ARC provided by the publisher—Tor UK—in exchange for an honest review.
The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Serpent Gates (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy, Science fiction
Published: 20th February 2020 by Tor (UK) & 11th February 2020 by Tor Books (US)
The Unspoken Name is a commendable fantasy debut with fascinating worldbuilding ideas.
With so many fantasy debuts cropping up every year, it is not an easy task to differentiate oneself from the rest. In this respect, Larkwood has created an interesting setting that blended old-world god worship that bestows magic, and science fiction or technological elements such as skyships and a dimensional plane called the Maze of Echos through which these ships travel via portal gates. Technology aside, the setting still feel very much like most classic fantasy, mainly because of the prevalence of gods and magic.
What I got out of The Unspoken Name is that it is a story about choices vs destiny. The main protagonist, Csorwe, is the prime example as she renounced her ‘destiny’ as the Bride of the Unspoken One by escaping from her sacrificial ceremony with Belthandros Sethannai, a powerful wizard. And henceforth became his personal aide and assassin. The same theme came up again when Csorwe met Shuthmili, a very powerful Adept who was believed to be able to channel a goddess thought long dead. Magic in this world is bestowed by the gods, and wielding it comes at a cost, and a possible consequence of losing oneself or burning out completely, if not careful. Shuthmili is both feared and valued for her powers. And what usually happens to a young talent? Trained and controlled for the good of her nation, of course.
As much as I commend Larkwood for her worldbuilding and consistent use of character theme, I didn’t get much emotional resonance from the character work itself. Being unable to bring myself to care much about the characters, I felt detached from the story which affected my overall reading enjoyment. There are also aspects of the writing style which didn’t sit well with me. For example, the dialogue came across as being more suited to a urban fantasy romp (even comedic at times), while other parts read very much like dark high fantasy.
I do think that this is a good book, and a lot of the other reviews could attest to that (my co-bloggers loved it). Larkwood has produced a contemporary fantasy that has great ideas and solid plotting. The Unspoken Name is a debut that’s worth checking out for modern fantasy readers.