Death Cults in The Unspoken Name | Spoiler-Free Review

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

5 Star Rating System 3 stars

Kirstie Ellen 🇦🇺 (@ozbooksnail) • Instagram photos and videos

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Queer
Author: AK Larkwood
Published: February 2020
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 462 {paperback}

Review on Goodreads

Thank you Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of this in exchange for an honest review!


Initial Thoughts Upon Finishing

Hmmm, this was okay. The plot got a little muddled and I found the pacing sporadic but I did love the world and the characters. Cswore is a bit flat but I liked her for her simplicity. I won’t lie, this was a small struggle to finish but I’d be very curious to see where the next book goes. I’m hoping now that the groundwork is laid down, book two can focus on the adventure!


The Unspoken Name

Problems aside, this is a fantasy novel that ticks a whole lot of boxes. We have a really great sapphic (WLW) relationship, multiple strong female leads, and all the fun of disgruntled gods and murky politics. Not only this, but the book spans many settings and has an awesome sweep of characters.

I went into this not completely sure what to expect because the blurb is quite mysterious really but I loved the world. There is also a pronunciation guide in the book – just as an FYI because most of the characters have tricky names!

The story follows a girl called Csorwe. We’re told what her race is but never really told exactly what she is – my best guess is a troll-esque thing. I am unsure. Let me know if you know. Hah! Anyway. She’s chosen as the sacrifice for her people’s god and she has grown up knowing this. The very first part of the book is the brief lead up to this and it explores Csorwe’s thoughts about being a sacrifice and knowing her life is going to end soon.

The book takes off when a wizard whisks her away just before she is to be sacrificed and takes her on as a sort of protegee. He has an agenda: he’s trying to take back his kingdom (I don’t think it was actually called a kingdom but for the sake of clarity, let’s think of it as one).

The story, therefore, follows Csorwe and all the adventures and trouble she gets into doing this wizard’s bidding and the plot is slowly revealed to us. Elements of sci-fi spice up what is otherwise a high fantasy novel with portal-like gates that allow for quick transportation from one realm to another. It’s such a well-built world that I really enjoyed exploring. But let’s look at the nitty-gritty.


Why You Should Read This

It’s a damn interesting story is why. But I did want to address all the DNFs I’ve been seeing on Goodreads for this book – I think there have been quite a few! So let’s be straight, this is a book you need to persevere with. It’s not fast-paced: the pacing is quite odd, with a sudden jump of three years near the very beginning before slowing right down and spanning a few days, then speeding up and slowing down again. The pacing is definitely a factor to take with a pinch of salt. Just ride it out and enjoy the story.

But this slower pace and internal monologue of Csorwe’s thoughts is quite rewarding in its own right. I really loved Csorwe’s character for how introspective she was. I thought this balanced really nicely with the fire-cracker sass of Tal, who finds a reason to be snarky at everything in the world. Set this off once more against the mystery of the wizard, Sethennai, and the seductive slyness of Oranna (also from the death cult that Csorwe escapes from), and you find yourself with a very interesting mix of characters. Not to mention their complex relationships with each other really make the story fascinating.

The uniqueness of the world is something akin to Star Wars. If you love all the different planets, cultures and races that you find in the Star Wars universe, this is definitely something you will LOVE about this book. It’s so much fun travelling to all the different places, especially the in-between trading hub that we go through a few times. Plus goddamn, you really just want to know what all the characters (Sethennai and Oranna, in particular) are up to! And you have to read the whole thing to work that out.


My Favourite Thing

My favourite thing about this book ended up being the romantic subplot. I don’t want to give anything away but I just found the subtleness of it at the beginning really intriguing and then it takes a stronger hold the direction the story heads in as the book progresses.

I also really just enjoyed Shuthmili’s character. This is someone you meet not *too* far into the story but she sticks around and is a wonderfully burdened and naive character. Which is both an odd combination and fantastic at the same time.


Why I Only Rated This Three Stars

Despite having a lot of positive things to say about this book, the structure does really let it down for me. I’m really glad I persevered to the end and am now able to appreciate the story in its entirety, but the jarring structure and stumbling pacing did make it a difficult read.

It slowed me down as I was making my way through it and I’m concerned that whilst I will pick up the next instalment in the series, I may DNF it. I hope to be proven wrong! But there is an element of excitement this book didn’t quite deliver on that would’ve hiked my rating up a little higher.


Summary

I think this is a great book for anyone who loves the fantasy genre. If you’re not a frequent reader of the genre or don’t love sticking out a story to see the complete picture whilst enjoying the details as you get there, this might not be for you. I’m really interested in what Larkwood has in store next because there’s some definite talent in the creation of this utterly unique world and characters!


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Happy reading!

~~ Kirstie ~~

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