I’m late to the party as always, February has been a weird month for reading but I feel like I’m finally getting back on track with things. With that burst of reading energy I’ve been tackling some of the more lapsed books on my review copy TBR – starting with The Unspoken Name. This book came out early this month and I saw some mixed reviews going around, but I tried to go in with as open a mind as possible…because on paper this was everything I wanted…
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.
This book was described as a queer The Tombs of Atuan which honestly is a mixed bag of a statement for me. Make a fantasy book queer and it’s likely I’ll snatch it right out of your hands, bookmark and all, but I really wasn’t a fan of Le Guin’s Earthsea books. But marketing comparisons are almost always a little loose, so I went in with a fairly decent mindset – or as decent it can be knowing two of your bookish friends had a rough time getting through this book.
But I think that knowledge was my saving grace. Knowing that this was a bit of a slog to get through, I consciously didn’t get bogged down in this story. Didn’t quite understand a section? – Move right along it’ll make sense later. It’s not the best way to read a book by any means, and I’m not suggesting we all start skim reading our TBRs, but I do think it’s a good way to work out what parts of a story you care about, and to keep your interest in a book that perhaps contains some storylines about which you do not care.
I’m not saying I thought Tal’s storyline was boring – but I didn’t care for it.
So take all of this review with the knowledge of the frame of mind I was in while reading this.
Hey, it worked – I enjoyed this book.
I think Csorwe is an interesting character. What’s always the most ‘fun’ about characters who are ‘rescued’ in fantasy books, particularly big, sweeping fantasy books, is that you get to see them grow and confront the things they used to believe as the book goes on. While I thought that the earliest time jump in the book perhaps happened too soon – I felt her training could have had a little more of a focus – nonetheless, you do see Csorwe’s character grow and change throughout the story. I rarely read books where the characters aren’t basically human so I enjoyed reading this be-tusked hero. I’ve already mentioned that I wasn’t very interested in Tal, but there are a host of side characters, love interests, villains and more that make up for a very wide cast of individuals. I thought that Larkwood managed to really tackle the idea of moral ambiguity, someone can be incredibly evil in one context and later you’re working alongside them because either there’s a shared goal or a shared enemy. It’s complex storytelling and it doesn’t always work – sometimes you just want a villain to be a villain, but in this instance, I thought it was pretty well balanced.
I wanted a little bit more of a hard magic system, it wasn’t totally clear how the magic worked and when some plot elements hinged around that fact it made me a little confused. That being said, there are some really interesting worldbuilding and cultural elements tied up in this book (which I mention here because so often magic is cultural) which I’d find interesting to see developed in a later book.
I don’t know that this book does anything spectacularly new in comparison to similar books, it’s a fun read but it isn’t going to revolutionise the life of a regular fantasy reader. Do I think it’s worth reading? If you’re the kind of person who can handle a bit of a dense read and you’re interested in the concept I’d say go for it!
My rating: 4 / 5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
The Unspoken Name is out now!
What say you? Will you be reading this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!