“Fantasy at its most sublime.”—Erin Morgenstern, NYT bestselling author of The Night Circus
A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…
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.
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.80(d)|
About the Author
Kelly Braffet is the author of the novels Save Yourself, Josie and Jack and Last Seen Leaving. Her writing has been published in the New York Times and Vulture.com, as well as The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University and currently lives in upstate New York.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Unwilling by Kelly Breffat took me on a journey to a world in turmoil, where bad becomes worse in the blink of an eye. But, there is a glimmer of hope that only one character can see and make a reality. Unexpected and heart-rending, this fantasy tale explores themes of survival, independence, and love in a way I will not soon forget. Favorite Character: Elly While I was reading, I kept thinking of Gone With the Wind, and one of the main reasons is because Elly reminds me of Mitchell's character, Melanie. A girl who plays a part in which she is born, seeming weak and "mealymouthed," when in actuality, she's strong and resilient. Elly is the most prepared to live through hard times, and her will to survive is strong, as is her determination and resourcefulness. She is a very admirable character who will stick with me as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes has. What I Liked The emotional journey The Unwilling took me on is one that I have not experienced with any other story. It is intense and often dark. I often found myself repelled and drawn in at the same time, yearning for some glimmer of hope as things felt unbelievably hopeless. Looking back at my reading experience, I am very intrigued by the strength of a plot and of the characters that could take me on such a journey. Elly is my favorite character, but it was a close choice between her and the main character, Judah, who has the characteristics that I typically find appealing. She is strong internally with a rebelliousness that brings a bit of fun to the role. Thumbing her nose at the rules of society, as well as the adults in charge, is something she does daily. She is smart, quick to take in a situation, and wears her differences as a badge of honor. She has moxie, and I do love a character with moxie. The world-building is good with a history woven into the current day story that makes it pretty easy to understand what is going on and how things got to be where they are. I found that there is a stark contrast between the prologue and the rest of the story. Most of the story is set in the colorful city of Highfall, but the prologue takes place outside the city in the caravan's travels. The caravan's world read very stark and basic, which was in direct contrast to the courtier life in the city. What I Wish I wish that the ending could have been different. I can't say any more than that because I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't read it, but I felt that I needed to say at least that much. To Read or Not to Read If you love intense emotional journeys and impossible choices, this is the book for you! Thank you to NetGalley, MIRA books, and Harlequin Trade for my free copy in exchange for an honest review.
I was provided with an ARC of this title courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. This book was absolutely fantastic. I was held prisoner, hook, line and sinker from the very beginning. Judah is a Foundling. She is tolerated and protected by virtue of her irrevocable, unexplainable ties to the Crown Prince. But those ties are a liability and a vulnerability, part of the web of shadows and secrets that surround the throne. Judah thinks the court is oblivious to her existence -- because she is the exact antithesis of evrything it seems to value and praise. But the court is not oblivious to her existence - and despite her dark hair and muddy boots - they want her influence and her sway over the future king. Nate is an apprentice healer with a secret mission of vengeance and rebellion. His task is to infiltrate the crown's inner circle by virtue of his skills. But Nate sees the dolls everywhere in the arms of children - and he wonders if the outcast girl they represent is more or less than a folk hero. Nate and Judah will become entangled in a plot with the potential to overthrow an empire. If you are a fan of The Name of the Wind, you will love this intricately plotted book.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing, Netgalley, and Mira Books for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication. So with that content warning, and thank you to everyone that helped create this pretty extensive list, I would say that if any of these topics are triggering to you in any way, please take great care in reading this novel. I have to warn you because I would want to be warned myself with certain content warnings, and while not everything in life comes with a “warning” as some people say, I still feel like I should spread the word on those novels that do have some sort of trigger warnings or content warnings and help my fellow readers make an informed decision before reading something that could negatively affect them. Now, if you’re able to get through these topics and compartmentalize what’s going on here from what you’re probably experiencing in real life, then I think that some people may be able to enjoy this novel. It’s definitely not for everyone, and I would say that this book is pretty dense on the fantasy side. I would say that this is more on the Name of the Wind side, which for one I didn’t end up finishing but a lot of my friends have so, maybe that will tell you something about this novel. I would also say that this book definitely has a long story line, and there may be times where you’ll want the action to happen, or the story to move on already, and trust me I felt that way with Strange the Dreamer as well as some others, but holding out until the end may or may not make you feel rewarded for completing such a daunting task. Yes, sometimes finishing a book can be considered daunting for us book bloggers that have so many books to read and so little time left, so if you finish this one, seriously give yourself some celebration time. You’ll need it and you totally deserve it.
Thank you to MIRA and NetGalley for giving a chance to read this eARC. My reading experience of The Unwilling was not what I expected. I was intrigued and kept reading it, but halfway in I was getting restless. I kept reading to see why our main characters: Judah, Gavin, Theron and Elly were all suffering so much and I was hoping for somewhat of a happy ending. I didn’t get that. What I Liked: *Something about this book kept me reading it – and mostly because I needed to know what was so special about Judah. Why did the magus need to get to her so badly?! She had powers obviously but she hardly…and I mean HARDLY uses them in this book because she doesn’t know she has them. ♀️ *This book is depressing so the only shining light about it is the bond and love between Judah, Gavin, Theron, and Elly. They suffered together and became their own family and relied on each other. Their love for each other really came through in this story. *There were a few twists in the story within the political environment of the kingdom but…again…the twists benefited everyone else, not the four abused people in this story. Things That Made Me Go Hmm: *Triggers: Almost EVERYTHING. Torture, graphic scene of a deer hunt, graphic scene of feral hounds torturing someone (think Ramsey from Game of Thrones), cutting (it’s blood magic), drug use, physical and mental abuse…so much abuse. *I had to reach 75% into the book to find out what Judah’s power was? Ugh…Why couldn’t it be explained earlier? Nate’s relationship with Derie (his abusive mentor)…didn’t even really explain why their people needed Judah until the end! So frustrating. *I’ve read books with torture in it, but in the end – someone is usually a hero. Someone turns the tide…this kingdom was ruled by one mad man to another. There was no happy ending in sight for Judah, Gavin, Theron and Elly. There was seriously no HOPE for these four children, now adults, trapped together in misery. They were unwilling to become like their father Elban, I get it…they were unwilling to let their family be broken apart…but it was. *When Judah’s power explained by Nate who’s head is scrambled by Derie so he can carry out this mission of ending Elban’s line and unleashing Judah’s power – by then he’s a madman too. This whole story was about people who needed Judah for something. They all preyed on her even Nate who was supposed to “help” her, even Gavin who wasn’t supposed to hurt her. *The ending was frustrating. And this is categorized as Sci-fi on NetGalley…what was sci-fi about it? The part where Theron tinkers as an inventor? Did I miss it? Final Thoughts: Despite all the things that turned me off about this book, I read this book in three days! That means something about it kept me interested and I think it was the mystery of Judah’s power. But by the time it is explained I was just so frustrated with this story and the ending left me even more unsatisfied. Judah’s dilemma seemed so impossible to fix, here was a girl who was bound to another, not by choice. Bound to a kingdom not by choice and here were this people, trying to keep her bound. This book wasn’t for me but I did finish at least.
On the night the heir to Highfall, Gavin, was born, a newborn foundling, Judah, was brought into the walls of the city, specifically into the castle and is raised alongside the heir. As Judah and Gavin grow, a mysterious bond is discovered between the pair. A bond that connects them physically—they feel and experience what the other does—and somewhat mentally—they can garner some emotion from each other. While Gavin is groomed by his ruthless father into what it means to be Lord of the City the bond is the only thing that keeps Judah alive. For Gavin will suffer whatever Judah does and vice versa. But Judah comes to question her place. She has no true role within the castle, she’s looked down upon by the courtiers who believe she’s a witch. And Gavin’s thoughts are becoming ever more despairing. Meanwhile, outside the castle walls, the city is in unrest. Healer Nathaniel Clare comes to Highfall with plans of his own. Plans that ultimately revolve around Judah. The Unwilling is a sprawling, winding story. Kelly Braffet’s writing is engrossing. The careful planning of each little detail can be deftly felt. The magic, what is known in this fictitious world as the Work, is intriguing in the way it connects those with the talent. I wish we had gotten a better understanding of the Work. As with much in the story, the intricacies are kept close to the chest until near the end. While I repeatedly found myself getting caught up in the story every time I would pick up the book, it progresses at an, at times, agonizingly slow pace. I felt very restless while reading because there were very few moments of quickness and those that we get are all too brief and far between. For that The Unwilling was a difficult read for me. The explanations or motivations of the characters remain murky throughout. Some do become clear by the end but others not so much—I’m guessing to lead easier into a sequel if one is intended. Make no mistake there are genuine villains in this book, but without knowing what fuels them or where their machinations are supposed to be leading they kind of become caricatures. And leaving the “good guys” in the shades of gray category doesn’t lend itself well to likable characters. The four “children” as they’re referred (Gavin, Judah, Theron, and Elly) are purposely pitted against one another and while they don’t necessarily take the bait they still don’t turn to each other for support. The few genuine moments of connection were the best parts of the book. As it stands, it’s difficult to witness people in a position of helplessness, and despite their seeming privilege, that’s exactly what they are: helpless. While I was reading, putting myself in the character’s points of view, I could see how they were stuck, or fearful of breaking out on their own after being so sheltered. When I would step away from the book, I would repeatedly ask myself “why don’t they just leave and take their chances?” The Unwilling is not an easy read, but somehow I kept finding my way back to it again and again. For that, it wove some kind of spell over me. We get glimpses of the strength of these characters by the end, but it’s only on a surface level so far. It certainly leaves me craving a lighter read.
A Fantasy World Filled with Violence and Abuse In this fantasy world, the royals are the focus of the story. They live in a castle in the city of Highfall surrounded by the starving townspeople. There is also a roving band, the Slonim. This group is somehow connected with Highfall and have a mission to break the magic bonds. They have been working at it, breeding children to get the savior, for five generations. Nate is a member of the Slonim. He is recruited as a child to become a magician and a healer to enter Highfall and help to bring about the unbinding. The rest of the story centers around the four children brought up in the castle. Judah is a orphan brought up in the castle because she has a bond with Gavin, the heir to the throne. They share each other’s feeling which is where some of the abuse comes in. Theron is Gavin’s younger brother. He’s very bright, but overlooked. The fourth child is Eleanor, she is supposed to marry Gavin and is in many ways the most likable character in the story. I did not care for this book. The premise is interesting, but the telling is filled with violence, and the plot is so obscure you only get relevant information at the end of the book. The characters are not likable. It’s hard to care about their fate, particularly when the events are loosely held together and you’re not sure where the plot is going. I can’t recommend this book unless you like very long fantasy novels. I received this book from Harlequin for this review.