I received an ARC of The Unspoken Name from the publisher (Tor UK) in exchange for an honest review.
The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Serpent Gates (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Science-fiction, Space Opera
Published: 20th February 2020 by Tor (UK) & 11th February 2020 by Tor Books (US)
An extraordinary debut from a fresh and exciting new voice in fantasy!
It has been a while since I added a book by an unknown author to my tbr that fast. It was unavoidable though, as the blurb of the Unspoken Name spoke to me! On the day of her inevitable death as a sacrificial bride to the god of desolation, Csorwe is gifted a choice. She can ignore her fate and walk away from this needless death. All she has to do is join a wizard named Belthandros Sethennai as his loyal agent. Her duties? Fulfilling the role of thief, spy & assassin in the mage’s quest to regain rulership of the city Tlaanthothei, and helping him recover his ultimate prize – the Reliquary of Pentravesse. As choices go, it’s not the hardest one to make, but it has consequences. Gods do not forget.
“Nothing in this world has earned the power to frighten you, Csorwe,” he said. “You have looked your foretold death in the face and turned from it in defiance. Nothing in this world or any other deserves your fear.”
At first glance, the map in the front of the book does not seem to cover a large area. In hindsight though, I can see how I was fooled. When we first meet Csorwe the story feels contained and small in scope, confined to a temple in the wilds of northern Oshaar. The reality though is much more exciting, as we soon follow Csorwe trying to acquire the Reliquary for Sethennai, travelling between different worlds via flying ships and portal gates, giving the story an expansive and distinctive feel with its blend of space opera and fantasy. Larkwood has imagined a vast, fascinating universe with countless possibilities and it made for an altogether more exciting and unpredictable plot, seeing Csorwe exploring places such as dying worlds where gargantuan serpents ruled, vast settlements the size of small cities floating in the void and planets overrun with the walking dead, never a dull moment. The scope of the setting never overwhelms though with the author keeping the cast small and thereby bringing balance and an intimate feel to the story, which is only enhanced further through the character relationships.
If I pissed in the corner,” muttered Tal, “do you think all twelve thousand ghosts would haunt my dick forever?”
“Yes,” said Csorwe. “Hold it in.
The tale told has many themes and elements to it. Loyalty, love, self-discovery, sacrifice, faith and the power of choices are all featured, and a light is shone on relationships and how they can become cages when unbalanced, unreciprocated. Surly dialogue makes for some highly entertaining passages, but the characters also shine through physical interactions, with Larkwood not only using conversation but also conveying so much with small gestures and looks. I loved the small romance subplot and the organic, realistic way that Larkwood integrated it, including the pacing of it. Many times these things just feel rushed and contrived. I admit I understand why, as books have only so many pages, but the author has pulled it off with aplomb, making this feel so real, filling a need I did not know I had when I started The Unspoken name and perfectly supplementing the story.
“Whatever kind of monster you are, so am I.”
The Unspoken Name is an exclamation mark in the world of fantasy, revealing AK Larkwood to be in complete control of her style and the story she wishes to tell, writing with such skill and purpose that it belies the fact that this is a debut novel. The compelling narrative, authentic and complex characters and the wonderfully imaginative universe all combine to deliver one of this year’s most exciting releases, and if you have not yet decided to read this, you will be missing out.