Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A. K. Larkwood
Publisher: Tor Books (Pan Macmillan)
Publication Date: 20th February 2020
Summary: Csorwe was raised by a death cult steeped in old magic. And on her fourteenth birthday, she’ll be sacrificed to their god. But as she waits for the end, she’s offered a chance to escape her fate. A sorcerer wants her as his assistant, sword-hand and assassin. As this involves her not dying that day, she accepts. Csorwe spends years living on a knife-edge, helping her master hunt an artefact which could change many worlds. Then comes the day she’s been dreading. They encounter Csorwe’s old cult – seeking the same magical object – and Csorwe is forced to reckon with her past. She also meets Shuthmili, the war-mage who’ll change her future. If she’s to survive, Csorwe must evade her enemies, claim the artefact and stop the death cult once and for all. As she plunges from one danger to the next, the hunt is on…
I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, A. K. Larkwood, and the publisher, Pan Macmillan, for this opportunity.
A. K. Larkwood studied English at St John’s College, Cambridge and she is now studying law. She lives in Oxford, England, with her wife and a cat. The Unspoken Name is her debut novel. You can find out more via her website or you can follow her on twitter @AKLarkwood.
What a fantastic debut novel!
The Unspoken Name is intricate and enthralling – I found myself intrigued from the very first page and I didn’t want to put the book down. The novel is full of action and energy but it also has quieter moments which bring your attention back to the characters and their motivations. I was surprised by how violent the book seems even though it doesn’t contain that much violence (torture scenes are skipped) and I think that there’s more of an anticipation of violence rather than the actual thing. I really enjoyed how Larkwood inspired the emotions of dread and fear within me, as a reader, without actually portraying the scene. Sometimes, not seeing (or reading) something is worse than it being laid out in front of you, especially when you still experience the aftermath.
Csorwe is a very striking character from the beginning. She’s a young girl who is due to be sacrificed to a god at the age of fourteen, never able to imagine a life outside of the small cult she grew up in, but she is thrust into an adventure with a man she barely knows. She takes her life into her own hands and becomes a skilled young woman in charge of her own fate. Csorwe may be the main character of The Unspoken Name but none of the supporting characters are one-dimensional lifeless entities. I thought that the rest of the characters, especially Sethennai, Tal, and Shuthmili, were wonderfully written. I also loved the relationships that are developed in the book. There’s a lovely, authentic sapphic relationship (!!!) which I loved but, honestly, one of the best relationships cultivated within the novel is a frenemy bond which is full of friendly tension and animosity. All of the relationships in this novel felt genuine.
Larkwood’s writing is beautifully vivid and she draws upon all of the senses to give a well-rounded description of the characters and settings. In particular, I loved the way Larkwood sketches out the landscape as she includes tiny details that make the settings realistic and alive. I loved the attention to detail in other aspects of the novel too, especially the different religions of the land. I adore books that weave the worldbuilding into the storyline and I really enjoyed learning about the world as Csorwe did.
I think my only issue was the pacing of the novel. There are some odd time jumps, which were probably necessary for the story to work, and the novel spans about nine years which made sense since it’s an exploration of Csorwe’s journey into adulthood but the pacing of the second chapter didn’t work for me. It depicts an entire year and, while I understand that time is meant to be confusing due to the landscape that Csorwe and Sethennai are travelling through, I thought that this could have been explained a little better because I was lost. In a film, this chapter would be a wonderful montage showing Csorwe’s travelling and growth but, unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me in the book.
One final little thing to mention: I was so thankful for the pronunciation guide! It was a nice little extra to include and, while I didn’t refer to it often, I’m glad it was included because I knew how to pronounce the main character’s name from the very beginning.
The Unspoken Name is one of the most intriguing and exciting books I’ve read in a long time. I’d definitely recommend it and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series!
This post does not contain affiliate links. Thank you again to Netgalley, A. K. Larkwood, and Pan Macmillan for providing me with a digital copy of this book.