Standalone | 400 Pages | Feb 11, 2020
The Unwilling at a Glance
- Overall Rating: ★★★
- Heroine: But what is her power???
- Dude: Pretty little prince
- Steaminess: “Put a thousand spells on me”
- Brutality: Horror movie level
For fans of S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles, and George RR Martin’s The Game of Thrones, this high concept medieval/high fantasy by Kelly Braffet is a deeply immersive and penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride.
The Unwilling is the story of a young woman, born an orphan with a secret gift, who grows up trapped, thinking of herself as an afterthought, but who discovers that she does not have to be given power: she can take it. An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, the novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.
For reasons that nobody knows or seems willing to discuss, Judah the Foundling was raised as siblings along with Gavin, the heir of Highfall, in the great house beyond the wall, the seat of power at the center of Lord Elban’s great empire. There is a mysterious–one might say unnatural connection–between the two, and it is both the key to Judah’s survival until this point, and now her possible undoing.
As Gavin prepares for his long-arranged marriage to Eleanor of Tiernan, and his brilliant but sickly younger brother Theron tries to avoid becoming commander of the army, Judah is left to realize that she has no actual power or position within the castle, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond the wall. Lord Elban–a man as powerful as he is cruel- has other plans for her, for all of them. She is a pawn to him and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Meanwhile, outside the wall, in the starving, desperate city, a Magus, a healer with a secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah. The girl who started off with no name and no history will be forced to discover there’s more to her story than she ever imagined.
If you are looking for a dark high fantasy, then look no further. This book is DARK. I wasn’t quite prepared, but don’t worry, Braffet will give you a good dose of creepy, cruel and confusing right at the beginning.
CW: Abuse, torture, animal abuse and torture. I’m not joking. It’s rough.
I loved the way that the prologue opens the book. We see the nomadic tribes and learn a little about their Working (magic). The Work is very primal; herbs, blood, feeling. I always like this kind of magic instead of the “everyone is born with it” form of magic. Something about magic that comes from the earth and blood feels more magical to me.
As readers, we are kept in the dark quite a bit, finding out the details of the plot alongside the characters. So the tribes have a prophesy of sorts about a child, but we don’t know the details. We do know that the tribe members are “matched” to have a child. Once the woman is pregnant, they part ways and children will know who their father is, but rarely meet them. So strange, but I kind of get that concept for this culture.
The first real chapter takes place about 20 ish years later in Highfall where we meet Judah, Gavin and gang. Judah, we presume is the special child created in the tribes. She is the only person in the castle who is not blond-haired and blue-eyed as she was found randomly by a midwife and the late queen wanted to adopt her. Judah and Gavin, heir to the throne, have a strange twin kind of bond since they were put in the same bassinet as babies.
As much as I hated Gavin for his lack of trying EVER, I did really enjoy the twin bond. Judah and Gavin feel everything the other does. Gavin gets drunk, so does Judah. Judah gets hurt, so does Gavin. This is the reason that Judah is even alive. The king hates her and how different she is, but he has to keep her or risk his heir.
Elban, said king, is EVIL. This man beats out a lot of villains for pure cruelty and malice. He is the cause of most of the trauma. At times, it was too much for me. There is a scene in particular where dogs are used to torture and murder some people. It is a lot to take and I had to skip parts of it as I didn’t want nightmares of my own dogs attacking me.
Evil kings, magic bonds, and a solid squad of friends, this book will meet all of your high fantasy needs. Just beware that it is going to cause a lot of feelings and possibly nightmares!
Have you read The Unwilling? Let me know what you thought in the comments!