A.K. Larkwood: The Unspoken Name – Book Review

A.K. Larkwood: The Unspoken Name - Book Cover

There’s no denying that with the Internet, the golden age of fantasy writers has arrived. With a slight exaggeration, publishers release every piece of crap. If someone reads a lot of fantasy, they can easily find that from the three newly released books in the genre, (at least) two are mediocre junk. Especially if it’s a debut author. Fortunately, this is not the case with A.K. Larkwood’s first book, “The Unspoken Name”.

Walking Pace

At the beginning of the book, your doubts may not completely dissipate though. “The Unspoken Name” immediately grabs your imagination with its completely unique world-building, but initially it still seems rather nondescript. When the Chosen Bride, Csorwe, starts climbing the stairs towards the mysterious god’s sanctuary, presumably to be consumed as their next meal, a more experienced writer might have written this scene as far more chilling. Csorwe just casually walks up.

But the same blandness is evident in the rescuer, the wizard Belthandros Sethennai. This gentleman is a powerful mage, but it doesn’t really come across. He seems more like someone who claims to be this, but doesn’t really provide any evidence of it.

It takes some time before you realize they’re both just like that.

A. K. Larkwood, however, ensures that you don’t give up until the real adventures begin.

Oh my god!

Gods. How many fantasy books have you read where they wander among mortals? And how many where they were mysterious, inscrutable, and utterly inhuman? Well, “The Unspoken Name” has exactly that!

Moreover, they also represent the source of magic. If you want to cast spells, you’d better not stray too far from them.

And the worlds populated by humans (and orcs) are connected by gateways reminiscent of the Stargate. This guarantees infinite variety. (Although sailing between them on a sailboat seems ridiculous.)

So, the foundations of the book are excellent.

Whatchamacallit of Pentravesse

It’s a fantasy novel, so what else would the main story of “The Unspoken Name” revolve around if not a mysterious magical artifact? The Reliquary of Pentravesse, who used to buddy up with ancient gods, obviously conceals something of unimaginable power.

And when Belthandros trains the cute (despite her boar tusks!) fourteen-year-old protagonist to be his own special fixer/enforcer/hitman acquiring any magical artifact seems within reach. (Despite the hindrances from the annoying colleague, Talasseres Charossa, who is clearly a glaring example of ineffective team composition.)

Love is Love!

So far, everything is like in an average fantasy. But what does it take to elevate a story even further? Well, LOVE, broseph!

With the entry of love, Csorwe’s character, much like Larkwood’s book itself, noticeably gains strength. And throughout the remaining part of the story, the whole trying process can be followed through step by step, from the spark of interest, through the denial of emotions, to longing and doubt, until acceptance. And the real complications only begin after this.

Of course, A. K. Larkwood had it easy with me. Ever since I watched the movie “Show Me Love” (IMDb), I’ve been sympathizing deeply with any seemingly hopeless romantic relationship fraught with obstacles and trials. Even if… one of the parties has boar tusks!

The other party, Kanva Suthmíli, is that typical cold-but-sexy secretary type… uh, I mean, nun type, who dazzles with her intellectual superiority, and whom you’re not really able to like at first. Yet, you can’t resist her.

So from this point on, “The Unspoken Name” falls into the category of unputdownable, and regardless of whatever happens, whether it’s zombie hordes attacking or fierce wizard duels, you’re essentially just waiting to find out when it’ll finally become obvious that these two characters weren’t meant for anyone else but each other. And how much trouble those boar tusks will cause during their first kiss…

No librarians, please!

I don’t know, I really don’t know how A. K. Larkwood wrote her book. Perhaps she just found a good idea in her back pocket (the Unspoken God himself, obviously) and wrote the first chapters? Then the whole story took off along the way? But Oranna, who later becomes the main antagonist of our heroes, seemed at first more like a simple supporting character. Left after a one-night adventure, and that’s it!

After all, we’re talking about a librarian, for heaven’s sake!

And who makes a librarian an antihero!? A librarian who dozes off among musty bookshelves in the half-light all day.

Okay, okay! We know we’re talking about the House of Silence, where the undead rattle the doors of their tombs at night. But still.

Divine indifference

In the book titled “The Unspoken Name,” there aren’t really any morally good characters in the traditional sense. People are driven by their own desires, if they have any. (For a long time, it seems like they don’t, by the way.) The divine beings are mysterious and indifferent. And the same goes for the powerful spellcasters. Belthandrosz regards every fellow men with the same unshakable benevolence; be it one who betrays him or one who kicks him in the groin. At his level, the scale surpasses mere humanity. Csorwe, on the other hand, is unable to recognize that she’s working for the chillest boss in the world. And yes, this becomes one of the contrived conflicts at the end of the book. Man, she’s got a dream job! (“Travel to exotic, distant worlds, meet exciting people and kill them!”)

Kanva Suthmíli, in turn, is in a completely different situation; her whole world is turned upside down, and she has good reasons for what she does, but a bit more diplomatic sense wouldn’t hurt her at the very end of the book.

Said but Unspoken

If from the very beginning of the novel your curiosity is piqued about who the hell lurks in the sanctuary of the Unspoken God, well, eventually you’ll get an answer to that too. Well, sort of. That scene, by the way, beautifully encapsulates Larkwood’s book, and if there were any sense in attaching a label of magical realism to a fantasy novel, then this book would definitely warrant it.

In the afterword of the book, A. K. Larkwood thanks, among others, Tamsyn Muir, the creator of the Locked Tomb series. And from there, it’s clear why it feels like these two authors sat side by side in a creative writing class, where they were both given the task of putting together something based on the following prompts: necromancy, chicks, love, an epic story spanning across planets. And gods… And indeed, it’s entirely the same in both of their books how the gods are basically let down by their employees without much justification. Instead of being grateful to them.

Unfortunately, Tamsyn Muir’s work was overshadowed by the unparalleled flood of ideas (see: Harrow the Ninth). Larkwood’s more down-to-earth book, however, mostly manages to overcome the obstacles. The Unspoken Name mixes the secrets of the gods and human desires in just the right proportions, resulting in an exciting, twist-filled, and exceptionally unique book. But if I’m mistaken, and it’s not like that at all, love still carries the weight of it all on its back…

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A.K. Larkwood
464 pages, Hardcover
Published in 2020 by Tor Books

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