This is one of my highly anticipated books of the year, mainly because of all the talk about how queer it is (which it really is!) but what I did not expect was how dense and action packed it would be, so it took me an age and a half to finish it. Still, I found it super satisfying throughout!
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.
You know second hand embarrassment? These characters gave me that same sensation, but in terms of “nooooo why are you doing that you feckin eejit!” instead of, like, embarrassment. The truth is, they’re both trying to do their best, but they do the maths wrong a lot of the time, and could things just happen right for them just once?
As you can see, I had a lot of feelings about this book, and these characters. Everyone was very excited about the book, and I bought it knowing it was queer and awesome (and hearing a lot about Touraine’s arms, which, fair!) but I think this is the first time I truly understand the meaning of “fast paced”. You don’t have time to breathe with this book (in the best of ways). I found myself having to take long breaks because of all the twists and turns in the story, and when I thought the characters (Touraine especially) were going to finally catch a break, something new and world-changing happened.
What I also did not expect was for this universe to have French colonial inspirations. Balladaire, the colonists, is basically France, and the colonies are reminiscent of Maghreb. As a French person, it hit me different I think, especially as I know the kinds of horrors my country did do, in real life, in Algeria for instance. And as much as I wished for the characters’ personal relationship to bloom, I was well aware that this was just not possible, not in a positive way when one is the colonist and the other was stolen by her country and beaten into obedience. So I was in this situation where what I wanted for Touraine and Luca, and what I wanted for their countries, really clashed (as it clearly clashed for them too).
Those characters are very flawed, and full of trauma, and it was painful to read (again, in the best of ways) as they made mistakes and fumbled their way through, especially with such high stakes as two countries and thousands of people’s lives. It felt so realistic. This is not a context where things happen the way you want, where you can broker peace just because you really, really want to – there are too many moving parts. Too many assholes trying to pull the covers towards them. And Clark doesn’t take any hostages when it comes to show the cruelty of colonists and how far they’ll go to retain power even where they don’t belong. So it was a dark, dark read at times, made harder by how much she made me care for those characters.
And, listen, I absolutely loved their relationship, in all its complicatedness. And I’m fully amazed too at how the ending was all wrapped up and perfectly written. I’ve no idea what to expect of book 2 but I’m looking forward to whatever CL Clark writes next!