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Posts Tagged ‘high fantasy’

Book Review: The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (series, #1)

Image of a digital book cover. A Black woman with short hair and muscular arms stands in a keyhole doorway with her arms extended holding each side of it. Sand swirls around her, and she has a weapon on her hip.

Summary:
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.

Review:
I don’t read high fantasy very often, but when I do, I need it to be different and unique. When I heard about a military high fantasy with a Black woman lead, a sapphic subplot, and based roughly on North Africa, I knew I needed to read it.

This book took a little while to get up to speed. There’s a lot to introduce, and. it is a chunkster to be fair. By about the 25% mark, I felt like the plot was really moving, and I was glad I hung in there. The basic plot is that Balladaire colonized Qazāl. Balladaire forbids religion. Qazāl is religious. Balladaire abducted children from Qazāl and trained them to be soldiers. They fought on behalf of Balladaire in other regions they were colonizing, and now they’ve been sent back to Qazāl to put down the rebellion. These soldiers are called the Sands. Touraine is a Sand. Luca is in her 20s and is supposed to be the queen, but her uncle is holding onto the throne until he deems her ready to take it on. Luca has a permanent injury to her leg that necessitates her walking with a cane (that has a secret sword in it). Luca is determined to prove her ability to rule via her overseeing of Qazāl.

I think for a lot of readers Touraine will be the big appeal of the book. She’s a muscular, badass soldier who is unapologetically lesbian. And she’s not the only wlw in the book. There’s a rebel couple who are married women. There’s also a minor Balladairan teenager who has a romance with a Qazāli girl. Then there’s Luca, who’s bisexual. There’s also a character partway through who is very cool and is nonbinary. My only question about this character was how, exactly, when Touraine met them, she knew their pronouns without being told. Just because I thought that would be interesting world building.

The Qazāli are varying shades of Brown and Black. The Balladairans are mostly pasty white except for a few who grew up in Qazāl and manage to have tans. The Balladairans speak a language that’s basically French, and the Qazāl’s language, names, and food all seem to be drawn from Arabic culture. The author has stated North Africa as inspiration for this tale of colonization and rebellion. I think it does a good job of exploring colonization and race without ever verging into preachy or beating you over the head with it.

So the big romance (if you can call it that?) of the book is Luca and Touraine. The author describes it as enemies-to-still-enemeis-but-horny-about-it. That said, don’t go into this book expecting on-screen sexy times. For any characters. There’s a lot of longing but nothing on-screen.

This is a violent book. It has to be as it’s military high fantasy. Please keep that in mind. There are scenes including torture, battle, and various types of warfare.

Speaking of battles, this brings me to the other interesting aspect of the book. A key part of the Qazāli religion is the use of magic. And the magic is real. Everyone acknowledges this, even the Balladairans. Luca wants to use magic without being religious. She thinks it will help her take her throne. I myself was quite fascinated by this aspect of the plot, especially when a third and a fourth culture are brought into the mix later in the book. If you like some magic in your fantasy, you’ll get it here.

The one last thing I’ll say is I think this author is quite talented at metaphor and simile descriptors. I highlighted quite a few throughout the book. I was inspired by them. Like this one:

her eyes glittered with life, sharp as a dagger beneath the ribs.

page 206

Swoon!

Overall, if you’re looking for a fresh take on high fantasy with some military mixed in and almost entirely woman leads, this read won’t disappoint.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 528 pages – chunkster

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

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Book Review: Acacia: The War With the Mein by David Anthony Durham (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Acacia tree against a sunset.Summary:
The Akarans have ruled the Known World for twenty-two generations, but the wrongfully exiled Meins have a bit of a problem with that.  They enact a take-over plot whose first action is assassinating the king.  Suddenly his four children are flung to different parts of the Known World in exile where they will need to come to terms with who they are, who the Mein are, and the wrongs past generations of Akarans committed in order to help the Known World make a change for the better.

Review:
I have a big announcement to make. Huge even.  THIS IS THE FIRST HIGH FANTASY BOOK I HAVE LOVED.  There. I said it!  And it’s true.

I wish I had some vague idea of how this ended up on my TBR pile.  The only clue I have is that I acquired it via PaperBackSwap, so I know I got it very intentionally after reading a review or something somewhere.  But where? And why?  Who knows!  It was entirely out of my comfort zone, took me much longer than my norm to read (over two weeks according to GoodReads), and yet. I loved every moment of it.

A momentous occasion such as this obviously leaves me asking why.  Why when I generally am irritated by most high fantasy did this one not just not bug me but worm its way into my heart?  This is a key question, because it’s something that helps stories cross genres.  I do have an answer, but of course it has many elements.

First, although this primarily depicts a war, no side is depicted as pure evil or good.  Both sides have good points and flaws.  Good people work for both.  Bad people work for both.  The Akaran king isn’t a bad guy per se, but he’s allowing things to happen under his rule that are bad.  The Meins have a just cause, but they do horrible things in the process of achieving that cause.  This realistic complexity is something that I have found to be sorely missing in other fantasy.  The Known World is its own fantastical place with its own cultures and history, but it is realistic in the fact that everything is complex and nothing is clear-cut.

Second, the female characters are incredibly well-written.  They are well-rounded, strong and yet vulnerable.  Beautiful and yet terrifying.  They are innately a part of the world depicted, not just princesses in a tall tower or the girl at the side of the field whose beauty inspires the men.  Women are historically a part of the Akaran army, and the two Akaran princesses have strengths and flaws of PEOPLE.  They are not “female flaws.”  They are people who happen to have vaginas.  It is some of the best writing of women I’ve seen from a male writer in a while.

Third, the Known World is complex and eloquently imagined, yet clear and easy to understand.  It is its own thing, but it is similar enough to our own real world that I wasn’t left grasping for straws trying to understand things.  People in cold climates are pale, and people in deserts are dark.  The animals range from recognizable horses and monkeys to fantastical creatures that are a mix of rhinoceroses and pigs.  It is creative yet fathomable.

Finally, the storyline is complex.  I could not predict what was going to happen next at any moment, really.  The ending caught me completely by surprise, and I am baffled as to what Durham will be doing with the middle book of the trilogy.  Baffled and impatient.

My god. I love a fantasy story.

Overall, this is now the book I will hold up when people ask me what is good fantasy.  It is what leaves me with hope for the genre that it can be more than pasty white men wishing for a patriarchal past of quivering ladies in waiting and knights fighting dragons.  Fantasy can imagine a world where some things are better than ours, and yet other things are worse.  It can be a reflection of our own world through a carnival mirror.  Something that makes us think hard while getting lost.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for those things in their reading.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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