On the third day of the convocation, two of the Slonimi scouts killed a calf, and the herbalist’s boy wept because he’d watched the calf being born and grown to love it. His
mother stroked his hair and promised he would forget by the time the feast came, the following night. He told her he would never forget. She said, “Just wait.”
He spent all of the next day playing with the children from the other caravan; three days before, they’d all been strangers, but Slonimi children were used to making friends quickly. The group the boy and his mother traveled with had come across the desert to the south, and they found the cool air of the rocky plain a relief from the heat. The others had come from the grassy plains farther west, and were used to milder weather. While the adults traded news and maps and equipment, the children ran wild. Only one boy, from the other caravan, didn’t run or play: a pale boy, with fine features, who followed by habit a few feet behind one of the older women from the other caravan. “Derie’s apprentice,” the other children told him, and shrugged, as if there was nothing more to say. The older woman was the other group’s best Worker, with dark hair going to grizzle and gimlet eyes. Every time she appeared the herbalist suddenly remembered an herb her son needed to help her prepare, or something in their wagon that needed cleaning. The boy was observant, and clever, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that his mother was trying to keep him away from the older woman: she, who had always demanded he face everything head-on, who had no patience for what she called squeamishness and megrims.
After a hard day of play over the rocks and dry, grayish grass, the boy was starving. A cold wind blew down over the rocky plain from the never-melting snow that topped the high peaks of the Barriers to the east; the bonfire was warm. The meat smelled good. The boy had not forgotten the calf but when his mother brought him meat and roasted potatoes and soft pan bread on a plate, he did not think of him. Gerta—the head driver of the boy’s caravan—had spent the last three days with the other head driver, poring over bloodline records to figure out who between their two groups might be well matched for breeding, and as soon as everybody had a plate of food in front of them they announced the results. The adults and older teenagers seemed to find this all fascinating. The herbalist’s boy was nine years old and he didn’t understand the fuss. He knew how it went: the matched pairs would travel together until a child was on the way, and then most likely never see each other again. Sometimes they liked each other, sometimes they didn’t. That, his mother had told him, was what brandy was for.
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.
This story had me hook, line and sinker from the very beginning.
Judah may as well be a changeling. She doesn’t fit into the rhythm of the elaborate court she is a part of. Her dark hair and muddy boots are the antithesis of everything the court desires and values. But Judah can’t be exiled because she is the key to the survival of the kingdom’s crown prince. The irrevocable entwining of their fates is the crown’s deepest, darkest secret. Harm Judah, you harm the prince. But Judah’s ties to the crown are just the edge of her power and her magic.
Nate is an apprentice healer. He infiltrates the court in that capacity, desperate to meet the elusive girl that is adored as The Foundling. But Nate has his own secret mission of vengeance and rebellion.
This story enthralled me. If you are a fan of The Name of the Wind or Falling Kingdoms series, you will love this read.