The Unbroken by C.L. Clark has been one of my favourite reads this year. It was one of those novels that manages to be so different from everything else you’ve read while simultaneously capturing everything you’ve loved in the books you have read. This is post-colonial fantasy at its absolute best!

The Unbroken is out now.

The Unbroken is split into two narrative pov’s that are at times aligned in purpose and at others at odds with one another. This was a fun dynamic to read and I imagine even more fun to write! Why did you want to have a dual pov narrative?

It actually started out as a triple POV narrative! Then one of my professors who was reading the manuscript thought the third (Djasha) was taking a bit too much away from the momentum without giving anything back–at least not in the scope I was working with. If people think The Unbroken is thick now…but originally, my intent was to have perspectives from three prominent sides of this rebellion: a colonizer (Luca), a colonized local, especially from the older generation (Djasha), and someone from the next generations that straddled the line between colonizer and colonized (Touraine). By cutting Djasha’s POV out (sob; there’s still so much about her that I want to share, so much of her history and uh…she’s the one who knows about all of the magic), I was able to focus in on the opposition between Touraine and Luca.

Both of your protagonists (both fabulous female characters!) have suffered significant hardship in their lives, but they never end up being defined by their misfortunes. How did you ensure they transcended their pain when so many similar characters we see in fiction never do?

The thing is…I would actually not say either of them have transcended their pain. They’ve integrated it, and it impacts everything about them: their insecurities, their fears, their way of moving (literally and figuratively) through the world. It is the root of most of their decisions, the good ones and the…uh…oh look, just in time! 

Your characters often make really, really stupid decisions. This is a far cry from the overly competent cardboard cutout characters of early heroic fantasy! Why was it so important to give your characters flaws? How did you feel writing some of their more frustrating decisions without rolling your eyes too much as you wrote?!

To finish what I started just above…these flaws and frustrating decisions (yes, even THAT one) were very rooted in their hardships. Like most people, like most animals, after a certain amount of pain, we dread it, try to avoid it if possible. Those choices were those attempts. Sometimes, those choices were also the only way they felt they could lash out in different systems that made them feel (relatively) powerless. Then, there’s also the fact that I actually get kind of tired of the characters I read being always competent, and if they always make the right decision with the least amount of consequences, the story would wrap up pretty quickly. And it’s easy to see what decision you think someone should take from the outside, but when you’re in the thick of it and with a certain mindset, it’s much harder–and that’s something I wanted to capture. I personally would not recommend most decisions my characters make.

All the characters of power the reader gets to know are women, including women in roles unusually populated by women (head of the military, for instance!). Male characters, by contrast, take on the role women often take in other novels – that of support and comfort. Was this a very deliberate choice or did it flow naturally from your original idea? What were some of the fantasy character tropes you hoped to play with by populating your story with powerful women?

I suppose it flowed naturally from my original idea, which was specifically to explore violent women, and wanting to have more of the kinds of women characters I wanted. I wasn’t thinking about what kind of role the men played so much as I had roles that needed to be filled. So maybe that was a subconscious thing. But as a queernorm world without a local patriarchy (but not without any misogyny), there was no reason why women can’t fill in whatever role I need them to, even the military ones. It’s hard to write a world like that, though, really forces me to think hard about disentangling threads of patriarchy from everything else in society. I probably don’t succeed usually. But I like women with swords, women with power, women who can beat people up if they want to, instead of the trope of women only being allowed weapons or violence in self-defence or child-defence.

Pitch us The Unbroken! Why should readers pick up a copy?

Haha, you mean everything above wasn’t enough? Okay–if you like characters put in really bad positions and forced to make some tragic choices while remaining true to what they most believe in, The Unbroken is your book. But only if you don’t mind them being human and not always picking the best option.

C.L. Clark

C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA and was a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in FIYAH, PodCastle,Uncanny and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Now she’s one of the co-editors at PodCastle.