Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: February 11th, 2020
Page Count: 464
Series: THE SERPENT GATES, Book 1
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It
Note: I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
Csorwe has spent 14 years preparing for one purpose: to be sacrificed to the Unspoken One, a diety of prophecy and death. But on the day she’s supposed to make her journey to join the Unspoken One forever, she’s approached by a wizard named Sethennai who offers her a choice: accept her fate, or join him in his travels. Given a choice for the first time in her life, Csorwe agrees to go with Sethannai, and he takes her, not just from the temple or the forest, but from the world entirely. It turns out, Csorwe’s world is just one of hundreds connected by Serpent Gates, portals between realms. Traveling with Sethennai shows Csorwe just how small her view on life really was. From that point forward, Csorwe vows to herself to be useful in any way she can to the wizard, whether it’s training to be his bodyguard, helping him reclaim the throne that was usurped from him, or finding his holy grail, the Reliquary of Pentravesse. Csorwe is dedicated for years, until one day she meets a young woman destined for an untimely end, leaving Csorwe startlingly unsure of her own priorities for the first time since she left her temple.
THE UNSPOKEN NAME is one of those books that gets its hooks into you from the first page, purely by the elegance of the writing alone. From the moment you begin, you feel like a small fourteen-year-old, aimlessly drifting through a life that hardly matters because it will be over shortly anyway. From there, Larkwood throws you into a multiverse of sentient snakes, dying gods, leashed mages, and so much more. Occasionally, the book was a bit too slow for my personal preferences, particularly in areas where characters were puzzling out the natures of gods, or why the laws of time and space suddenly don’t apply. Thankfully, Larkwood has an equally deft hand at adventure and wry comedy, and those moments balanced out any parts that dragged for me. The events of the chapter “Young Blood” alone are enough for me to recommend this book as I dissolved into laughter over moment after moment.
At the core of this story is Csorwe, a character at once both fiercely strong and utterly subservient to her own believed debts. She’ll kill and sacrifice anything and anyone for Sethennai in order to repay him for rescuing her from her fate, to the point where she doesn’t see the one-sidedness of their relationship. And that, of course, is her personal journey, as events slowly force her to examine a life she thought she had all figured out. Joining her in many of her travels is Talasseres, a character I described to a fellow reviewer as “the worst, but also that makes him great?” He’s self-serving to a fault, shallow and utterly devoted to saving his own skin, with a streak of sarcasm a mile wide. And yet, when his attempts to further his own aims collide with Csorwe’s agenda, the chaos is utterly beautiful. But even better, we slowly get to know Tal and understand why he’s such a miserable character to begin with. And that’s only two of the half dozen or so characters running around THE UNSPOKEN NAME, each bringing their own something to the tale, whether it’s Shuthmili’s curiosity or Oranna’s fanatical devotion.
THE UNSPOKEN NAME is a blend of adventure, romance, and dreamy contemplation, but at its heart it’s a coming of age story. Over eight years of Csorwe’s life, we see her again and again forced to re-evaluate who she is, what she wants, and who is most important in her life. And it’s a journey that rings true. Lives are full of choices, and every choice makes you examine if you’re on the path of life that makes you happy. By covering so much time in Csorwe’s life, we get to see her grow and evolve and realize she’s not the same person who grew up in the House of Silence. She can’t just blindly followed the person who offered her freedom, she has to take that freedom and use it for herself.
THE UNSPOKEN NAME is a fantasy tale that defies easy categorization. Its lead is an female orc who travels in a flying ship while chasing after fragments of a god. It’s got humor, it’s got pain, it’s got action, it’s got strange and weird magics. And while occasionally I found myself a bit lost trying to track a few plot elements (particularly when it comes to the esoteric magic of how godhood and power works), the characters kept me engaged. I kept reading because I wanted to see how Csorwe (sometimes literally) throws herself at the next problem, see how Tal’s terrible choices would backfire, see how, if at all, Shuthmili’s views on her life’s purpose would change. If you’re a person who is constantly looking for great characters to fall in love with, there’s plenty to love here and I heartily recommend reading!