The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
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.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED FEBRUARY 11TH, 2020
In Csorwe’s world, there is a simple truth: trust no one.
Csorwe thought she knew how she would die: as a sacrifice to the Unspoken One, only fourteen years old. Instead, she took the chance to escape, to see the broader world, and discovered that not everything beyond the House of Silence is safe. There is magic, there is travel through inter-dimensional gates, there is the power of gods other than her own. And, of course, there is violence, something she becomes intimately familiar with as the right-hand assassin for the powerful wizard who rescued her from death.
But most importantly, the world is dangerous in all its forms, and Csorwe learns to rely on her own skills. It’s the only way to stay alive when there are divinities that want you dead.
“The secret of greatness is to know when you should risk the wrath of a god.”
The Unspoken Name has a particular talent for chasing a theme to the ends of the earth. Chief among themes, though, is the question of what you owe to whom, be they god or mortal being. It’s a call and response kind of dance, challenging what the characters think they know and answering with a broader truth, then rinse and repeat. Best of all, it shows up often with the gods of Csorwe’s world, powerful beings that can alter and destroy worlds if provided with the proper conduit. Again and again, I found myself engrossed in this conflict between mortal and immortal, and I loved every second of it. I’ve never made a secret of how much I enjoy mortal beings standing up to the all-powerful and everlasting. There’s joy to be had in watching them do that. In watching them win, especially.
And where Csorwe is concerned, challenging higher powers isn’t about doing the right thing for the universe. It’s about doing the right thing for herself, for her employer, for the people she holds near and dear to her heart. Who needs noble intentions when you can get paid and keep your friends in positions of power, when you can fulfill your purpose?
No one is particularly good, and it makes them fascinating in every way.
This, I think, is one of the things that compounds how interesting the mortal-immortal conflict tends to be. As much as I love a good story with a righteous resolution and a world healing from past trauma, The Unspoken Name goes an entirely different route, placing characters over entire worlds. No one is challenging gods for the good of all. They’re doing it for themselves at the end of the day.
But does this make them selfish? Impossible to have any empathy for? Hardly! With a cast this complex, it brings out the messy, complicated, human aspects of each character, even those who aren’t strictly human. Csorwe, for one, is an assassin, clever and brutal, and devoted to the wizard who helped her escape her fated death at the shrine of the Unspoken One. She mixes an incredible sense of devotion with an unwillingness to jeopardize her missions, even if that means sparing a life.
You also have Tal, furious and crass. He and Csorwe barely get along, for petty reasons and good reasons alike, and he has nothing on his mind except securing the love and favor of Sethennai, his and Csorwe’s shared employer. At first, it’s hard to hold much love for him, because he is remarkably coarse and self-centered. But it’s not without reason, and not without change. (Also, you kind of have to love him sometimes; he’s smart enough to accomplish incredible things, and impulsive enough to have it blow up in his face with impressive comedic flair.)
I could probably go on at length about every single character, between their features and flaws, because that’s how The Unspoken Name operates. No one’s perfect, but damn if they aren’t doing their best with what they’ve got.
Mix in an expansive series of worlds, and you end up with true magic.
In addition to the outstanding character development, The Unspoken Name also delivers on its world-building. The Gates that facilitate travel between worlds promise exploration and mystery alike, while the many divine powers populating the pages pose an uncanny, watchful threat. Nothing is untouched by the magical elements of the world, even those characters who are unable to actually bend magic to their will.
And at the end of the day? Who can say no to the buff orc lady and her magic girlfriend?
As long as you’re willing to get past a slower start loaded with thematic preparations, The Unspoken Name will not disappoint. Its cast is full of life and vigor (with a dash of ill-advised impulse), its worlds are many and ripe for the exploration, and Csorwe and her love interest are basically the ideal goth girlfriends. Seriously, they’re so good and pretty much peak fantasy power couple. Buff assassin orc in love with one of the world’s most powerful mages? Hell yeah, pal!
Add in the threat of divine intervention (and the promise of divine power), plus a steaming heap of questions about how much you owe anyone for stepping into your life, and who you are without those people, and you end up with a near perfect book that’s not afraid to get its hands dirty.
If The Unspoken Name sounds like a title for you, it comes out February 11th, 2020! That leaves a little over a week to submit your pre-orders, and after that, it’ll be loose on the world. At which point you all can ponder with me over where future installments in the Serpent’s Gate series might lead… 👀🐍
CW: animal death, violence, torture, graphic injury, self-harm, gore, body horror, loss of a loved one