Larkwood has a tremendous talent for building upon the best parts of what makes fantasy great and elevates it all with her own dash of chaos and wonder.
A. K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name is among the most creative, exciting, and brilliantly-told epic fantasy novels I’ve read. It is an immersive experience that grabbed my attention early on, then grew at a staggering rate until I found myself being launched through fantastic worlds, meeting wonderful characters, and caught in a magnetic prose that left me spellbound. Larkwood has a tremendous talent for building upon the best parts of what makes fantasy great and elevates it all with her own dash of chaos and wonder. Simply put, it is an outstanding debut I won’t soon forget.
I won’t reveal much of the plot and take anything away from the author, but I’ll discuss what is shared in the book’s description. We open the story by meeting young Csorwe, a grey, tusked teenager who was born for the sole purpose of sacrifice to an underground god upon reaching a certain age. (Side note: the term ‘orc’ is never used in the book, and while Csorwe shares common traits with the classic interpretation of an orc, it may be reductive to call her one and limit your take on who she really is.) Moments before Csorwe’s sacrifice, a man named Belthandros Sethennai (just one of a myriad of great names in this book) offers to save her life and whisk her away to work in his service. Sethennai has goals of his own; he must reclaim his home from which he was exiled and seek knowledge of an impossible myth. These plot points alone sound substantial enough to fill the pages of the book, but in fact, its story has just begun…
“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.”
The Unspoken Name is many things; it is a tale of sacrifice and vengeance, abandonment and exile, loyalty and true love. It is an expansive universe that crosses over into different worlds via a dimension called the Echo Maze, navigable by air ships, which adds a science-fiction aspect to the story. The Echo Maze is a trans-dimensional plane where cosmic paths converge, and innumerable portals known as Gates are used for passenger ships to travel between these worlds. The use of these Gates has led to various cultures of magic, races, cities, and religions to intersect in interesting ways, and Larkwood smartly weaves its repercussions into the fabric of Csorwe’s story.
One of the many, many aspects of the story that stood out was how selective the author was in her descriptions of some of the bigger concepts, such as the ships, the details of the Gates, and the Echo Maze itself. The reader is given information on how things functioned, but the rest is often left to our imagination, which is a decision that I enjoyed immensely. There is so much story packed into this novel that I felt that adding extra details would take some fun away from the reader as well as slowing down the absolute blistering pace of the book.
Events happen at an astounding rate. Plot points that I thought would last the entirety of the book were resolved long before the halfway mark. The book felt like it had multiple finales and your heart will run the gamut of emotions. Csorwe remained the backbone of the story, but we spent a lot of time inside the heads of the supporting cast, sometimes for just a few pages, and other times for a bit longer. It was always for just enough time to understand other characters’ motivations, reactions, plans, and the emotional fallout of events before moving on to another POV. And when many of the characters were inevitably brought together, Larkwood shined in letting us view certain events through multiple pairs of eyes. In doing so, the characters felt richer and the scenes carried more emotional weight. The narratives were balanced well, and the emotional stakes never felt one-sided.
The Unspoken Name is the best kind of surprise. I had heard nothing about it but selected an advanced copy due to its interesting premise and wonderfully mysterious cover. This turned out to be one of the very best decisions I’ve made all year. It is an affecting story that hits all the right notes. This is a book that any fan of fantasy would do well to put at the top of their reading list. Do not miss it.
ARC from publisher Tor via Edelweiss. On sale February 11, 2020.
Review by Adam Weller
1 positive reader review(s) for The Unspoken Name
1 positive reader review(s) in total for the The Serpent Gates series
Helga FJ from Norway
AK Larkwood debuts with one of the most original fantasy books I've read in a long time. Our heroinne is a young orc girl, Csorwe; a sacrifical virgin, who gets rescued by a travelling wizard, Belthandros Sethennai, on the day of her death. He becomes much like a father to her, albeit one she hero worships and she will do anything for him, becoming his bodyguard/weapon, with no wishes or dreams of her own. All this would probably have continued for eternity, if not for one thing; while on a mission for Sethennai, along with her frenemy Talasseres Charossa, Tal for short, the unthinkable happens; Csorwe meets Shuthmili and falls in love and loyalties are put on trial. The world in which the story takes place is a vast array of paralell worlds, all with gate portals opening onto a huge dimension called the Echo Maze, from where you can enter other worlds. You weave your way from world to world, through the maze in floating maze ships, which gives a kind of steampunk or scifi feeling. Gods are both real and powerful as Csorwe will find out soon enough. I had so much fun reading this book, at first I was a bit unsure if it was YA, but it is definitely written for adults. There's no sex, but some focus on love, but more as a plot driver as that is what makes Csorwe question her life and gets the whole storyline on a different track. And did I mention the names? They're are just brilliant! This is an absolutely amazing fantasy book, I absolutely loved it and I absolutely believe it will be "the talk of town" in 2020! And I can't wait for the next book!! I was lucky enough to receive an E-ARC from @Tor/Forge, via the good people at @Netgalley.
10/10 from 2 reviews