Review: The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost #1) by C.L. Clark

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis:

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:

Thank you to Nazia, Orbit Books, for providing me an ARC to review this book. All opinions are just that, my opinion.

This review contains minor spoilers so you read at your own risk.

This is a gut-wrenching debut full of stories long forgotten. That have been buried under the sands. You will witness stories of betrayal, characters being forced to do actions they don’t like, characters that have a strong sense of loyalty to their families. That dear reader, is what this story tells you. A wonderful yet tragic tale at the same time. It is a story that exposes the brutality of colonialism and oppression bringing the harsh reality of life under colonial rule in over five hundred pages is not only just a glimpse, just a viewpoint. No. It is an achievement. I am so impressed with the way this novel has been written. It takes a lot of time, though, and process to not only understand what was the motives behind colonialism but to also illustrate this with magic, gods and so many cultural influences from the Berbers to the Algerians, to Arabian style tribes and I could hint a detection of Ancient Egyptian influences. This is a novel in 2021 that has to be read. I am telling you, the amount of betrayal and trickery one has to go through to read this novel, to witness the characters Touraine and Luca embark on a journey of self-discovery, hurt, and pain to finally realize that all of this conflict, is in the end for nothing.

I studied French Colonial History and I especially studied Algeria during that time. So from one student of this subject to another, I applaud you, C.L Clark. You’ve done your work. You’ve done your research. You’ve shown the rich culture that North Africa has had on the European World which has been often ignored. Carthage had a massive influence when it ruled Spain and North Africa until it came to war with the Roman Republic. Then came the Numidians who had helped the Romans against Hannibal, only to find that their payment for their loyalty was their destruction. Then came the Roman rule of North Africa for centuries until the break up of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires and the arrival of Islam into North Africa, which then included the Maghreb and which the Ottoman Admiral, Piri Res would establish his mark over there, and then, of course, the Barbary Pirates, the Ottoman Empire’s influence. This amount of history in itself is to draw attention to the fact that I could draw many comparisons too. But North Africa is a perfect setting for fantasy and I am so glad C.L Clark chose French North Africa as a subject on to base her fantasy. (Plus she’s studied the subject so kudos. Well done). French Colonial Rule is a conundrum in and by itself in many aspects. On the one hand, they did for some time agreed to listen to their colonial subjects, but then took those concerns away, and established the main axis of power within the French settlers that were outnumbered by their Algerian/Vietnamese native populations. The Balladarians are pretty much like that, in many senses. They take all the best positions, shops, merchants you name it. The Qazali don’t get much for it in return. It’s a pretty raw deal if you ask me.

Do you want to see how this all works? Let me summarise it in a way that will keep track of the world events to not spoil the whole story. Touraine was a child that lived in the Shalan Empire. The Balladarian Empire comes in and conquers it. Now Touraine arrives back into her native lands, as a part of a regiment called the Sands. The Sands, however, are just cannon fodder. They’re just there to be sent into battle with no consideration. They are educated in the Balladarian way yes, they may talk and speak like Balladarians, but they are not true Balladarians. The Balladarians don’t see them that way. Especially General Cantic. And boy, is she the most difficult character in this book. A woman that is suited for power, I don’t think she even needed to be in this land. She needed to be back in Balladaria securing power for herself. That is what I felt. She is supremely one of the most brilliant grey characters you will come across in this book. Difficult to deal with. But then again, she’s leading one of the most dizzying experiences. She has to deal with riots, rebellions, and deal with the usurpation of power. But she’s exactly the type of general that if I were an Emperor, I would not want her to be my enemy. She is, of course, having tendencies of disloyalty. And too much loyalty can be bad sometimes now, can’t it?

The Balladarians, considering themselves so civilized and think that their architecture is so superior compared to the ‘mud-brick’ architecture that the people of Qazali prefer, that they export marble architecture into the lands of the Qazali. I wonder then, how popular it is. It won’t be. Revolts are brewing in the Shalan Empire’s former colonies. The Balladarians, being as arrogant as ever, refuse to see that their brutal rule is causing the Qazali to form rebellions, striking at their resources, using animals, they are wanting the Balladarians out. Now that’s not a secret in and by itself, the blurb itself tells you that. The Balladarians are in my opinion, the barrier to progress. They are in effect, just like the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. How? Well when Ptolemy and the Greeks settled in Alexandria and established their new Kingdom, they saw Ancient Egyptians as inferior. They had segregated streets from the Ancient Egyptians, and the Ancient Egyptians lamented, calling upon the fact that they had four thousand years of history. Yet that was all being ignored. I have no doubt the Qazali are feeling the same. And they may call friends from certain places….(One which you’ll be able to figure out!)

Bear in mind, this is a slow-paced military fantasy novel. Once it gets going, its pace is well structured. However, there were some scenes that I felt could have been cut out as it was dragging the story arc sometimes a little too off-tangent. Some scenes could have been shortened when it came to some military battles and more emphasis should have been on twists in my opinion. There are many elements of the novel where you’ll have this fantastic battle scene, or finding out what’s behind XYZ, but then it’ll have other scenes that sometimes could have been used in other areas. Mostly the pacing is fine, but I felt some scenes could have been shortened a bit. There’s a lot of mythology regarding the Qazali and their neighbours. But I felt all of that amazing mythology that is reiterated during this novel could easily be a standalone novel. Easily. There’s so much tantalizing mythology that I would read a standalone novel. That’s where this minor criticism is coming from.

Rogan reminds me of the brutal officers that were sent to the colonies. I remember reading a part in a historical academic book that discussed French colonial rule in Algeria. At one point the story goes that the French had to deal with rebellions. One particular rebellious group ran into the mountains. The Captain ordered the troops to burn the rebels, all of them including families inside a cave. That is how history is sometimes. The Ancient Romans for that matter would have been destroying rebels in North Africa plenty of times, including the Numidians. But I do not see why Rogan would not do the same to the Qazali rebels. He is a dangerous man. Rogan however, needed more emphasis. I wonder what role he will play coming in the sequel.

Touraine is eager to show her loyalty to the Balladarian Empire. That much is evident and is the core focus of Luca’s and Touraine’s chemistry together. However, I compare Touraine’s plight to the other soldiers of the Sands regiment. They are like the Senegalese troops of WWII that were conscripted by France to fight in WWII. They fought with distinction and were in the thick of the fighting during the Battle of France against Germany. However, after the war, they were promised full citizenship and equal rights. Something which took a long time for the French Government to even acknowledge. The concept of citizenship will come up somewhere in this novel. You’ll soon see why. Luca is also acquiring her form of power, her motive to prove that she is worthy to inherit the throne of Balladaria. But of course, gaining power in an empire where a den of snakes infests the political landscape is like a lizard trying to escape that den of snakes before it gets swallowed. Luca is that lizard. She will have to comprehend with more than just people, she’ll have to comprehend with forces beyond her imagination that will test the romantic chemistry of Luca and Touraine’s relationship.

Touraine and Luca’s chemistry are a slow burn but probably for deliberate reasons – to introduce the world that is there. The politics and situation that the story puts on both characters make the romance more realistic, but at the same time, it does show signs of some under-development that could have been improved in pacing areas for that time. But the politics of power proves a mighty strain on both of them, on the personality of their character, and it eventually stems down to this: Touraine and Luca are good people. They want to do good. But the way Colonialism works doesn’t allow good people into its system. Because colonialism was built on the exploitation of other people, and then when good people do come, the system chews it up. Does this refer to all elements of colonialism to be equally worse than the other? Not exactly. Some parts of colonialism did benefit the local natives that betrayed themselves to the foreign powers. Some parts of colonialism had people benefiting from advanced technology. Remember I’m putting a very vague bracket here. I have an Indian background, so of course, I could go and talk about the impact of British rule in India. But that’s not the point. The point is that this novel is showing what colonialism forces people to become: something entirely else.

We could refer to the Ancient World for that matter. What about Parthian Princes that were sent by the Parthian Kings as a sort of exchange to Rome. They were Roman educated and had been brought up in Roman Culture. Then I ask you this. Did they not feel conflicted when it came to proving their loyalty to Rome or Parthia? Did they not go through the same questions that Touraine is forced to go through? This has been happening all the time throughout human history. During the Sengoku Jidai, which was Japan’s massive and brutal civil war in which medieval warlords known as Daimyos would exchange their sons as hostages to each other’s clan. Same thing. Or let’s look at Bernadotte. Marshal Bernadotte is a famous figure in French history. He was the man that Napoleon valued as a General, but often was insubordinate and refused to follow orders.

At one point he was offered the crown of Sweden which has led to the established dynasty of Sweden that is ongoing till today. Moving back to the point, when Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 to punish Russia and achieve a decisive victory (he was taking the biggest gamble that cost him his empire because of his campaign), Bernadotte made Sweden successful, to say the least. He didn’t like Napoleon’s Continental system, and he had good relations with the Russian Tsar Alexander, during the invasion. Long story short: Bernadotte betrayed Napoleon after the 1812 campaign joining in the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon. Bernadotte taught the allies how to defeat Napoleon. This is just an instance of many outcomes of history where betraying the other side changes the entire outcome of events. It is hard, it is personal, and it is not a pleasant experience to go with when betrayal happens. Many of these historical parallels I’ve just made now relate in some form of manner of the events that will happen within this book. Not a direct comparison, but inspired.

So when you read this book, keep these events in mind. There are many good characters: The evil but cunning Beau-Sang who is a horrible man. The bully of a bully, Captain Rogan who I think needed more character development. Touraine’s mother, Jaghotai whom I didn’t like at all and didn’t agree with her reasoning over her daughter. Djasha and Jaghotai’s wife, were really good characters. The bookseller was awesome. This world is alive. I’ll tell you that. You’ll have Qazali people dancing, drummers drumming the drums, music being played, bread and olives being eaten. A clear distinction is shown between the people of the Qazali and the Balladarians and their neighbors. You’ll figure out which is which, what is what, and how and why everything happens.

Just know that I’m on the side of Touraine, and that I felt Luca’s manipulative chances of forming chemistry with Touraine, to use her as a weapon, as a bridge between Balladarian and Qazali leads to some very interesting outcomes. The writing is so well researched that I feel I’m in a different world many times. I feel as if I’m in the lands of Qazali. There are breath-taking descriptions of Grand Temples, of musket warfare. I think I might have missed a cannon here or there. Every Empire demands a revolution yes? Well, this novel calls for an entire evolution of the outdated concepts that the Balladarians carry about the Qazali, and it demands an entire revolution for the Qazali to remove these Balladarians. Then, of course, not one side is evil nor is bad. That’s what the novel will make you think. The narrator is a very clever character by itself. It makes you feel for each character, it convinces you that one side is right. But I said. Hold on. Not everybody is perfect. Human makes mistakes. We all do. Colonialism is a study of the past. Human history is dark.

But sometimes, we can see the bright spots. Sometimes, hope does come. Anyway, all my historical thoughts are just that, an opinion. Nothing more. I don’t claim to be historically accurate in my review. I’m just drawing parallels to certain moments of history that I’ve read and compared this novel to. This is very much like a Desolation of Peace. In very many senses it is. Also, it is a fantastic novel. Amazing and well-researched writing and the world is alive. I already want a Netflix adaptation of this book. You’ve done an amazing job. C.L. Clark. Fantastic work. The fact you’ve manged to get this student of history draw so many historical parallels is amazing. But the major fact is, you’ve given me a new fantasy world that isn’t medieval Europe and while I do enjoy reading it, this feels like a fresh, new unique world. I can’t wait to read book 2!

It’s a 10/10 from me.

Review: Masters of Rome (Rise of Emperors #2) by Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis:

Their rivalry will change the world forever.

As competition for the imperial throne intensifies, Constantine and Maxentius realise their childhood friendship cannot last. Each man struggles to control their respective quadrant of empire, battered by currents of politics, religion and personal tragedy, threatened by barbarian forces and enemies within.

With their positions becoming at once stronger and more troubled, the strained threads of their friendship begin to unravel. Unfortunate words and misunderstandings finally sever their ties, leaving them as bitter opponents in the greatest game of all, with the throne of Rome the prize.

It is a matter that can only be settled by outright war…

Review:

Thank you to Aries Fiction, Jade Gwilliam at Head of Zeus, Netgalley, for providing me an ARC via Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

This is a monumental triumph detailing the stories of men who brought the downfall of Rome, and those that died trying to save it. The book’s motto says what it does on the tin. The conflict between Emperor Maxentius and Emperor Constantine decided the fate of Western Europe for the next thousand years. The Rise of Christianity which gave shape to the Medieval Era to this very day. This was an intense ramification that we are talking about here, and not much is explored about how early Roman Christianity looked as opposed to its Medieval times. This book perfectly illustrates how Rome’s magnificence fell into ruinous decline. I hardly claim to be an expert on the Crisis of the Third Century, which saw the death of Emperor Septimius Severus result in the Empire’s succession thrive into chaos. Without a proper line of an Imperial family, successive generals took charge, and thus civil war, inflation, taxation, and constant warring from Germanic tribes and the Sassanid Empire weakened Rome’s borders. The Empire itself was a facade. Sure, you had the Empire. But you also had the Senate and the People of Rome. This stretches back to the day of Augustus. What you will see in this book is the complete unraveling of Roman Politics and the herculean task of rebuilding an empire. Diocletian’s reforms brought down the Empire more than it was intended to revive it.

The politics of this period is rife with conspiracy, betrayal and love, loss, and disaster. The religious turmoil of the growing new religion of Christianity in the heart of Rome and Africa, to Gaul and the East of the Roman Provinces, is clearly illustrated. Tensions boil between Roman Paganism and Roman Christianity. Emperor Maxentius has a difficult problem of dealing with the new cult, as it would have looked to him at the time and how Roman Christians themselves weren’t united on a single purpose, having constant and conflicting ideas. Maxentius should be credited as a greater man for Christianity because he indirectly helped and built the foundations of a strong Christian state to take over when Constantine historically assumes the role of Imperator. That’s as much clue you’ll get. In this novel, you’ll explore so many areas of the cities of Rome, Augusta Treverorum, a Roman City in Germania that resembled the capital. You’ll be seeing so much new history it’s like a virtual history tour of a video game for a second. You’ll see Praetorians killing and butchering Romans within the City of Rome. You’ll see generals and emperors at each other’s throats. Confrontations, insults, all the lot you can expect that is associated with Roman Politics. Let it be clear, this is your classic Roman novel. Loyal men fighting to preserve an already collapsing empire. Constantine couldn’t prevent the Empire from falling even when he had a solidified grasp on Rome’s influence. And another thing: When the legions of Rome aren’t paid, they will revolt. That has been a consistent theme within Roman military history for that matter. There are so many emotional scenes written in this book describing the private/personal lives of the two characters, you will tear up.

Old characters make a return and they fit well. Galerius, the man who had set out to become the master of the world becomes a shadow of his former shelf. Maximian, father to Maxentius by his daughter’s marriage, Valeria. These two men who had once participated with Diocletian in the events of the first novel to bring back peace to Rome are shown to have utterly failed. The novel doesn’t need to make that up for you, if you read on the politics of this time, it seems every Emperor and every General was declaring himself Emperor and trying to reclaim Rome all the time. Valeria is one character I never liked, and I still don’t like her. It was a mistake, both in the novel and in real life, for Maxentius to even get married to her. A political marriage is never a trust-worthy alliance of two souls, and in the rare cases that it is, it is a miracle. There is a vibrant and colorful cast of characters, and I also discovered how the Franks, part of the Germanic tribes that were launching wars on Rome all the time, became integrated into Constantine’s army as he defended the Empire from their raids. So by the time, the Empire did officially convert to Christianity, and the Empire split into two, the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. You already get to see how the Franks soon converted to Christianity and that then formed the Frankish Kingdom, i.e the medieval foundation of France as we know it. But I’ve diverged a bit and gone a bit too ahead for myself. So that’s a fun and cool fact. For all I know I could be wrong.

There’s nail-biting action in this novel, and there’s no shortage of excellent battle scenes. One thing that I did not get was that were the Roman troops still using lorica segmenta and using the equipment of Gallic-style shields, or did they revert to the oval ones that became more popular around the time of this crisis? I did not, and might never like Constantine. I think Maxentius, for all his faults, would have made a better Emperor for Rome. Maxentius was no naive fool. But inside, I felt sadness that with the passing of Emperor Galerius (this being the man who was declining, was the only thing standing between Constantine and Maxentius from declaring war on each other) that these two great men, will soon become enemies. The childhood friendship is over. Now Rome’s destiny will be forged at the battle of the Milvain Bridge, and the fate of Western Civilization is about to be born, anew. I say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty, two of my favorite authors, have delivered an outstanding sequel. I feel sad that Maxentius did not become Emperor of Rome however.

10/10 from me.

REVIEW: DARK ONE BY BRANDON SANDERSON, JACKSON LANZING, COLLIN KELLY, NATHAN C. GOODEN, KURT MICHAEL RUSSELL

Rating: 8/10

Snyopsis:

From #1 New York Times Bestselling, Hugo Award-winning author, Brandon Sanderson (The Mistborn Trilogy, The Stormlight Archive series), along with Nathan Gooden, Jackson Lanzing, and Collin Kelly, comes Dark One, the first book in a series of original graphic novels, from Vault Comics. Some worlds are made to be broken. Paul Tanasin is a young man haunted by visions of a dark and fantastic world?visions he initially believes are hallucinations. But when he discovers they are prophecies from Mirandus, a world in which he’s destined to become a fearsome destroyer, he’ll have to embrace the fear, rise up as the Dark One, and shatter everything. Dark One examines the dual roles we often take on in life-the ability to be a savior as well as a destroyer.

Review:

This review contains minor spoilers. You have been warned 😉

I did not want this to end.

Period.

This comic was so good that I already was having a blast reading it. Fantastic drawings, fantastic world-building, and the story in itself were easy to follow. It has an epic map cover, one which I want to see more of in this book. There teases of different cultures, and I saw a Roman-Greek-style culture that I wanted to see more of. I’ve loved graphic novels. This is what a graphic novel should be. Fun, easy to read, but it is very brutal in many senses. This is a wonderful introduction to a brand new world and one which I think is worth following. Very well written in my opinion.

The dialogue was very well written. Written by the master writer, Brandon Sanderson and the amazing writers, Lanzing and Kelly, they did a good job of distinguishing the worlds separating themselves from the earth. However, I was not convinced of a few things. First, I understood the concept of the Narrative and how fates and destinies are intertwined. Second, I was unsure of Paul Tanasin was in a sense, able to adapt to situations very quickly, and then becomes kind of adapted into his role. I don’t think he figures out what the clear distinctions are between the light and the dark as of yet, for he has much to learn. Surely, a Dark One can spread light as well? A Dark One does not always need to be evil in my opinion. And what is evil but a reflection of our dark desires? And what is good but a reflection of our good desires? And what happens when the two converge? That I feel is a very interesting arc that should be explored in this brand new series. I felt this area needed more expansion here. Otherwise, the character and worldbuilding was very well done in my opinion

Paul is a good character, but I think he needs to spend time with more characters that can better evoke his personality. The Drull character that serves him is a wonderful addition. His sister’s soul has been with him since his childhood, for example, Sometimes I think the distinctions between the Light and the Dark can become a little too complicated to follow. Paul’s mother is a good character that I think we need more exploration as well. There was a certain backdrop in the comic that I would have wanted to see more development off in my opinion.

213 pages does not cut it. This could have been more longer in my opinion, but I can understand that the reason it is like this is that it’s trying to introduce the reader into the world. I felt that we sped too fast between earth and this new fantastical world of fantasy. Instead, in the next sequel I would want a slower, paced approach and to make Paul’s character witness the events around him in far more detail. There is a bigger world here. There is more of a world to explore, cultures to see. I don’t just want it to be a case of dark vs light, because this comic clearly shows what the grey veil is between dark and light, but I want to explore the world, I want to see what new wonders, what new mysteries I will uncover here. And Krasis – I need more of an explanation with him. I understood he’s a brutal character, but I felt there’s more to uncover about him.

Otherwise, these were just my suggestions. In my opinion, a massive fantasy world like this will take time in successive installaments to introduce more character growth. A fantasy series takes to mature and you can then really get involved. So this is the start of something wonderful. Something really wonderful. I cannot wait to see what else is going to come in this unique universe. 8/10 from me.

Review: Shadow of the Raven (Sons of Kings #1) by Millie Thorn

Shadow of the Raven (Sons of Kings Book 1) eBook: Thom, Millie:  Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store
Amazon
Book Depository
Goodreads

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis:

By the mid ninth century, Danish raids on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms have escalated. Several bands even dare to overwinter on the coastal islands, particularly those at the mouth of the Thames, where the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia border each other. The kings of these lands must put past hostilities aside and take the first steps towards unity; steps they see as vital in the face of this newfound threat to their lands.

Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia are the sons of kings, whose futures have been determined since birth. But the turbulent events in their childhood years change the natural progression of things and shape the characters of the men they will become. Their roads to manhood follow vastly different routes, but both learn crucial lessons along the way: lessons that will serve them well in future years.

Discovering that the enemy is not always a stranger is a harsh lesson indeed; the realisation that a trusted kinsman can turn traitor is the harshest lesson of all.

Review

This story is an emotional saga than anything else. There are dark issues shown in this book that would never be accepted in the 21st century. But as humans, our need for lust, greed, and emotion overwhelm us. I feel sad for many of the characters in this novel. Very sad. This is how brutal times were. Yet in the 21st century, we still have more comforts than the violent 9th century provided us. I have to commened Millie for writing such a good story that I became engrossed with the characters. Especially Eadwulf of Mercia. His story is truly tragic.

Yet, Millie does a very good job of bringing characters that we can relate too, from History’s Viking show, unique characters such as Bjorn, Ivar, Halfdan, Ragnar. Thankfully instead of focusing all five points of view, we get one that is focused on Bjorn. For those that are familiar with Viking history, there are particular raids that happen and there is often the cut-throat Danes selling each other out. Power and Politics play a crucial role within this book. Eadwulf has to navigate through this complex and tricky situation that he will find himself in the course of the novel. Eadwulf’s mother, Morwenna is a character that I like the most. It goes to show that there is nothing more powerful than a mother’s love in this world for her children and she will do anything to protect them. What shames me is that the men in this novel don’t even care for their woman. How stupid it is, to have lived a society of patriarchy for so long that men began to oppress womenhood, when women were the backbone of all society. And how stupid it is, how stupid, that we lived in a society where man and woman could not fall in love so easily. The 21st century is not free of these problems, but we are in a much better situation than what people were subject to in the 8th and 9th century.

There is an epic story buried underneath this saga, and you will find yourself immersed into the breath-taking descriptions, wonderful dialogue, and heart-felt scenes. Many times I was almost close to breaking in tears because of some really powerful scenes. I had to control myself a few times. This is the hallmark of a true writer. There are incredibly historical scenes written, and great action. I was not taken however with Eadwulf’s transition so to say, and his relationship with Sieghelm. I think that could have been more developed, and more scenes should have been added. But it also plays a crucial part in this story. I ended up like Freydis, Alfred, and Bjorn the most. A fantastic start and now I want to review the whole saga. I think this is the start of an epic journey.