ARC provided by the publisher—Tor UK—in exchange for an honest review.
The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Serpent Gates (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy, Science-fiction, Space Opera
Pages: 496 pages (UK hardcover edition)
Published: 20th February 2020 by Tor (UK) & 11th February 2020 by Tor Books (US)
The Unspoken Name is a terrifically-written debut that merged science fiction, space-opera, and high fantasy into one inventive book that’s incredibly suitable for SFF enthusiast.
One look into the striking cover art by Billelis, and I already wanted to speak about this book. My urge to read this book increased when both Nicholas Eames—the author behind The Band series— and Dyrk Ashton—the author behind Paternus trilogy—recommended the book to me. Then I found out that Lindsey Hall, the editor behind two books—Kings of the Wyld and the upcoming The Bard’s Blade by Brian D. Anderson—I truly loved edited this book too, suffice to say that The Unspoken Name has attained all the package that made it a necessity for me to read; I’m glad I did.
“Csorwe had spent a lifetime readying herself to die, not to talk to strangers.”
The Unspoken Name, the first book in The Serpent’s Gate series by A. K. Larkwood, follows Csorwe—an orc priestess destined to become a sacrifice to her god on her fourteenth birthday. On the day of her prophesied death, Belthandros Sethennai—a powerful wizard—offers her a new fate that compels her to escape death by leaving her home, destiny, god, and become Sethennai’s personal assassin instead. The main plot of The Unspoken Name centers around Csorwe as she’s tasked by Sethennai to retrieve the Reliquary of Pentravesse; anyone who claims the Reliquary will gain the legacy and knowledge of Pentravesse—someone who changed all worlds forever. Jumping through multiple worlds with a strong echo of chaos and destruction accompanied by landscapes that are also beautiful, Csorwe has to go through tons of dangers to achieve this task; many events happened in less than 500 pages book. However, what I found to be very praise-worthy about the story was that in the midst of all the mayhem, The Unspoken Name is at its core a book about choices and its importance.
“People were like locks. All resistance, until you discovered the precise information of teeth that would open them up.”
“You always have a choice,” have you ever heard this often-repeated phrases/advice straight to your face? You probably have, and you’ll most likely know just how simple it sounds and yet how insanely difficult it can be to execute. What if for a period of time, short or long, you’re caught in a toxic situation/environment that you didn’t recognize at first? By the time you do, the actual task of breaking the invisible chains can be harder than it sounds. Freedom and choices—among many other themes such as faith, loyalty, and love—were the most relatable themes throughout the book for me; Csorwe’s journey and character development ignited and gave an impactful meaning to the themes in this book. I wouldn’t say that I clicked with Csorwe immediately, but once the story reached a quarter mark and eventually she meets Shuthmili, I became captivated thoroughly by Larkwood’s storytelling. The Unspoken Name doesn’t have a large cast of characters relatively, but the dynamic between the five dominating characters—Csorwe, Sethennai, Oranna, Tal, and Shuthmili—was very compelling. Also, I loved reading Csorwe and Shuthmili’s endearing and gradual relationship development; their relationship progression was believable and easy to root for.
“Csorwe, before I met you, my idea of happiness was, I don’t know, going to bed early.”
From my reading experience, the most impressive thing about Larkwood’s prose is her capability to constantly shift her writing style between elegant utterance and bloody scenery; it didn’t feel like reading a debut effort. Also, The Unspoken Name is an imaginative book with a very fascinating world-building. Seriously, it has multiple worlds to travel, ancient tombs, terrifying giant serpents, spaceships, magic, giants, and intimidating presence of dead gods. Gorgeous landscapes described beautifully and efficiently; Larkwood never went overboard with her scenery visualizations. In a way, this book reminded me a bit of the world-building done in Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir; telling a high fantasy story in a sci-fi/space-opera setting. Heck, comparison-wise, it even featured a swordswoman and queer duo as the main characters.
“The secret to greatness is to know when you should risk the wrath of god.”
I believe that The Unspoken Name is, ironically, the title of an incredible genre-blending debut that should and will be spoken by its readers in the future. I highly recommend it to both sci-fi and fantasy readers, even more so if you’re a fan of both genres. It’s creative, greatly imaginative, not afraid to be different, filled with intense rescue sequences, and it gave a breathtaking lotus-scented fresh air to the genre. Larkwood tells a compelling tale about choices and braving the first step to pave your own way, and you should choose to read this book as soon as it’s available to read.
Official release date: 20th February 2020 (UK) and 11th February 2020 (US)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.