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The Serpent Gates #1

The Unspoken Name

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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. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard's loyal sword-hand -- stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

464 pages, Hardcover

First published February 11, 2020

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About the author

A.K. Larkwood

4 books623 followers
A K Larkwood is a science fiction and fantasy writer and enthusiast. She studied English at St John's College, Cambridge. She has worked in higher education & media relations, and is now studying law. She lives in Oxford, England, with her wife and a cat.

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Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,536 reviews9,783 followers
December 30, 2022
It is done. ((body floods with relief))

I feel beyond accomplished having completed A.K. Larkwood's debut Adult Fantasy novel, The Unspoken Name.

Honestly, this was quite a challenging read for me.

Csorwe, sounds like doorway, is a teenage girl who has been raised to become the sacrificial wife of the Unspoken One, an ancient god living within the earth.

Entombed on what is to be her death day, a mysterious mage appears and offers to rescue her and provide her with a new life.

She decides to accept his offer and flees with him. Over time he trains Csorwe to be his assassin.

She feels she owes him everything. He saved her from certain death. She owes him her life and thus, is extremely loyal to him and his goals.

The mage, Belthandros Sethennai, is a very powerful man who is on a mission. His aim is to regain control of the lands from which he was exiled.

In order to do so, he wants Csorwe, along with another young person in his employ, Tal, to seek and return to him a specific object, the Reliquary of Pentravasse.

This Reliquary is said to hold immeasurable knowledge and the one who is in possession of it will increase their power to unreachable heights.

...or something like that...

I will admit this was a little hard for me to grasp. I never felt like I truly understood the world. For example, Csorwe, is an Orc, which I never knew until I read a blurb of it in a bookish newsletter.

I knew there was something going on with her, as she is described as having tusks, but I thought maybe she was some sort of elephant-human-hybrid, or something.

But even knowing she was an Orc, didn't really piece the rest of it together for me.

Were all the characters orcs? Were there humans? Were there all sorts of magical beings living together in harmony like in Middle Earth?

I genuinely don't know. If you know, comment down below.

I am also of the opinion that this was entirely too long.

There were two distinct portions of the book, or quests, if you will.

There is a quest for an object. Once that is resolved, you think, it's over.

But wait, there's more. Characters are separated, there's still a baddie on the loose, it would have been a great place to leave off prior to a second book.

Then there is a completely new quest to find a particular person, instead of an object.

Again, I feel like that could have made a great second book. If it had been broken up that way, I think the world could have been built out more and perhaps the author would have more time to focus on the world-building, instead of trying to cram all the action into a single volume.

Because of this, it was a mixed bag for me. I felt the pacing was off.

There were moments when I was really into it and then a few pages later, I would be bored, and back and forth it went until the end.

It did have moments of greatness and I don't want anyone to think my minor critiques make this a bad book. It's a good book, I just feel the story could have been better served if formatted differently.

It also isn't an easy read. I did end up mentally exhausted after reading it for a half hour or so. I could have made it through more quickly if it didn't take me 8.5-minutes to pronounce each name.

My favorite part of this was the relationship between Csorwe, and a religious adept, Shuthmili. Their friendship-to-more was beautiful. I waited a long time to get to it, but it was worth it.

In short, although this wasn't perfect for me, it did have some strengths. If you can make it through the weaknesses, it is a pleasant, though entirely too long, read.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinion.
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.6k followers
January 7, 2021
me, screaming: I will go down with this friend ship

Where has this queer high fantasy book been all my life? Kai is shooketh.

I wish I knew where to start. There are so many aspects of this book that filled me with pure joy: frenemies, world building, characters, twists, diversity. No hard feelings!!! Ugh.

I'm going to start with the one thing that could have been improved: the pacing. Overall, this is a finely plotted story. It spans over 8 to 9 years and I think it wouldn't have hurt to stretch the story more, give it a little to breathe for the characters to evolve, grow. I felt this especially in the beginning, when we see Csorwe turn from a quiet, nondescript girl into a warrior and spy. I see how the time jumps were necessary to let the author tell the story she wanted to tell, but another 50 pages or so might have given it more depth.

Now that we got the unpleasant things out of the way, hear me gush about all the great stuff:
I cannot believe how, in a matter of chapters, A.K. Larkwood created a fictional universe so rich and original. A universe in which thriving and dying worlds lie side by side, connected through a labyrinthine structure called the Maze. The universe is populated by all kinds of different people who seems to live peacefully side by side, for the most part. They all have their own history, traditions, social and political systems, and beliefs. And while they clearly look different and come from various backgrounds, their differences don't lead them to hate and fight each other. This is not to say that they all run around holding hands and loving life, but at least their outer appearance and faith don't serve as an excuse to disrespect and exploit each other. Overall, the attention to detail and the societies, cities, realms that the author built are utterly fascinating and I'm so glad that this isn't a standalone. I couldn't live knowing that there remains so much left to discover.

The characters were a joy. Csorwe reminds me of Harry Potter in the way the she is more or less an average person. No shade. She is balanced, doesn't necessarily lean towards extremes, and therein lies her strength; it makes her relatable. She is a character with fears, dreams and hopes like anyone else. She's also pretty queer, like most - if not all - characters in the book. It's also great to see that no character experiences discrimination because of their sexual orientation. It's never once questioned. Because in a perfect world, why would anyone think of you as lesser just because you don't care about what gender you fall in love with?
Something else that I found striking was how there is no main antagonist. This is not to say that Csorwe doesn't have enemies. She has lots of those. But alliances change a lot based on whether people have similar goals and decide to work together even though they might have been on different sides before. It's refreshing and creates unexpected turns and entertaining character dynamics.
One more thing about the characters: Usually I live for queer ships. But what almost drove me nuts was the friendship/hateship between Csorwe and Tal. They both work for the same guy and should combine forces, work as a team. But they simply despise each other too much. At the same time they can't live without the other. Tal is a bastard, don't get me wrong, but I love him. And I want nothing more than for these two idiots to annoy the f*ck out of each other until the very end of this series. And I also want No hard feelings. to be what History, huh? was for Red, White & Royal Blue. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you better read RWRB quickly because you're missing out.

Suffice it to say that this was my high fantasy adventure of the year.

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Profile Image for Petrik.
674 reviews42.8k followers
May 5, 2020
ARC provided by the publisher—Tor UK—in exchange for an honest review.

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)

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,438 reviews78k followers
September 7, 2022

"Unspoken and Unspeakable One, Knight of Abyss, Overseer of the Eaten Worlds, praise and reverence unto your Chosen Bride. May she intercede for us."

What an exceptional debut! The Unspoken Name is difficult to summarize; the story is an ambitious blend of epic high fantasy and space opera/science fiction, which will tickle the fancy of fans of both tremendously. From the very beginning, I got the vibe that this book would be the lovechild of the writing styles and world building of Brandon Sanderson and Ken Follett. How an author can take so many aspects of my favorite genres and include a storytelling format in league with the giants in the writing industry is beyond me, but Larkwood has done just that. There is a lot of story packed into just shy of 500 pages and it's very dark overall, but there is action and gore galore, while also including a steady balance of thought provoking thematic elements surrounding the choices we make and the outcomes that they produce. If you enjoy a new take on a familiar tale, please consider picking this one up. I enjoyed it so much that I'll be purchasing a finished hardcover for my personal collection!

"This is me, in two weeks' time. Here I am, walking up to the Shrine. This is the end. This is how it will feel at the end. Thy name shall be forsaken and thou shalt be my bride."

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,009 reviews1,328 followers
February 20, 2020
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Actual Rating: 2.5 stars

“You frightened of ghosts? Whatever it is you’re scared of in the dark, that’s what you become.”

The cover, the synopsis and early reviews all made me believe that I was going to read something very special! Unfortunately, I am not impressed by this debut. I wish I did but It was just acceptable for me!

I had 2 problems with the book, the writing which was too dense for me and affected all other things in the story and the characters who I could not care about and connect to. The writing reminded me of Tamsyn Muir’s style and my thoughts on this are similar to those on Gideon the Ninth.

I was very confused as why do people have tusks and why are Orcs mentioned. I did not realize that the characters were orcs because nothing gave me that feeling except that they had tusks, they felt very humane and I was embarrassed when I realized the fact that they are not. I think writing a whole race is more than just physical description and tusks. The beginning of the book was good but then I did not relate to Csorwe or any other character. The pacing was weird too because we get so much at first and it was very fast but then it got slower -I was even bored- and then picks up toward the ending again.

“The secret to greatness is to know when you should risk the wrath of god.”

Summary: I don’t have much to say about this book because I finished it but I can’t really say that I could get into it! The writing and characters were not for me and the world-building was good but not enough to make me continue it. I am woefully not going to continue the series.

You can get more books from Book Depository

Profile Image for Riley.
427 reviews21.1k followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
March 1, 2020
dnf @ 50%

this had all the elements that I love but something about it just wasn't working for me and it felt like a chore to read
Profile Image for TS Chan.
699 reviews869 followers
February 23, 2020
ARC received from the publisher, Tor UK, in exchange for an honest review.

3.5 stars.

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.

You can purchase the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

You can find this and my other reviews at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Philip.
498 reviews672 followers
July 22, 2020
3.75ish stars.

It doesn't revolutionize the genre, but I must say that I like reading traditional fantasy epics written by women when the genre has historically been saturated by male authors (whose works are often indistinguishable). And Larkwood infuses enough urban sensibilities and sci-fi elements to keep it from being too traditional.

As far as being epic, the book tries very hard to assure us of the gigantic scope, more to its detriment than anything. A lot of world-building elements were introduced that didn't serve much purpose besides broadcasting themselves as existing, for the sake of making the world seem grand.

I generally liked the characters, the dialogue, and the plot. I particularly appreciated the diversity of the characters. The main character is even an orc, although I didn't realize it until partway through when gray skin and tusks are referenced more or less in passing. The fact that she's an orc does not seem to serve any purpose or differentiate her from the humans besides the fact that she has gray skin and tusks (which admittedly do come into play once). Not sure yet if I liked everything enough to justify reading an entire series of it, however, if that is the author's/publisher's plan.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
540 reviews123 followers
May 21, 2020
A good fantasy debut with a lot of cool magic and fascinating set pieces.

There are evil scheming gods and dying worlds in between thriving cities. There are also a lot of great allusions to fantasy classics here. The opening chapter has a nice Tombs of Atuan but-they're-all-orcs vibe. Later, there's a part with more of a Robin Hobb setting, full of assassins in training who get brutally heartbrokenly antagonized.

Through the interplay of magic, cultures, and drama, I got a sense of how alive and doomed all these worlds are and how powerful it is to learn the skillset to move between them.

There are unpredictable changes from chapter to chapter. I did lose reading momentum about a third of the way in, when the book turned into something more like a sequel to itself. That story was cool too, just jarringly different at first in its changed focus.
Profile Image for Krystal.
1,446 reviews363 followers
March 25, 2020

I haven't read a new fantasy this exciting in a long time. Mostly, I think I fell in love because it was so different. I had no fkn clue what was going to happen.

Blurb keywords:
Death cult. Old magic. Sacrifice. Powerful mage. Spy. Assassin. Reclaim. All debts become due.

Honestly, how could you not be sold after that???

Csorwe is our protagonist and she's a total badass. She's also loyal AF to Sethennai, the mage who saved her life. (And if the names are scaring you, don't stress - there's a handy pronunciation guide in the front.) She's tough as nails and easy to root for and I really admired her loyalty. Her journey throughout the novel was fascinating.

Rather than one epic tale, this is more like a series of episodes, with goals constantly changing. It made the whole novel unpredictable which was fantastic and highly addictive. I enjoyed the fortress arc the best, but I do have a soft spot for snakes (so yes, the series name gets me a bit excited for what's to come). The landscape was constantly changing, and new characters being regularly introduced. But it was never overwhelming, and everything slotted into the story so nicely.

The writing style was an interesting mix of sparse and lyrical - it creates atmosphere so well, but then at times I found myself re-reading passages because it seemed actions had been skipped over. However it still manages to draw you in and it's easy to be absorbed.

The characters are often questionable and not so easy to love but they are coloured thoroughly which makes them rather interesting to observe. Sethennai absolutely fascinated me because he's not like any wizard/mage/magician character I've come across before. I really wanted to understand him more.

This was such an original, dark, addictive fantasy adventure and I never stopped being amazed by how good it was. I'll be recommending this one to a lot of fantasy lovers this year, and definitely keen for the sequel!

With thanks to Macmillan for an ARC
Profile Image for Ari.
780 reviews180 followers
February 22, 2020
Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Amazon | B&N

Thank you NetGalley and Tor Books for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

What a fascinating premise to this new fantasy novel. How can anyone who's a fan of the genre resist? Unfortunately, the reality fell short of the premise, which is always a disappointment.

The first part of the book dragged more than it needed to, and then I noticed a pattern throughout the rest of it until I arrived at the fourth and final section of The Unspoken Name. Chapters in novels, usually, end at a specific moment in the storytelling process. There's a sixth sense in the reader that instinctively knows when a break will come and another chapter will start up because that hitch naturally comes to pass. But this novel lacked that, which resulted in chapters going on and on for such long periods of time that it felt as if it were taking me longer than usual to read. And this structural discrepancy distracted me so much from enjoying the whole piece that at times I thought of setting it aside.

The Traitor's Grave, the fourth part of the novel, was excellent. Whatever action lacked throughout the first part of The Unspoken Name was packed into this section. The last five chapters, especially, were delicious to read. There was murder, torture, a fast-paced and heroic liberation of a kidnapped character... It was fantastic, and exciting, and made me wonder why the first part of this story was not like that... Until I recalled the very special and important chapter structure's fissure.

I had a difficult time grasping the full personality of the lead, which was odd, because almost every other character made it really easy for me to see who they were—with the exception of Sethennai, and that's a valid point given who his character really is and what it hide. But Csorwe went through the novel almost listlessly. She would rise to the occasion whenever physical action called for it, but otherwise she seemed content to just go along with the flow. We're told again and again that she's the right hand of Sethennai, she's this tough and dangerous sword-woman, but I never saw that. The only time that I saw her lift her hand with a blade was either in self defense, or in an attempt to help others around her. Whatever reputation was attached to her never came to pass because by the time that she had gained it, the story had fast-forwarded and we never got to see it, which made it impossible to believe.

Others, like Shuthmili, herself, were thankfully a breath of fresh air. She came out of her cocoon little by little, and beautifully at that. She was enjoyable to see evolve, give in to her sense of humor, give into the madness and danger that lives inside of her. Her, Oranna and Tal—who is unapologetically himself, with every tarnish that his personality holds—were the trio that saved this story and made me want to continue reading.

The world is fantastic to see described, the magic system is very interesting—and I always enjoy it when magic is directly derived from the gods in a novel's pantheon—as are the few character races that we meet. Especially Atharaisse, of Echentyr.

There was beauty to The Unspoken Name, and growth that still has time to occur. The first in a series is not always fully realized, so I have high hopes should the second novel be released in the future.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books431 followers
February 6, 2022
"She told him the plan. It was loud and dumb and very likely to hurt, so, of course, he agreed."

So What's It About?

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.

What I Thought

In a few words: deeply imaginative, inventive and amazingly fun BUT just a tad bit messy. When I sat down to write this review I realized that I had something of a jumble of thoughts, and I think that rather reflects upon the book itself - it's kind of a jumble of really cool ideas.

My conflicted feelings start with Csorwe herself as a main character. To be frank, she is not especially compelling for a large portion of the book because she is so entirely passive, stolid and gullible. She really only sees herself as a tool for Sethennai for most of the story, and it would have been really interesting to see her think about this in any kind of meaningful way as she changes or have the narrative examine the dynamics of his manipulative bond but The Unspoken Name never really goes there. Given her upraising as a tribute destined for sacrifice it does make perfect sense that she is so willing to find someone to guide her and stick with them no matter what, but it's also true that the result does not make for a particularly interesting character. 

When Csorwe does start to think more independently and make decisions on her own, it's largely because of her growing feelings for a woman named Shuthmili. I'd be okay with this if I actually bought the bond that developed between the two of them, but I just can't help but feel that Larkwood didn't really do the legwork necessary for me to believe in this relationship. I don't buy that Csorwe chooses Shuthmili over the Reliquary after knowing her for about a week and being indoctrinated by Sethennai for years, just as I don't buy that Shuthmili agrees to leave the Qarsazhi with Csorwe, abandoning her duty after her own lifetime of indoctrination. It's not so much that I believe these character beats are inherently impossible, but I just didn't buy them based on the way the relationship had been written so far. 

There were also a few plot holes that are worth mentioning - for example, how in the world do the Qarsazhi know how to get to the Lignite Spite? Oranna knows because of her connection to her god and Csorwe gets a map to guide her but the Qarsazhi just show up to this secret forgotten world with absolutely no explanation. There are a few occasions like this where things just kind of Happen because the plot needs them to even though it doesn't really make any sense. 

I feel like I've been complaining a lot so far, so let me circle back to what I said in the beginning: this book is just really, really inventive. It's jam-packed with amazing world-building with forgotten ancient worlds and mad gods and an interdimensional maze with ships to pass through it. A particular strength is that each section of the book has a different sort of "set piece," and I ended up loving all of them. I'll admit that the constant barrage of strangeness can get a little disorienting but I'm pretty good at just letting cool worldbuilding wash over me, and that's what I did here. 

I was consistently intrigued and engaged - the action was well-written, the worlds and magic were fascinating and you know what? It was just plain fun! The book is also extremely funny in parts, largely because of the dynamic between Csorwe and Tal, an elf who also works for Sethennai and is Frankly Insufferable:

"Look, we have to stay together," she said. 
"Wow, gross," said Tal.

He's just an absolute asshole but in the most endearing, entertaining way possible. I had so much fun reading about him and he's easily made the list of Charlotte's Favorite Characters in 2020. I'm dearly hoping that the rivalry between the two of them eventually becomes a friendship because goodness knows the both of them could use a friend! 

So that's the verdict on The Unspoken Name. I had a blast reading it and I'm really looking forward to the sequel, but I'm also hoping Larkwood can tighten up some of her writing and make sure that the emotional work with the characters comes through the way it needs to. 
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,260 reviews222 followers
February 28, 2022
What an unexpectedly wonderful book.

This is a multiverse-based fantasy book with multiple cross-universe sentient species, magic, technology, gods and monsters. Csorwe is a young female Oshaaru, grey-skinned with gold eyes and tusks, and is a Chosen Bride of the Unspoken, which leaves her revered and with the gift of prophecy, but doomed to be sacrificed to her god at fourteen. Sethennai, a mage from a different world and a different species intervenes in her sacrifice, giving her a different path in his service. As she grows she receives education and training as a powerful and clever operative for Sethennai in an effort to take back the mage's lost position as Chancellor in his home plane and to acquire a powerful magic item. But her loyalty to her master is tested with her rivalry with another of Sethennai's henchmen and a strong attraction to Shuthmilli, a mage of the Qarsazh who has a horrible fate in store for her.

The setting is enormous: a multiverse with divinities, populous planes and dying ones and strange magics and power everywhere, but the story is actually a very tightly focused drama around its main players. Sethennai's quest for power is a long and patient one, and a key question that the book is concerned with is what that power is for and how it can be used. But the central story is about Csorwe and her fellow henchman Talasseres Charossa and their jockeying for attention from their master Sethennai. This is illuminated by Sethennai's relationship with fellow mage Oranna who he considers something of an equal, and his total indifference to Shuthmilli.

Shuthmilli also shines a spotlight on Csorwe's childhood. Csorwe was brought up to be a willing sacrifice, and Shuthmilli's adulthood is no different albeit with an arguably even more horrible outcome. The relationship between them is even sweeter because of this parallel.

I'm very much looking forward to more in this series.


Reread in February 2022 prior to reading The Thousand Eyes. I think this holds up well and I enjoyed it just as much the second time through.
Profile Image for Adam.
374 reviews163 followers
September 24, 2019
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 (justt 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, Lockwood 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.
Profile Image for Hannah.
591 reviews1,051 followers
August 12, 2020
I loved very many things about this. The worldbuilding is impeccable and wonderfully integrated into the main storyline, giving just enough details to make the world(s) believable without overwhelming the narrative. I loved the prose which I found lyrical enough to work for me while being somehow quintessentially “fantasy”. I nearly always love fantasy books dealing with deities and this one was no exception. Set in a multi-world multiverse governed by many different deities, some of these half dead or lost, with many different belief-systems, our focus is Csorwe who was supposed to be a sacrifice to her (creepy and horrifying) god until a visiting wizard rescued her and made her his bodyguard/ assassin/ ward.

I adored this – the book just worked for me in every single way, except for Csorwe who I found indistinct and to be honest, sometimes painfully daft. She kept getting herself into situations that obviously would not work out the way she expected them to and she never seemed to learn. I did really appreciate her rivalry with another of the wizard’s men and their banter was great. I also loved the fraught and complicated relationship she has with her mentor and the way this wrapped up had me glued to the page. I was not so keen on the love story which ultimately kept me from giving this the whole five stars.

My favourite part of this sci-fi/ fantasy hybrid was the underlying mythology and the way in which Larkwood fleshes it out with different deities and their believers; in parts creepy, in parts interesting, always fascinating. There are so many ways in which the story can be developed next and I am excited for most of them. I had such a great time reading it and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel. This is the best high fantasy novel I have read in ages.

Content warning: disfigurement, death, huge serpents, death cults

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
Profile Image for Boston.
404 reviews1,846 followers
January 9, 2020
Tor must have heard me begging the gods for a high fantasy novel written by a woman because my prayers have been answered. Not only is this book so unlike anything I’ve ever read, it’s incredibly well done (I speak as someone who hasn’t read a ton of high fantasy though). Csorwe’s story is one that will stay with me for a while and I highly recommend you all preorder this one 👀

*special thanks to Tor for sending me an arc of this in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Deborah Obida.
673 reviews602 followers
August 17, 2020
The Unspoken Name has one of the best synopsis I've read in a while, I was so ready to fall head over heels, then I read it and I was disappointed. The worst part is that this book has so much potential, the content in this book is enough for two books but somehow the author did a terrible job at plot execution.
I liked the fight scenes, there were well depicted. This book is also diverse, both racially and sexually, Csorwe the protagonist is even queer. There are also different creatures in this, orcs, elfs and humans.

The world building is amazing, I love the world, there are different worlds and ships that floats. I really loved the world, sadly I can't say the same of the writing, it was random and disjointed, I just could not connect with the writing. The book is written in third person multiple POV.

“Between rust and rot, time devours all enemies. Endurance is all. But we see thou hast a morsel for us.”

Unspoken Name is a story about a girl Csorwe who is a bride of a god, she is some kind of conduit for the god. The plan is that at fourteen she'll get sacrificed to the said god. When the time came she met a petitioner for her god. She escaped with the man who is called Sethennai, she basically does all he says cause she feels she owes him.

Then everything changed, the author put way too many different plots in just one book. So instead taking time with them she rushed them. There was one part when she helped to overthrow a ruler in a matter of a few weeks, it was so rushed that it felt underwhelming.

What made everything worse was the romance, it happened out of the blue, I didn't even care for that. I preferred Tal's pinning for his love interest, that was way better.
Profile Image for Library of a Viking.
154 reviews2,374 followers
June 4, 2022
Enjoyable but hard to recommend

Let me start by saying that, overall, I did enjoy this book. However, there are some significant flaws with the story that makes it very hard to recommend. However, let’s start with what I loved. Firstly, The Unspoken Name is an incredibly imaginative and creative story. The world-building is crazy with multiple worlds, dead gods, spaceships and magic, making this feel like an epic fantasy set in a futuristic sci-fi world. Reading a fantasy book with such a unique setting felt incredibly refreshing. Throughout the story, the reader goes on a crazy journey to multiple worlds, which was exciting!

Consequently, the overall plot was fascinating enough to keep me going. The Unspoken Name follows Csorwe, an orc destined to sacrifice herself to her God. However, when Csorwe is destined to die, Belthandras Sethennai – a magician/wizard – offers her a way out of her destiny. Sethennai offers Csorwe to become his assistant and help him retrieve the Reliquary, a powerful relic that gives the owner incredible knowledge. While the plot does get confusing at times, I found myself turning the pages to the very end! This book is so weird but in a good way (for the most part)!

So why do I find it challenging to recommend this book? Firstly, this book has some significant pacing issues. The story has some considerable time jumps, making the plot feel disjointed. Larkwood sets up the plot and characters in the first 100 pages, but then we suddenly jump ahead several years. I didn’t start feeling a connection with the characters until around the 30% mark. Secondly, the plot gets overly complicated at times, and Larkwood does not do a thorough job of fleshing out the world. I frequently felt a bit lost and confused about why the characters were going to certain places. Third and lastly, Larkwood barely mentions that Csower is an orc. You start reading this story thinking we are following a human, but every once in a while, it is noted that Csorwe has tusks. Except for mentioning the tusks, Csorwe felt very humane, which I found weird.

However, it has been three weeks since I finished The Unspoken Name, and for some reason, the story has stayed with me. I am actually looking forward to continuing this series and returning to this world. Therefore, I am giving this book a 3.5 / 5 star rating. However, I will not be recommending this book to many readers due to pacing issues, dense writing style and weird plot.

Thanks to my Patreon's Erin, Blake, Mel and Áron Sofus.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,041 reviews3,439 followers
March 3, 2022
****2022 Reread****
I'm glad I read this again before diving into the sequel! I had forgotten a lot of the details. And the fact that this book feels so fast paced! A lot happens and I love it. One thing I noticed this time is the parallels between Csorwe and Shuthmili- two women who grow up in religions that try to curtail their choices and determine their life paths. At it's core, this book is about breaking free from those constraints and living the life that you choose. And it's a book that is casually queer- a lot of characters are queer in some way. I still love it and look forward to continuing with the series!

Well, I have found a new favorite fantasy novel! The Unspoken Name is a juggernaut of a debut and one I would commend to fans of high fantasy. In it, we follow an orc priestess named Csorwe who is to be the sacrificial bride of the god that she serves. Instead, she flees her destiny to become the assassin of a sorcerer. I don't want to say too much more about the plot because much of the fun is in its discovery, but there are twists and turns, expansive world-building, complex characters with well developed arcs, monsters, fight scenes, political intrigue, betrayal, queer romance, dying worlds, magic, gods, humor, morally gray characters, and much more.

From the first couple of chapters, I knew this book had the potential to be a new favorite, and I can tell you this will definitely be making my best of 2020 lists. It held my attention all the way through with very solid pacing and periodic introduction of new characters and parts of the world that all come together quite nicely. The world is fascinating and thoughtfully put together, but the world-building is pretty seamlessly woven into the narrative, leaving you wanting to know more and simultaneously certain that the author knows what she's doing. Locations are vividly described, often unique, and have a sweeping cinematic feel. This would work incredibly well for film, television, or RPG video games. Also, this has a pronunciation guide, and I LOVE a pronunciation guide! Not only is it helpful, but it's also indicative of the thought and time that has gone into developing the primary races in this new universe and the differences in their language.

I could go on and on, but you really should just go read it. It will be well worth it! In terms of queer representation, Csorwe is never labeled on the page, but is clearly bisexual or pansexual and does eventually develop a sapphic romantic connection. This relationship is relatively low-key and never takes over the plot, but it is a great slow-burn sort of romance. There are other queer side characters as well. I just loved this book for so many reasons and will be pushing it on people. Huge thanks to Tor for sending me an advance copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own, and I now need to go order myself a finished copy! I look forward to reading more from this author and I think we can expect her to be a significant player in the Fantasy genre.
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
904 reviews274 followers
September 21, 2020
The Unspoken Name is a lesson in why beautiful prose just isn’t enough. This is a gorgeous story. It’s written in a vivid (albeit sometimes confusing language) with lots of world building and depth. A. K. Larkwood takes us on an elaborate, lengthy journey where years pass by allowing our characters to grow and change. There is a tension held just below the surface of the story that keeps you flipping pages and wanting to scream at characters to just do things (like kiss, even though the romance is subtle in this)! And yet I didn’t care about a single one of the people in the story; and thus the proof that beautiful prose and an elaborate fantasy story just aren’t enough.

Subpar Characters
I want to say I cared about our leading gal Csorwe, or the mage that saves her, or any of the numerous people they encounter over the years in this book; but I just didn’t. The opening (Part I and Part II) are interesting enough as we are learning the world (or if you’re me being confused by how the Maze works), encountering new religions, trying to decipher how to say things (there is a pronunciation guide at the start), and keep everything straight (there is also a cast of characters at the start). However as the book progress past those first 100 or so pages and Csorwe ages, develops her skills at being a thief, a spy and an assassin, I came to realize that she could live or die and I kind of didn’t care. The only reason to keep her around was that she was our main character and the story revolved around her.

Remote Location
A second critical error that Larkwood makes here is taking us from a vibrant, exciting small town with thieves, assassins, magic, competing religions and more; into a remote, boring planet with only 2 other people on it besides our leading lady and her perpetual (it seems) shadow of a partner (that she loves to hate). It was like going from Coruscant or Cloud City to Tatooine or Hoth; instead of the other way around. It just doesn’t have enough depth and excitement (no matter what monsters or magic are thrown at our characters) to compete with the cute little town we encounter early on in the story.

Debut Novel
It is worth noting that this is a debut fantasy novel. And so for a first publication in fantasy it is actually quite good. But to stand-up next to the many amazing novels written in fantasy over the last 20 years (or even just 10) there is more substance and emotional tie needed to the characters. The world, the magic, the fighting, the religion, and the constructs of society are all good enough to create a series from that is robust. I’m not opposed to reading the next of Larkwood’s books in this land as it is a very intriguing place (especially the Maze!); but I’d like to see Larkwood move into more of the grim dark genre that she teases with. A little more depth in the writing and substance are needed; and perhaps a bit more thought into some of the odd metaphors, similes, etc. are needed. This one in particular made me actually laugh out loud.
“He was white as a ghost, one-eyed, and handsome in the style of a shark.”
Not only because I have no idea what it means but because I couldn’t stop thinking of Chandler on Friends and his shark fetish!

I did appreciate that The Unspoken Name didn't have a huge cliffhanger ending, and so if you wanted to try it out and not continue you’ll feel like you read a complete story. This is an interesting choice in a genre where large series are common. Many desire for stand-alone books (including myself) and yet when you put so much heart and time into the world developing it seems a shame to only use it once; and so I’m glad there will be more books and hope that Larkwood improves on what is a decent start.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review. 
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews189 followers
August 7, 2020
The Unspoken Name is a book that understands that the way to my heart is to add as many unhinged immortal beings as you can possibly fit into a book. It has so many and I'm in love with each and every one of them

[4.5 stars.]

This is a difficult book to review, because I often didn't want to pick it up when I was in the middle of it, but now that I've finished it, I like it more the more I think about it. What I struggled with the most was the pacing, which is... strange. To make an example, there's a time jump of several years when you're 30% into the story, and several parts of the book feel more like a climax than the actual climax. However, I never want to give a lower rating to a book for taking a risk when it comes to structure; I think more books should try that! The issues are mostly on me for reading during exam season, something I should have avoided.

There's something here that took me by surprise in a way that hasn't happened in a very long time, but did that happen because I was often too tired to pay attention while reading this? I don't know. I feel like I'm not doing this book justice, and I also feel like it would be really interesting to reread, so I should definitely do that someday.
But, even if it weren't for that, the surprising thing is exactly the kind of development that made me fall in love with The Unspoken Name, so I guess that in the end it doesn't matter too much. I'm just here for how dramatic this novel knows how to become. And it's a funny book in which the sense of humor works for me!

The Unspoken Name is a story about Csorwe, an Oshaaru (basically an orc! She even has tusks and I think that's great) Chosen Bride who escapes being sacrificed to the god of her world, the Unspoken. What follows is a story about faith and loyalty and the breaking thereof, and about finding yourself outside of the shadow of gods.
I really liked how the romance fit into this: Csorwe and Shuthmili - who is by the way as cute as she's terrifying - find common ground because they're both girls who are dealing with the repercussion of being raised in and escaping a cult that would see them, though in different ways, as sacrifices.

There's also a lot to say about the side characters. Oranna and Sethennai stole the show half of the time, but it's very difficult to get a hold on who they really are, because what Csorwe says about them in her narration doesn't necessarily match what the book shows. It makes for some interesting dissonance, and also makes you understand a lot more about Csorwe herself. Anyway, Oranna and Sethennai were probably my favorite characters in the book purely for how unnecessarily dramatic they were, and the whole situation was a trainwreck. Then there's Tal, who seems from reviews to be a reader's favorite, but to be honest I kind of... forgot he existed a lot of the time (). I don't really know why, given that he's also very dramatic. Not horrible enough, probably! I liked reading how his dynamic with Csorwe developed through the story, however.

The only true negative for me was the atmosphere, or how surprisingly weak it was. This is a space portal fantasy with terrifying divinities and cults, which has so much potential as a setting - and I loved it for that! More books that understand how the distinction between fantasy and sci-fi is made up and unnecessary - but I don't think it fully went there. Maybe Csorwe is the wrong character to have that kind of descriptions? I don't know. Once we were out of the House of Silence I often couldn't get a sense of setting, with few exceptions.
Profile Image for Silvia .
635 reviews1,402 followers
February 12, 2022
I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

Coming up with a way to first introduce The Unspoken Name in a review is, at the very least, complicated. This is a novel with many layers and many aspects that cohabit peacefully with one another, and to put focus on one before the others would be to build wrongful expectations for what is the end result.

...and there I tricked you by giving you what I feel like should be the first thing to keep in mind when going into this novel. If you expect it to be fantasy more than scifi, or plot more than characters, or characters more than plot, or relationships more than characters, then you'll end up expecting something this novel isn't.

Keeping that in mind, now we can move on and talk about the different aspects!

The first thing I realized I liked about this book was the writing. I will admit it does feel like a debut novel but like, in a good way that makes me want to read the author's future books and see how she improves based on what I already know she does well. I personally love when authors don't force-feed you information about characters' intentions and feelings/reactions at any given moment but let you understand it from the context and what you already know about them. I think this aspect was excellent and it had sometimes hilarious, sometimes powerful effects in moments that would have been spoiled by an overly detailed description. I also think each character's voice was very distinct and immediately recognizable.

Speaking of which, I think characters and relationships are where this book truly shined for me. Amidst a lot of plot and action, these characters bleed through the pages and you absorb them slowly, as you would with a real person. By the end they all felt real in a way that doesn't always happen with fantasy, and I truly Felt for their relationships.

The romantic aspect was really enjoyable but to be honest, not my favorite part. It was, I guess, just not as present as I usually like it to be, but I do feel that the sapphic (!!!!) relationship was very naturally built up and cute. I was also under the wrong impression (I don't remember if because of reviews or why) that there would also be a side m/m romance but there is not (if you've read it and see a romance in That...I really don't know what to tell you), and I would like to add: thank the Nine Gods. I don't think there's anyone here who's allocishet but anyway there are like: three confirmed mlm characters (at least one of them is bi/pan) and three wlw ones.

The plot was intriguing and I was never bored. I do think it had some pacing issues, not something that necessarily always bothered me (for example, I love when it got a little slower for the sake of showing us certain characters and relationships), but it did make things a little weird in a couple of points. If you're someone who cares a lot about plot and pacing, you might notice and care about this more than I did.

The worldbuilding is so unique and I'm not even going to pretend like I've understood how things work well enough to be able to talk about them but basically it's a fantasy + scifi setting in which together with more high fantasy elements we also have uhh,, space (?) ships and you can jump between worlds.

So, would I recommend this? Absolutely! If you're into adult fantasy and/or casually queer (sapphic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) books then this one is for you. And I'm really looking forward to the next book (by the way, this book can be a standalone because it has an arc that's fully resolved by the end, which is even more reason to give it a try!), hoping it will follow Tal (my favorite character tbh).

TWs: human & animal sacrifices, violence, gore, drug use, death, alcohol, self mutilation
Profile Image for Nils | nilsreviewsit.
317 reviews469 followers
January 22, 2020
4.5 stars

“Nothing in this world has earned the power to frighten you, Csorwe”
The Unspoken Name is the first book in The Serpent Gates series by A.K. Larkwood, and bloody hell folks, what a debut this is! Fast paced, sophisticatedly written, genre blending - I’m absolutely certain this is set to be well loved amongst many SFF readers alike.

Wait, that’s all you need to know, right? That’s enough to make you add the book to your to-be-read list immediately, right? Well it should be! But for those of you that want more details, here we go.

The Unspoken Name begins with our main protagonist, Csorwe, a young Orc known as The Chosen Bride, destined to be sacrificed to her God on her fourteenth birthday. When that day finally arrives, events take a drastic turn and Csorwe, who always believed she was born to die, is now faced with a choice. A mysterious Wizard, Belthandros Sethennai, promises to whisk her away from her terrible fate and offers her an alternative; to live, to be his assistant and ultimately to learn to be a deadly weapon. From then on the story revolves around Csorwe’s mission, which Sethennai sets upon her, to retrieve The Reliquary of Pentravesse, a fabled box that is said to hold immense knowledge. Whoever finds this Reliquary will inherit Pentravesse’ legacy, and will hold the key to unlocking unimaginable power.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again, I tend to love books which blend genres, and Larkwood is a prime example of how to skilfully deliver a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. Throughout the novel we explore many worlds, as Csorwe’s escapades lead her through various Gates and Mazes. I’ve found that I’m quite fond of sci-fi books which explore a new world and delve into it’s culture and religion. Well, in this book we start our journey in Oshaara - a place where The Unspoken One’s religion is so embedded it is almost cultish by nature. It begins with a human sacrifice ritual, a shrine, a lotus induced trance, and a crypt where the undead reside. From them on, oh, how delectably dark, Larkwood gets.
‘When Csorwe and Shuthmili entered the throne room it was bathed in a light like the end of the world. A curley-haired girl sat by the altar as if it were a dinner table. Her head rested on her folded arms. She might have been napping. You had to come a little closer to see the pool of blood, and realise she was dead. In this light, her yellow robes were the colour of roses.’
Then Larkwood enriches the world-building further, as we visit worlds such as Echentyr; home of the snake goddess, Iriskavaal, and a Precursor world, both of which were almost barren and lying in desolation. In contrast, during Csorwe visit to Grey Hook, and the more lavish city of Tlaanthothe, we see more striving locations, full of life. Along the way there are Maze Ships, a giant snake, revenant Giants, an army of undead, and malevolent godly presences. It truly was remarkable to see such a rich level of world-building existing in this novel. In fact, it reminded me very much of The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams.
‘This was a world half swallowed by the Maze. In the basin before them, cracked obsidian stretched far into the distance, piled and shattered, like the vitrified ruin of a city. Haze swirled and banked as if moved by the wind, though the air was lifeless. Rising from the thicket of mists, still many miles away, was a coal-black tower, stark and static against the endless swirl of the sky.’
Although I felt the ending was slightly longer than it needed to be, I still found the novel to be well balanced between plot and character development. The fast paced narrative was highly addictive, and the diverse range of characters were all portrayed to be very human, even when they were Orcs or twitchy pointy eared Wizards. Csorwe is the character who grows the most, as we journey with her from childhood to adulthood, from stoic and obedient, to gaining her self-awareness. Csorwe’s simmering attraction to, Shuthmili, a quiet, vulnerable female scholar whom she becomes entwined with, was quite sweet to see blossom too.

What I particularly loved, was the way Larkwood portrayed the theme of choices, of following your own path. The two characters that explored this the most was Shuthmili and Csorwe, as both were bound to preordained fates, which would ultimately destroy them. However, Larkwood portrays this in a realistic fashion, as she reflects how the choices we make in life never come easy, and how we always have to live with the consequences. For Shuthmili, the choice to set her own future course is the hardest; I don’t want to reveal too much about Shuthmili, but what I will say is, she was one of those wholesome characters that must be protected at all costs because she’s that adorable.

I also felt that Larkwood broadened the dynamics with her other characters such as Oranna, and Sethennai, both of which were self centred, manipulative mages, but they were kind of entertaining because of that! Then there was Tal, who in the second half of the book became a welcomed addition. He brought an abundance of sarcasm, and hilarious one liners, which made him such a loveable arsehole!
“If I pissed in the corner,” muttered Tal, “do you think all twelve thousand ghosts will haunt my dick forever?”

“Yes,” said Csorwe. “Hold it in.”
So, there you have it, folks; if you’re looking for a genre blending, highly addictive fantasy debut, then look no further. The Unspoken Name is simply an elegant, intricate work of art.
Profile Image for Dyrk Ashton.
Author 12 books646 followers
June 1, 2019
First, I want to thank Tor for giving me a super-early sneak peek at this. I'm totally honored (and baffled) to be thought of as cool enough to be afforded such a privileged.

And even better, The Unspoken Name is a truly wonderful book. It grabbed my attention on the first page and wouldn’t let go. To me, it’s got the classic feel of the best of Le Guin, while also being progressively fresh, exciting and new, with story and sensibilities akin to something like R.J. Barker's Age of Assassins-meets-Robert J. Bennett's City of Stairs—in a multiverse. There were even sequences that reminded me of some of my favorite chapters in Josiah Bancroft's The Books of Babel, and everyone knows how much I love those. It’s genre-bending, like classic fantasy set in a sci-fi world, with fascinating characters, shifting alliances, impossible odds, breathtaking settings, and shocking twists.

Keep an eye out for this one, I don't think you'll be disappointed :)
Profile Image for Dave.
3,010 reviews331 followers
December 26, 2019
Larkwood has filled The Unspoken Name with some absolutely amazing stuff and the star of the show is Csorwe, a teenage Orc girl raised from birth to be a sacrificial virgin for a god who dwells in a deep cave among revenants (the undead). On almost a lark at the moment she alone enters the dark cave as the "chosen bride" of the Unspoken one, she runs off with a visiting wizard and becomes his apprentice for years on end.

But the mountain where the monastery is happens to be but a small corner of the universe of this book. As Csorwe finds out, there are endless worlds, each filled with its own magic, it's own gods, and its own ancient ruins. To traverse between worlds, one must traverse the Maze of Echoes. Some of these worlds are described in intricate detail and the writing is poetic when describing these ancient worlds and the buried powers within. And, of course, there is the quest for the Holy Grail, here referred to as the Reliquary, an ancient tool of vast magical power.

The story is beset with giant serpents, walking dead men, wizards and priestesses wielding spells, and more. Indeed, when Csorwe meets the giant serpent, it almost Bilbo word dueling with the dragon Smaug.

It would have been interesting had more attention been paid to the fact the main character was a gray-skinned, Tusked, Orc. Other than an early allusion to a tusk being broken, the fact of her being an orc is rarely mentioned and seemingly not pertinent. Corswe seems for the most part basically a teenage apprentice, not an orc and lacked that otherness a focus on orc-hood would've brought.

Although there is a pronunciation guide at the beginning, the names of people and places in this book were nearly impossible to pronounce as one reads through it. The names may have added authenticity but ended up detracting from smooth reading.

All in all, there were some great concepts at the heart of this fantasy, but as a reader one simply never fully entered this world and became fully immersed in it.
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May 22, 2022
Lesbians who will burn down the whole world for each other??? Top tier.

Chaotic gay idiot side character? Check. (Sorry Tal, it’s true)

I’ve found a new favorite. Samantha Shannon’s book recs never miss.
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