2021’s The Unbroken is the first volume in C. L. Clark’s Magic of the Lost series.
Touraine might have grown up an uncivilized believer in gods and magic had the Balladairans not taken her from her native Qazāl to educate her in Balladairian ways. She then sent to serve as a Sand, a conscript1 soldier. No other choices offered.
Balladair has enough faith in their training that they do not hesitate to send Touraine and her fellow Sands to El-Wast, in subjugated Qazāl. Back to her home country, to put down a rebellion.
Princess Luca is destined to rule Balladair, provided only that she can convince her uncle, Duke Regent Nicolas Ancier, that she is worthy to take her late father’s place. Nicolas claims to be so strict because the empire requires good government, NOT because he’d lose power were his niece to ascend the throne. It’s mere coincidence that Luca has survived a number of accidents that might have killed her (though they have left her crippled). Would her dear uncle be trying to kill her? Would he?
Luca is put in charge of the force sent to El-Wast, the force to which Touraine belongs. Terrorists/heroic freedom fighters attempt to assassinate Luca. By mere happenstance, Touraine spots the would-be assassins and saves Luca; Luca promises Touraine a boon.
Sooner than Touraine expects, a boon is necessary. Touraine’s weapon is lost, then used to beat a Balladairan — not Sand — s oldier to death. She’s falsely accused of murdering a superior and sentenced to death. Luca intervenes to save Touraine.
There is something that Touraine can do in return: serve as an intermediary between the Princess and the rebels. And if it all goes terribly wrong? Well, Sands are nothing if not expendable.
It is a confident empire that sends slave-soldiers back to their old home and expects the soldiers to keep serving the empire. It’s a misplaced confidence … but hey, points for avoiding crippling self-doubt.
The folks of Qazāl do magic; Balladair believes that magic doesn’t exist, despite a great deal of evidence that it does. Really, you have to wonder why there is still such a thing as a Balladair empire.
Adventure is someone else far away having a terrible time. This novel certainly qualifies as adventure. Clark positions Touraine to maximize adventure potential by putting her in a position where everyone around her has good reason not to trust her. Fellow Sands think she’s allied herself with one of the high mucky-mucks; the rebels suspect that her true allegiance is to Balladair rather than Qazāl.
The Unbroken isn’t the sort of book I really enjoy; too much brutality. It is skillfully done, though, and while the debut novel functions as a complete novel, the fact that it’s the first book of a trilogy makes me wonder where the author might take her story.
1: While Balladair might called the Sands “conscripts,” a more accurate term would be slaves.