Early Review: The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet // VBC Review

The Unwilling
Kelly Braffet
Published: Feb. 11, 2020 (Mira)
Purchase at: Amazon
Review Source: Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewed by: Amy

Rating (out of 5): 3 stars

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.

 Content: References to sex, depictions of child abuse, scenes of torture and abuse.

One Response to “Early Review: The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet”

  1. Becki says:

    I enjoyed it, but I’d have a hard time imagining a sequel? I’ve definitely gone for a lighter read next 🙂

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