Title: The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: 11 February 2020
Genre: Fantasy | Adult
Page extent: 464 pages
Goodreads blurb: What if you knew how and when you will die?
Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.
But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.
But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.
Hello to another incredible fantasy of 2020. I absolutely loved this debut! It set itself up to be a pretty incredible sounding fantasy: sacrifice, necromancy, terrifying gods, a deal with a wizard, portal travel, f/f slow burn romance, TUSKS. And I definitely thought it delivered! It’s one of those “it’s definitely not for everyone” fantasies. It’s quite slow in places, and has extensive (and I mean extensive) worldbuilding with all of these cool flying ships, portals, the Maze and the different worlds to explain and explore. But if you like a long, detailed, super queer fantasy, then this is for you!
The story begins with Csorwe, a young woman destined to be sacrificed on her fourteenth birthday to her god. But, when it comes her time to die, she instead runs away with a wizard, Sethennai, who offers to take her on and train her to be his sword and right hand person. We follow Csorwe on her journey to help the wizard find an ancient artifact, the Reliquary of Pentravesse, an object that claims to hold incredible magical knowledge developed by the legendary Pentravesse himself.
First of all, I had no idea this had portal travel going in, and it was so much fun! This novel really blends sci fi with fantasy, combining the best parts of magic with technological advances to create this incredible world. At the start, it can be difficult to get your head around – I wasn’t quite sure how The Maze worked for a while. But as Csorwe expands her knowledge of the world and discovers what living is really like, so do you! Larkwood has created such a huge, expansive world, full of imagination and wonderfully describes it. Each different world we enter is fully realised and created such a perfectly clear picture in my head, from the Shrine where Csorwe grew up, to the city of Tlaanthothe, to the dying world within the Maze (the inbetween space of the portals). It reminded me rather of Dragon Age actually, with the same type of expansive world, these gates that lead to an inbetween space, so full of different peoples and of course, magic. I think if you love the Dragon Age games, this book is definitely for you. Like DragonAge, religion is a huge element of this book which is something I always love in fantasies because I find them so creative and unique in every book I read. In The Unspoken Name we are introduced to several gods and the people who follow them, from Csorwe and the Shrine of the Unspoken orc priestesses to Shuthmilli’s nine gods, one of the nine fallen to evil who attempts to re-enter the world through mages (of which Shuthmilli is one). I loved exploring each of these and I expect we’ll see more of these religious theories play a part in the next book.
As much as I loved the worldbuilding (and given this is perhaps one of my favourite world’s I’ve ever read about, I love it a lot), my favourite thing about The Unspoken Name were the characters. There is something about a character who is just a total mess that makes you love them (and we have several!!)
Csorwe: our main character, so devoted to Sethennai, the wizard who rescued her and determined to pay him back for what she sees as giving her life. Her growth over the book is so brilliant, from the quiet sacrificial bride, to the fiersome, but blunt, sword of Sethennai, to a woman who must toy with betrayal to do the right thing.
Tal: the much needed lightness and humour of the book! God he has had a rough ticket in life. He’s so full of anger and resentment that he is never noticed by Sethennai and thus spends the entire book attempting to undermine Csorwe so for once he will be centre of Sethennai’s attention.
Shuthmili: probably my favourite because there’s nothing I love more than the most powerful, in control woman in the room completely losing it. I LOVE HER. She’s able to wield incredibly powerful magic, and is due to be bound into a group of magic soldiers with one mind. But then she meets Csorwe, and well, things go a bit off course.
Oranna: our wonderful necromancer. She dances in and out of our gaze and we’re never really quite sure if she’s the villain we should be looking at. Searching for immortality, she is always two steps ahead of Sethennai and his crew.
And then there’s Sethennai himself: the wizard controlling all the strings and so secure in the faith and loyalty of his crew. Well, see for yourself what that gets him….
I really just adored this fantasy. It kept me so immersed and distracted from the real world. Csorwe and Shuthmili’s relationship is of course a delight. My heart was bursting, there’s one particular scene which killed me (see above comment about a very in control woman losing all sense of control). I was so invested in all of these characters, I understood all of them so much (even if I wasn’t the best fan of them at first – sorry Tal. But then he ended up being one of my favourites!!) I really liked that we got to see short insights into the minds of each of these characters, breaking away from Csorwe at times to see what the rest of them are up to. I think that really helped get me so invested in all of them, rather than just our main character.
Is there probably a few problems with this book? Sure. I’m never the biggest fan of time hopping in books, and there were some scenes were things fell into place a bit too easily. But I still adored this book. My issues with it didn’t detract at all from my love of these characters and my desire to see more of them!! I cannot wait for this sequel.