ARC Review: The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

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What if you knew how and when you will die?
Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.
But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.
But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

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As mostly a reader of YA fantasy, I don’t follow a lot of news about adult fantasy releases but I kept seeing this book everywhere, and ended up requesting the ARC because I found it to be an interesting premise. And after having finished it, I’m still not sure how I feel about it, so I’ll probably be processing my feelings through this review. Be prepared for an incoherent mess below.

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And this is where I don’t know what to say. As it’s a debut, I’m usually very generous and the writing style is not something that is very high up on my scale while rating a book for it’s enjoyment. But right from the beginning, the writing in this book kept me hooked enough that I wanted to know what was going to happen next; but, I also never felt emotionally invested in it. The plot just meanders from one point to another and I frankly wasn’t sure what the ultimate goal was. There are also many time jumps which I felt prevented me from getting to know the characters better, particularly because I thought the character growth happened during the time jumps which we never got to see. The pacing is also pretty slow throughout with only a couple of intense scenes in between, but I really loved the way it became action packed towards the end. The last few chapters really were what redeemed the book for me.

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This book is essentially a portal fantasy where the characters can travel from one world to another using the Maze and mailships and I thought that was a cool idea. There are also multiple kingdoms with their own gods, cultures and beliefs and I think the author did a good job differentiating between them all. Even the landscape and climate of the different places visited are described very well so we are able to keep track of them. I won’t say I completely understood the method used by the mages to channel the power of the gods, but there was enough information to follow the story and not feel confused. And the best part was that characters here used no labels and it was a very queernormative world.

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Csorwe is a very sympathetic character in the beginning when we realize what her destiny is, but all that quickly changes when time passes by. We never get to see her train and become the fearsome right hand of a powerful mage she is supposed to be and that was disappointing. There was this sense that she wanted more from her life but she was too passive to ask for it. She was also mostly impulsive in her actions, just making in the moment decisions and not thinking through long term consequences. I wanted her to feel better and be more confident about her desires, but I truly wasn’t so emotionally attached to her that it would have upset me if she didn’t get a good ending.

Sethennai is the very powerful mage/wizard who has an air of mystery about him and he seems very detached, so that’s exactly how we feel about him too. We never get to know him or feel connected to him, but I also couldn’t see why Csorwe and the others were just so drawn to him and wanted to please him all the time. Tal is the youngest son of a prominent family who hasn’t done much with his life and just wants to feel loved and does all kinds of impulsive for the attention. But he was definitely one character who brought some laughs to the proceedings with his caustic dialogue and rivalry with Csorwe.

Shuthmili is a young powerful mage who has been brought up in almost a cult like environment and her realizing that there’s a whole other world outside, that she can make her own choices and her budding relationship with Csorwe are some of the best parts of the book. Oranna and Zhiyouri are quite compelling in parts but I wasn’t always sure what they wanted.

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To conclude, I think this debut has a lot of potential and I did go in with some expectations, so I was a bit disappointed because I couldn’t connect to it. There’s a very detached feeling to the whole story and characterization, so even when something bad happened, I didn’t feel much. I’m a bit unsure whom I would recommend this to but if you enjoy portal fantasies, maybe you can give it a try. If you enjoy very character focused stories, then this might not be the right choice. I also think the author did a good job tying up a lot of threads towards the end, so I am feeling pretty satisfied, and not very compelled about picking up the sequel but we shall see.

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PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

12 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

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  1. Ooof. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much. Love love love! I’m not an adult fantasy kind of person either BUT OMG SAHI YOU HAVE TO READ THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO! All the issues you had in this book reminds me of everything I didn’t have a problem with in TWoOY! You’ll love it, Sahi. You’ll love. As always always always, fantastic review. Sometimes, you just can’t make a solid decision about how you feel about a book because both sides of your opinion have equally weighed points and you just end up feeling mildly satisfied and dissatisfied at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you sweetie!!!! I really wanted to love it… many others like Dini did but somehow it just didn’t work for me… I’ll definitely buy Wolf of Oren Yaro once it releases… I can already see how you all are loving it so much .. and it’s Asian, so I can’t miss that 😍😍😍

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  2. Great review! I like this one a little more than you, but I agree with your critiques – that first time jump did make the story feel like almost two different books. There were some great set pieces though, and Tal was a character I expected to hate but instead mostly just had my head in my hands while watching him screw up in a SPECTACULAR fashion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ya.. the set pieces were definitely cool and I especially loved the last few chapters… and I didn’t write a lot about Tal but I probably would’ve been bored without him.. definitely a very entertaining presence 😊😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi! I have started this book and so far I am enjoying the reading, even if, so far I have to agree with you with the investment on the characters. I don’t have any problems with the writing, which is keeping me captivated, so far, but I am not so invested in the characters as I was hoping. I think that, in the end, my thoughts would be very similar to yours, but for now I am enjoying the reading!

    Liked by 1 person

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