The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates series) by AK Larkwood was a gift in more ways than one. Big shouty thanks to Devin Madson for the birthday present in the form of the book, and big shouty awesomeness to AK Larkwood for the joy the story brought.
It’s hard to really box The Unspoken Name into definitive genre (apart from speculative, of course). It’s fantasy, yes. Has a shit tonne of horror (no, it doesn’t quite hit grimdark as there’s hope here). It’s part sci-fi, part portal fantasy… part space opera. Sword and sorcery, It’s a touch of everything to create something unique in its unfolding.
The world-building is wonderfully done, just enough to bring the images to incredible (and sometimes terrifying) life in our heads. The focus, however, is on the characters, their relationships, the choices they make and the repercussions of those choice – both good and bad. A lot of this book is based around choices; those we think we make and those we actually do. How relationships are not always what you think they are when you peel back those layers, when you peak behind the curtain. And not for the main character – Corswe – is this the case.
Corswe is… orc-like, although it’s not stated outright, the description of her lends it credence. As does Sethennai (Corswe’s mentor/liberator/kidnapper) is of elven appearance. As is Corswe’s nemesis, Tal – I loved his interactions with Corswe. Tal is crass, snarky, belligerent to a fault, and has very little boundaries… and conscience, really. He’s such a great character, and I’ve no doubt he was a blast to write.
Thing is, we see growth in all of the characters in the book. Sure, not all of it is good, but as we spend most of our time with Corswe, we are her cheer squad. And when she finds what she suddenly understands is love when she meets Shuthmilli. The gentle way this moves from friendship into the more romantic is everything. There’s queer-love in this book and it is wonderfully and beautifully done.
There’s so much to rave about – magic and gods and portals and dead worlds, necromancy, revenants, fight scenes, loyalty, love, sacrifice… it’s… READ THIS BOOK!
I’ve been stupidly lucky that all the books I’ve read this year have been amazing, and AK Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name is no different.
Five out of five stars, plus a bonus star for the pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book… so SIX OUT OF FIVE STARS!