- The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1).
- A. K. Larkwood.
- 464 pages.
- Epic Fantasy.
- My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.
Does she owe her life to those planning her death . . .
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 free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Every fourteen years a sacrifice is made to the Unspoken One. In the House of Sacrifice Csorwe, an orphan has been raised for one purpose, as the Chosen Bride of the Unspoken One, as the great honour that is sacrifice. Belthandros Sethennai, a mysterious and shabby looking stranger arrives at the House of Silence seeking the traveller’s boon, a blessing and a prophecy from Csorwe about the ancient and powerful relic known as the Reliquary of Pentravesse. Days later, on her fourteenth birthday, on the day that Csorwe will be sacrificed and as she is readying herself for the end Sethennai appears from one of the many branching tunnels in the Shrine and gives her a choice, to stay and die or go with him and live. It is the first choice that Csorwe has ever had to make…raised for death, in the darkness, deep in the bowels of the Sacred Mountain she chooses life, betraying, walking away from her destiny, her people, her purpose and her god.
Belthandros Sethennai is a wizard and the former Chancellor of Tlaanthothe. He was usurped by a rival, his nemesis, Olthaaros Charossa who took over Sethennai’s throne and banished him, exiling him from his home of Tlaanthothe. Sethennai wants to reclaim his throne for which he needs the knowledge and power contained within the Reliquary of Pentravesse. After escaping the House of Sacrifice and her fate Csorwe, to repay the debt that she feels that she owes Serthennai becomes his apprentice and then, after years of tutoring and training his personal bodyguard, assassin, spy, thief and weapon.
Sethennai isn’t the only one searching for the Reliquary of Pentravesse and the search sees Csorwe travelling to alternate worlds through the Maze of Echoes for information on the location of the ancient artefact. Whilst on one of the many expeditions Csorwe meets Qanwa Shuthmili, a Qarsazhi Adept (a mage and a scholar). Through Shuthmilli Csorwe learns that there is more to life than her blind devotion and loyalty to Sethennai.
The world-building on display in The Unspoken Name is expansive, imaginative and richly-detailed. There is the prospect of delving deeper and learning more in the following books in the series and it is something that I would absolutely relish. The worlds visited are dead or dying, derelict and desolate and each has its own history, gods, magic and culture. The Maze of Echoes is a terrific concept. It is used to travel to other worlds through maze-gates located on the worlds and that connect them to the maze. The maze is made up of the gates, trade routes and refuelling/trade stations that are located around the gates and is traversable either by walking or by maze-ships which are powered by alchemical engines and fly.
The magic in The Unspoken Name is dangerous, it has a cost to the user, it is derived from the user’s patron god and their power. It weakens the user’s body, draining their vitality the further away from your patron the harder it is to draw power from them and the mortal body can only take so much.
There’s only a small cast of characters in The Unspoken Name with the story unfolding through the main player’s of Csorwe, Sethennai, Oranna who is the librarian in the House of Sacrifice, Shuthmili and Talasseres Charossa/Tal. The dynamics between the characters and their relationships are exceptional and serve to add an extra dimension to the story. I would say that Csorwe and Shuthmili both develop the most over the course of the story. The developing relationship between Csorwe and Shuthmili from the initial meeting between the pair, through the first steps of friendship and the gradual stumbling towards a possible relationship, felt natural to the story, an organic progression and was a joy to read. Sethennai is charming and has an aura to him that commands loyalty in Csorwe and Tal. Csorwe and Tal are jealous of each other and Tal, in particular, craves, yearns for any attention from Sethennai. Csorwe owes Sethennai her life, she is indebted to him, every day that she is alive is down to Sethennai giving her a choice and a chance at freedom and she is always looking to prove to him her value and her worth. Both are manipulated by him, obligated to him and feel a desire to please him. They are tools to be used and are treated like they have no feelings, like they are objects and not flesh and blood. Sethennai plays one against the other by ignoring both, or, praising one more than the other. I have to admit that I had a soft spot for Tal who comes across as a jerk, is a likeable asshole and I found myself relishing his interactions with, the back and forth, the bickering and the thrown insults between him and Csorwe.
The Unspoken Name features a couple of time jumps and one involves a five-year gap between parts of the story. Time jumps can, at times be quite jarring and interrupt the flow of the story. However, in The Unspoken Name, I found them to be well incorporated, coming at points where it felt like the natural place to leave the story. Then resume it later, flawlessly transitioning from the ending of one part to the beginning of the next.
There is some stellar imagery on display in The Unspoken Name, the Great Maze breaking through the sky of a dying planet, the husks of giant dead trees, giant serpents, hordes of revenants, vast underground tombs and battles between wizards are all vividly realised and have a cinematic feel to them.
Choices and the consequences of the choices that you make are a theme that is prevalent throughout the story in The Unspoken Name. Betrayal, loyalty, love, faith, fate, self-discovery, choosing your own destiny and walking your own path all have a part to play in the narrative too.
I really enjoyed my time spent with The Unspoken Name. The exciting and immersive story has a fresh feel to it and it is fantastically well-written, vivid and atmospheric. Featuring lingering dead gods, necromancers, political machinations, intrigue, romance, action, adventuring, tense escapes, emotional and thought-provoking moments and some lighter moments that are interspersed with the darker and grimmer moments too.
With The Unspoken Name, Larkwood has taken something classic and turned it into something fresh and new. Simply, it is a stunning fantasy debut, entertaining and epic.
Purchase The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Larkwood.
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