How do I express my love for the first favorite of 2022? It’s a complex political fantasy filled with blood and magic.
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.
This was such a fantastic book and I honestly don’t know how to approach writing this review! It’s a heavy political fantasy about a small country called Qazal and the Balladairan colonists who inhabit the space. However, it’s not just about the political fantasy, but it’s also about the characters that are tasked to protect the colony, the rebels who try to fight against the colonizers, and the soldiers slung between the two worlds. Honestly, this book really blew me away with its intense storytelling, the development of its characters, and there’s even a sapphic romance and some magic! What more can anyone ask for?
There’s two main characters that play intricate components of the story, but I felt like one had more attention than the other. Touraine is a soldier who was kidnapped as a child and forced into the Balladairan army. There’s a lot in that story itself to unpack. She returns to Qazal, the land where she was stolen from to find that it’s in turmoil with a rebel group trying to take back the land from the colonizers. However, she no longer knows this life, these people, and doesn’t really relate with them at first. In fact, her main ambition is to be promoted to captain just like her mentor and leader, General Cantic.
Touraine and her soldiers are also called “The Sands,” a derogatory term for the kidnapped Qazali children that are forced into the Balladairan military. So not only is she accepted in Qazal because she’s a Balladairan soldier, but she’s not even considered a part of the military she’s forced into. You can already tell that this is a super complicated world.
Luca is the other main character. She’s the princess of Balladaire whose arrived in Qazal to make a name for herself. As a disabled person, she’s already been labeled a weak link and not suitable for reign, but Luca proves them wrong in her intelligence, her perseverance, and her ability to continue her fight despite the pain it physically causes her. She wants to be different than her uncle and father and the way they ran things, but as you continue to read, you find out that things are a bit more difficult than she thought it might be.
I also loved the internal struggle Luca dealt with. She wanted to be a good leader, but that was also meant understanding the situation in Qazal isn’t as simple as freeing them from their colony. You can tell Luca struggles with this throughout the story trying to please both sides of this war, but ultimately there’s only one choice she can make and it’s kind of interesting what she decides.
Both of these characters are slung between this war taking place in Qazal between the rebels who want it back and the Balladairans who refuse to leave. And since you get this dual perspective, you get to read this book from both camps and see what each side is dealing with. However, I felt like there was more story behind Touraine that there was Luca. Because of Touraine’s unique position in the book, I felt like CL Clark was really able to capture these two sides of the conflict through her.
Of course, this book is a fantasy book so you’re going to have a whole cast of characters being introduced. And each of them felt like their own person. I loved the people closest to Luca like Gil and Guerin, but I also loved the rebels and how formed they were as their own people. It felt like I could actually know these people!
Let’s not even discuss the drama as well! There was betrayal after betrayal after betrayal. CL Clark really keeps you on your toes on which side you’re rooting for. One minute it’s Touraine, but then it’s Luca. Then back to Touraine! OMG, the conflict between these two characters was palatable!
And CL Clark is not shy about this war either. The story is covered in blood with random attacks that really capture a realness to the story. No one is safe and CL Clark is a brutal author. I had my jaw on the ground with the death toll that kept creeping up every few chapters. It was so viscerally real and the losses were not kind, but they brought the story to life.
In the end, I felt like this story was a story of its characters. The rebellion and the conflict between the Qazali and the Balladairan created the landscape for these characters and the external/internal struggles they find themselves caught in. If anything, you come away from this story with a deeper sense of who these people are and how war has affected them in so many ways that I personally couldn’t fathom in my lowly civilian life. Truly a spectacular story so deeply layered and complex with its characters, its world, and its vision. I’m excited to see what the next book offers.