The Faithless follows C.L. Clark’s debut with bloody politics you can cut your teeth on, queer women with sharp swords, intense action, and tense relationships reminiscent of harsh realities. It all starts off where The Unbroken left off. Qazal is now being led by a council. Touraine, an Ambassador to Balladaire, is begrudgingly traveling to Balladaire. Luca, per usual, is once again conniving for her throne. This, of course, is more difficult than she expected with her uncle pushing chess pieces in the precise positions, so every courtier worth their salt is seduced against her, and he can continue sitting on the throne in all the arrogant majesty Balladaire has to offer its hopeful king.
Set mostly in Balladaire, The Faithless has got all the glitz and bloody glamour of court fashion, extremely gay drunk aristocrats, and duels at parties readers could ever want. Sabine, a “spoiled marquise,” remains a shining light throughout the whole thing. I am enamored of her witticisms, especially when elegantly holding a sword or a drink. Beneath all that refinery is the rotting corruption making the Balladairan empire’s colonizer mess look like decrepit Viserys Targaryen later in House of the Dragon.
Touraine is still trying to unclench her jaw that she’s been tasked with forming an alliance with Luca, who she justifiably wants to stomp into the ground most of the time. She’s willing to assist in Luca’s political games to win the court’s favor if it means ensuring Qazal gets their due. The intimate way C.L. Clark writes about Touraine’s relationship with colonialism remains deeply uncomfortable and also very brilliant. Touraine’s attraction to Luca is a big part of that complicated relationship with politics and personal relationships. Balladaire trained her in their culture and education. This place is a part of her identity, including her tragic origin on its shores. But Luca’s ancestors are also the reason Touraine’s people are treated with inferior rights to Balladaire. That chilling exploration between what readers want to see and what people feel gives Clark’s writing such a brutal edge. While characters are surely neither purely good nor bad, The Faithless intentionally shows with great intensity the actions of colonizers in a narrative that neither forgives, softens, or redeems. The characters are looked at with unflinching detail, reflecting a mirror to onlookers.
I did find my interest wandering a bit toward the seventy percent mark. Clark’s subplots tended to meander too much. I am also not convinced that we needed Fili’s chapters. There could have been more tightening up during edits to prevent a loss in that engagement. The Faithless is a great follow up, but I can’t say this is as good as The Unbroken, which I feel is the stronger of the two. I hope to see a strong ending to the Magic of the Lost trilogy.
It will be no surprise to fantasy readers that Clark pulls no punches. The Faithless is more of a murderous political court intrigue novel than the war-torn debut, but it goes into the deadliest, coldest corners of the mind. Readers should expect to go in with open scars. Even though I knew the end was soon in sight, I wanted to know more about what would happen next. What horrible, insightful thing will happen in this harrowing world that readers have yet to be surprised by? The Faithless is the antithesis of enchantment, spinning grim and grit, which is exact perfection for readers that love their pain with a bit of heart.
Rating: 4 stars