The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet
Publication date: February 11, 2020
Pages: 576 pages
Rating: 4/5 stars ✰✰✰✰
Strengths: Intricate plot, interesting character viewpoints
I took a deep breath when I first sat down with this book. 576 pages is a commitment, right? Within my first couple hours of reading, I was delightedly surprised. I really enjoyed this book from start to finish.
It was definitely an intriguing fantasy plot intertwined with a medieval world. The Slonimi people - a traveling, gypsy-style clan - had worked for generations to breed their strongest Workers (Work being a sort of cross between magic and creation), to create an individual strong enough to work against some dudes who tried to eliminate the Work (I think? The original crime was a little murky for me). Much of this isn't explained til near the end.
Much of the book follows the kingdom of Highfall, including its evil Lord Elban, his assistant, the Seschenal, and the four children. The children are all in their late teens and slightly beyond by the time we meet them. Gavin is Elban's firstborn son, and the next Lord. Theron is Gavin's younger brother, who is supposed to lead the army, but would rather be solving mental puzzles. Eleanor is Gavin's betrothed, bought from another village before she was even ten years old and groomed within Highfall ever since. Judah is the foundling, brought to the Lady of Highfall (Gavin's mother) on the same day Gavin was born. Judah and Gavin have been raised together and somehow feel what happens to each other physically. Especially because of this, Lord Elban hates her, but can't get rid of her as he wants her safe only so Gavin isn't hurt. Following so far?
That is seriously just the basics, folks. I found the characters to be engaging, and had a degree of sympathy for almost all of them (okay, Lord Elban really was just a sadistic asshole). One of the most important things for me with any fantasy book is the ability to actually imagine the world the author has set up. While I'm not entirely confident in saying I sort of get what the Work was, I think that was also part of the point. The Work was a mystery, and could never be fully explained even if it was real, if that makes any sense.
As I said initially, this is a big book. I would recommend it to a big fantasy fan. If fantasy isn't one of your favorite genres, this may be too much of a mental stretch and commitment for you. I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars and may check out some of the author's other books.
Thank you to Mira and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in advance of its February 11, 2020 publication. The opinions expressed in this post are not influenced by having received the book for free.