Reading fantasy novels this past year has been a necessity for me. I loved fantasy as a kid and teenager, and then got to university and foolishly began to sneer at the magic of genre fiction. Now, I’m very particular about the fantasy I read so if you like fantasy novels with well-developed world building, multifaceted women protagonists & LGBTQIA+ characters, and a healthy balance between unique adventures, queer romances, assassins, frenemies, and quests for magic objects, The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood may be for you!
The Unspoken Name primarily focuses on Csorwe: a young Orc (plot twist already as orcs are often written as nameless killing-machines) who was raised as a sacrificial priestess, to be made as an offering to their god, The Unspoken. On the day Csorwe goes to the mountain that no one returns from to be sacrificed, a wizard in town named Sethennai offers her a way out – leave and work for him, or stay and die. Csorwe is devout to her god and torn, but she chooses to live and defy her people, and goes across the world with Sethennai, becoming a skilled warrior and assassin.
The character development of Csorwe is a surprising slow-burn. She begins as a teenager, and you can really see her mature. Surprisingly, Csorwe is very diplomatic and calm for a main character, and she doesn’t fall into the Chosen One trope you see so often. You see her growth and how hard she works to become more skilled.
The frenemy relationships between many of the characters such as Csorwe and the bratty and flirty Tal and Oranna, the runaway Orc librarian, and wizard Sethennai are also messy but somehow still entertaining. If you love a slow burn romance, you’d better buckle up for this one. Perhaps a little too slow at times, but worth it in my opinion!
It was also really interesting to see the world Larkwood created had elements of sci-fi as well, and the mix of cities with gigantic gates, deserts, seas, rolling hills, and mountains are effortlessly written and lush.
This book isn’t super ultra-violent but as the word “assassin” is printed on the cover, some blood is definitely shed. I would recommend this book for fans of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and The Poppy War series by R. F. Kuang (all books/series I have also loved, too). The Unspoken Name is the first in a series, and I cannot wait for the next one!
— Jackie M.