Title– The Unspoken Name
Author– A.J. Larkwood
Publisher– Tor Books
Publication date– 20 Feb 2020
Tour Date– Feb 27th
Disclaimer– I received a free copy from TOR books in exchange for an honest review.
Notes- My Grandmother passed away this month and on top of all the stress with coroners and funerals etc I didn’t have as much time to devote to this book as I normally would. So I would like to thank Serenity Sheppard for her help with this review.
Csorwe was raised by a death cult steeped in old magic. So on her fourteenth birthday, she must climb the mountain and enter the Shrine of the Unspoken. There she will gain their most honoured title: sacrifice. Yet even as she waits for the end, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.
She could leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy and an assassin – the sorcerer’s loyal sword. Together, they could topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.
However, Csorwe will soon learn that gods remember. And if you live long enough, all debts become due.
Csorwe is a 14-year-old tusked priestess destined to become a sacrifice to her God – The Unspoken One. On the day of her sacrifice, Belthandros Sethennai (a wizard) follows her to the sacred place of sacrifice and offers her the chance to leave with him and become his personal assistant.
So death or become a PA- I like those kinds of choices. (Unless it was PA for Miranda Hart in which case. Nope. Death it is.)
Years later after helping him regain his homeland – he sends her and another of his assistants, Tal, to retrieve The Reliquary of Pentravesse – which holds the legacy and knowledge of Pentravesse. Along the way they meet with a Qarsazhi wizard. Shuthmili is another young woman destined for a great purpose.
An interesting blend of Sci-fi and Fantasy, entirely believable despite mashing multiple worlds, different civilizations, magic, swordfights, spaceships and giant serpents. The technology to travel from one world to another doesn’t detract from the fact that, for the most part, this is a fantasy story. It’s definitely a new take which is fascinating and a little complex.
As much as I enjoyed the fantastical elements, sometimes the world-building felt a little vague which allows you to pay as much- or as little- attention to those elements as you prefer. It also prevents the story from being bogged down in description which I really appreciated. I think using your imagination in fantasy world-building is important and this lack of overt description allowed you to do that.
The book had quite a swift pace. There was rarely more than a handful of pages before something significant happened which made for a quick read but also felt a little exhausting at times.
There were a few significant times-jumps within the story. (Although it made sense to do so, obviously not all of the intervening time would be interesting) – it did deprive you of the opportunity of growing with Csorwe (and the others by extension) especially as she learned to navigate such unknown worlds and customs around her. There’s also a massive shift in her character that you miss out on. She goes from innocent sheltered child sacrifice to a warrior/spy/ninja. The idea is not preposterous but it would endear you much more to her character if you could her struggle. As a result of this, personally, I found it hard to connect with Csorwe. It feels like you miss much of her character growth.
However it was much easier to connect with the other characters. Sethannai, Oranna, Tal, and even Shuthmili seemed easier to bond with. The sidestep chapters gave an interesting insight into their minds and helped the story flow. As well, the dynamic between the 5 main characters was interesting – shifting and altering as the story progressed. None of the characters are perfect- they all have their flaws which makes them so much more relatable. The diversity was also really well handled.
A few things which did grate were the constant fluctuations in language, alternating between modern urban and ye olde English. Sometimes this discordance dragged you out of the story and made it hard to concentrate.
Another thing that I found difficult was the names. As much as I appreciated the pronunciation guide at the start, I did feel like the author was setting up to be the next Tolkein with an entirely new language. The amount of multi-syllabic names, titles and places each with their own set of consonant variants and dialect was too complicated in a story where you’d rather be focussing on the epic storyline and not whether you’re enunciating the right syllable.
- SPOILER ; The gradual relationship that grows between the two girls – Csorwe and Shuthmili- was entirely believable and possibly the gentlest relationship, romantic or platonic of the book. It’s also the first part of the story where I first felt any connection to Csorwe.
A dark novel, for the most part, The Unspoken one is a very promising debut novel. The worldbuilding, in particular, mashes the sci-fi and fantasy elements beautifully. There are plenty of thought-provoking elements about Freedom and Choice if you like books that make you think. The characters were well written and the contrasting dynamics of their relationships were realistic and well-considered.
I believe this is book one of the series and I am very interested to see where Larkwood takes the story next.