The Unwilling (The Barrier Lands #1) by Kelly Braffet Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman with no name and no history soon discovers she’s anything but ordinary, as she finds herself caught between two powerful figures hoping to use her special gifts for their own purposes in author Kelly Braffet’s “The Unwilling”, the first in the Barrier Lands series.


The Synopsis

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.

The Review

What a rich and dark fantasy the author has crafted! The narrative is greatly layered between the YA Fantasy from the two main protagonist’s POV, and the darker, more spine-chilling fantasy and horror that the journey takes readers on. The atmosphere and tone the author set for the novel really elevated the reader’s experience, drawing them further and further into the mystery and history of this world.

The mythos and the character growth was the most prominent aspect of these narratives. The shocking cruelty of the antagonists and heartfelt bond the protagonists and the supporting characters made with one another elevated the emotional undercurrents of this book, while the rich history and mythology the author developed opened up some pretty mind-blowing and thought-provoking fantasy elements that left readers eager to read more.

The Verdict

A masterful, creative, and emotional dark fantasy read, author Kelly Braffet’s “The Unwilling” is the perfect start to a brand new mythos and series. The rich historical and mythological development the author wrote and the engaging way the characters not only drew readers in, but the engaging interactions between these characters really made this novel shine brightly. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10


About the Author

Kelly Braffet writes stories about unhappy people making bad decisions, occasionally with magic. She is the author of The Unwilling (available 2/20 from Mira Books), Save Yourself, and Last Seen Leaving; her first novel, Josie and Jack, has been made into a feature film starring Olivia DeJonge, Alex Neustaedter, and William Fitchner, and directed by Sarah Lancaster. Her writing has been published in the Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and in several anthologies, as well as on She is a graduate of Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College.

She is married to the tall and immensely talented writer Owen King. He’s dreamy. For more, see


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