication that the rebels were in any way in the wrong for their actions, which I thought was very well done given one of the main characters is part of the colonizing force.