cover image The Unwilling

The Unwilling

Kelly Braffet. Mira, $27.99 (576p) ISBN 978-0-7783-0940-6

The dense, challenging first fantasy by Braffet (Save Yourself) drips with atmosphere and intrigue but features heroes with frustratingly little control over their own fates. On the same day that Gavin, heir to Lord Elban of Highfall, was born, foundling Judah was brought to Highfall and subsequently raised by his side. She and Gavin have shared a mystical bond since childhood; injuries to one also afflict the other. Now young adults, the cruel Lord Elban has plans for both Judah and Gavin, but his unnamed Seneschal has schemes of his own, as does Nathaniel Clare, a healer hired to attend to them. Nathaniel is a secret agent of the Slonimi, wanderers who have worked for generations in order to place one of their own in a position to meet Judah and use her untapped power to undo a magical binding that affects their world. The setup makes for a fascinating political chess game, though much of the action takes place off-page. Braffet’s tale is a study in suffering and cruelty but also in determination, particularly on the part of Judah. Readers who enjoy complex characters will find much to savor here. Agent: Julie Barer, The Book Group. (Feb.)