Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A. K. Larkwood
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Page Count: 464
Publisher: Tor Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: LGBTQA+ characters, loose orc and elf descriptions not of Tolkien making
Recommended Readers: Fans of messy, badly-behaving characters and a sprinkling of sci-fi to go with your fantasy
I was so excited to read The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood. I coveted it every time I traveled to the bookstore or saw it online until I wore myself down with my longing to buy it. It sounded like everything I had been craving and not finding in my reads lately. A priestess—who happens to be an orc—turning from sacrificing her life to her god and following a morally-questionable, duplicitous wizard instead? A wizard who also happens to be a hot elf exiled from his seat of power, and now has a weapon, an assassin, at his disposal? And the priestess’ god might one day call its debt due? You couldn’t have sold this to me any harder.
Yes, Csorwe and Belthandros Sethennai sounded exactly like the characters I love reading about. Messy and dramatic, full of secrets and desires and ambition. I was pumped from the first page, especially as I found a dramatis personae and a pronunciation guide tucked into the space before the book started. Yes, I thought, this will be an author and a book who cares about me.
From the start, however, this book was not what I expected and hoped for. If I’m being honest, I really wish Csorwe and Sethennai had the kind of screwed-up romance/lust I love in fiction. It was obvious from the first pages that this wasn’t that kind of book, and that was okay. It still had so much promise, and the relationship between these two was still interesting and messed up. Sethennai saving Csorwe for shady, “I’m not explaining myself” reasons. Csorwe feeling both indebted and reliant on him, on wanting to gain his trust above all others. How far would she be willing to go for him? To kill and die for him? It was some good stuff. The addition of Talasseres Charossa, who is hopelessly in love with Sethennai, bitter about it, and a disaster gay only sweetened the pot. I’ve seen this book advertised as “found family but terrible,” and that couldn’t have been a truer description with these three characters.
And then it all fizzled out. What started as a respectable 4-star rating steadily dropped to 3 then to 2.5, if just for the writing style, Sethennai, and Tal. The grand plot the synopsis boasts is solved within the first 100 pages or so, and that was the only part that was super fun to read. There’s a time skip, and all the relationship-building we were doing skipped with it. Csorwe and Tal have this rivalry going for Sethennai’s regard, and it would be fascinating to read about if Sethennai showed up for more than a few pages every once in a while and was anything more than passive about what his henchpeople were doing. The “found family” is barely together.
The plot meanders. The world-jumping—not just country-jumping—changed from fascinating to me asking, “Why aren’t they all just different countries in the same world for how much it actually seems to matter?” Sure, this world is dying, and this world is thriving, but so what? The gods each respective world believes in and uses for magic would’ve been the dividing line requiring the countries to be separated by worlds if the gods had been anything but passive beings. Even the Unspoken One, who Csorwe fears will come after her one day, plainly doesn’t. It only recognizes her when she chooses to return to her world, and as stressed out as Csorwe is during those brief moments, there is no real sense of danger, dread, or threat felt from the reader’s point of view. No divine retribution is coming for Csorwe or for anyone else, not by any god.
I know by this point, too, that Tal is gay, Csorwe is gay, and Sethennai is bi/pan, but I don’t care all that much because I’ve only been given scraps to work with. This book is advertised as a sapphic romance especially, and if that’s what I was here for, I would be vastly disappointed by what I actually got.
On that note, enter Shuthmili, and exit the remainder of my enthusiasm.
The rest of the book and Csorwe’s existence becomes wrapped up in Shuthmilli, a mage from another world who is on track to sacrifice her total sense of self so her magic can be used in a safe, sanctioned way on behalf of the state. Csorwe instantly gets a crush on her, and this affects everything about her choices moving forward. This wouldn’t be a problem, if anything about Shuthmilli had been interesting at all. Csorwe has surrounded herself with the likes of Sethennai and Tal for years, and she falls for a piece of driftwood on the beach. The irony! This makes the whole horror of Shuthmilli giving up her individuality and consciousness somewhat amusing because does Shuthmilli actually have a personality to give up?
It was just bland, really. What started out as something so promising and intriguing just became more and more diluted and shoved to the side. I even guessed the truth behind Sethennai early, and once the truth was revealed, instead of feeling any sort of accomplishment or glee, I felt nothing at all.
And that’s the last thing a book should make you feel. I’m somewhat stunned that there’s going to be a sequel, if only because I have no idea what else can be explored. More boring hand-holding and chaste kisses between Csorwe and Shuthmilli? Pass. I’m good.
Oh, wait, there is Oranna, I guess. But I’ve kind of already forgotten about her.