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The Unwilling: A Novel

by Kelly Braffet

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904242,594 (3.54)None
"The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban's vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival -- and possibly her undoing. As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban -- a lord as mighty as he is cruel, has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own 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 life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined. An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down." --… (more)
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This book was a pretty engaging read, but by the final pages I was left wondering what was the point of the story… Kelly Braffet has constructed an interesting and unique world set around the court of the ruling City of Highfall, one in which magic has been lost to the ages except for a small band of people known as the Slomini. The story follows Judah, an orphan who has grown up alongside Highfall’s heir because she has a mysterious connection to him in which both parties feel each other’s emotions and pain. Little does Judah know, her parents were members of the nomadic Slomini and she is apparently the key to unlocking magic from coming back into the world. Braffet adds a bevy of well-written characters into the mix, ranging from mysterious magic workers to devious courtiers, and she plays up all of the potential conflicts to their peak throughout the story, and yet I still found the conclusion rather unsatisfying. Judah does not, as expected, bring magic back into the world, Highfall is left in political shambles, and it is unclear whether there is going to be a subsequent book anytime soon to continue Judah’s story. Some tales are definitely better left with questions unanswered at the end, but I feel like this book is not one of them. We need some answers and thus far Kelly Braffet is the party unwilling to answer them until the sequel is released… Time shall hopefully reveal all! ( )
  JaimieRiella | Jul 12, 2021 |
I'm not sure how I learned about this book. My usual source for science fiction and fantasy recommendations, John Scalzi's blog, wasn't the one so it remains a mystery. And even though I am not usually a reader of fantasy this book kept me interested throughout the more than 500 pages.

The City of Highfall is the capital of a vast empire ruled by Lord Elban, a cruel tyrant of a dictator. Elban has two sons; Gavin is the elder and destined to rule after Elban is gone. His younger brother Thereon is supposed to command the army when Gavin takes the throne but he is entirely unsuited for that role. However, he is a brilliant inventor and spends most of his days in a room he calls his workshop. The day that Gavin was born the midwife brought an infant girl that had just been born while both her parents died. Lord Elban's wife decided to have the girl, named Judah, raised with her son. Then when Gavin was about ten another girl, Eleanor, was brought to Highfall with the intention that she and Gavin would wed. The four young people live in a suite of rooms spending most of their free time together. Naturally, they grow close. In fact, Gavin and Judah have a mysterious bond that means whatever sensation one of them feels the other also feels. This bond is only known to a few people and Elban and his Seneschal have ensured that neighter Gavin nor Judah will inadvertently disclose it by reacting in front of other people. The reader knows that the connection between Gavin and Judah is not coincidence. Three people from an Eastern tribe have travelled to Highfall to try to undo the bond. One of them is Nate, a healer, whose job it is to get to know Judah and gain her confidence. Nate, in common with many of the people from his tribe, can wield a magical power that allows him to see inside another person's brain although he is not the most gifted practitioner and using the power takes a lot out of him. The need to break the bond between Gavin and Judah becomes even more important when Lord Elban dies and his Seneschal seizes power instead of allowing Gavin to become ruler. The book's ending makes it obvious that there will be a sequel so we will undoubtedly see more of this crew. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jun 12, 2021 |
The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet follows Judah, a foundling raised in Lord Elban's household with his eldest son. As the two children grow older, it is discovered that they share a psychic link such that what one feels, so too does the other. Not just emotional, but physical as well. If one is cut, the other bleeds too. The secondary recipient healed faster, and scars less, but the pain is just as intense. When this is discovered, Judah is subjected to all manner of injury to teach both her and Gavin to keep silent if the other gets hurt. The bond is kept a secret from all save Elban, his Seneschal, the House Magus, and Gavin's younger brother Theron, and betrothed Elly who were both raised with the pair. Judah is barely tolerated by Elban and his courtiers, and the staff fear her. As they become adults, Elban is determined to break the bond, but at what cost? And why does it exist in the first place?

This book was an interesting read, though not what I expected at first. The magic is subtle, and not overly prevalent. It is used by the Slonimi, most often through blood working. The Slonimi have been charged, through the generations, with untying 'Mad Martin's knot', working to release a bound source of Power. You meet them in the beginning, then not for quite some time. Most of the story is focused on the trials and struggles Judah suffers. She lives in a harsh environment, surrounded by people happy to be cruel to her. Harsh in other ways too, as Gavin finds out when he is instructed to kill someone dear to him. Rules governing what staff can and cannot do are strict. Many things can lead to death if they aren't careful. At the very least, those who go inside the House Wall to serve may never leave again, never see their family again. There's quite a deal of intrigue too, in the games courtiers play.

I liked the main four pretty well, but my favourite characters by far were Nathaniel Magus, and Firo Cerrington. Nathaniel replaces the previous House Magus, Arkady, who was quite the piece of work… Nathaniel seemed so sweet, and shy. And for some reason I kept picturing him as Joseph Hooker from the movie Creation. I got nothing on that really. Firo was just hilarious, and seemed amused by everything. He's as mercenary as any of the courtiers, yet does seem to have a soft spot for Judah, and quite a deal of patience. He immediately brought to mind Jarlaxle, from RA Salvatore's Legends of Drizzt series because their personalities seem so similar. I did feel sorry for Theron. I really liked him in the beginning, but after his accident, his personality changed. Elban I just wanted to pitch off the roof. He was so unnecessarily vicious. I think I don't blame the Slonimi their hatred of him. Oh, and Bindy! I adored Bindy, the young girl who serves as Nathaniel Magus' courier.

Overall, things seemed to move a little slow, compared to what I was expecting. Everything was pretty much contained within the confined of the House. At least, til the final third, when the action kicked in and stakes were raised even higher. I think tweaking the synopsis might better reflect the story inside.

***Many thanks to the Netgalley & Harlequin for providing an egalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. ( )
  PardaMustang | Feb 18, 2020 |
Series Info/Source: Stand Alone, ARC from Amazon Vine for review.

Story (2/5): Okay, so I was really excited to read this one but I ended up struggling through the first 70 pages and then deciding to set it aside. This was boring and long and just plain hard to read. I got through the prologue which introduces us to a young boy who is apprenticed to a Worker elder, I think Worker's do magic or something...no idea it was never explained.

Then I got through the first chapter which was ~50 pages long and involved following a young witch orphan who's been adopted by the royal family or something around a palace. She has funny colored hair and seems to be linked to the heir in some magical way.

Characters (2/5): Boring and hard to engage with.

Setting (3/5): Typical fantasy setting, nothing exciting here.

Writing Style (2/5): I wasn’t a fan of the writing style. In the first chapter we get lots of boring history and lots of the main character’s random thoughts and lots of poorly done description of the surroundings. I fell asleep 3 times during the reading of this first chapter...then decided to give it another go the next day when I was less tired...same issue. Seriously you could have cut out over half of this chapter and I don't think it would have any impact on the story. This book has serious pacing and editing issues.

Summary (2/5): This was just not for me. Way too boring and the characters were not all interesting. I couldn't even begin to tell you what the story was about even after reading the first 70 pages or so. Ugh. ( )
  krau0098 | Jan 5, 2020 |
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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.
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"The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban's vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival -- and possibly her undoing. As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban -- a lord as mighty as he is cruel, has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own 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 life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined. An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down." --

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