Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A.K. Larkwood


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.


The premise of “queer orc assassins and magical intrigue” had me clamoring to read “the Unspoken Name”, but the novel’s offerings left me unmoved, and about a quarter through the story, that initial cheeriness fell from my face, like a person slipping into sleep. Once my mind started to meander and the boredom glazed my eyes and I had to squint the words into focus, every page feeling like a heavy stone lifted with terrible effort and dropped again and again to the ground, I knew I had to call it a DNF (at 67%).

Structurally, The Unspoken Name is not necessarily a total success. The novel is packed to the brim with world-building, much of it is very chewy—with a few random elements winding up being huge red herrings—but little of it is actually convincing. I struggled with the opening sections, where much happens, and little is explained, but I resolved to wait patiently for the relief of having my questions answered.

That relief never really came. The novel pulls itself in too many directions at once. The plot unfolds in fits and starts, and we rocket from one destination to the next, with no time to breathe and fully contemplate a new facet of the world. There’s a substantial amount of logistical hand-waving too, and several time jumps configured so haphazardly throughout that it felt like half of the book’s action took place out of sight. This approach might be expedient for the plot, but it feels too easy, too convenient, leaving gaps too wide to be darned, and making all that has unfolded devoid of a clear rhyme and reason.

This inconsistency is made more complicated by the introduction of new characters, and a sense that the author has bitten off a little more than the story can chew. Though their inclusion eventually makes sense, it feels somewhat… holey in the storytelling department early on.

I struggle to remember any distinctive trait about the characters, like meeting someone before and mutually agreeing to forget about it. Csorwe clearly gasps for more oxygen on the page—more often than not, she comes off as silent and drab, set apart from the violence of her emotions, like the whole story could have happened without her. There is a divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through Csorwe’s life. The before: the Unspoken Name hanging over her, bright and sharp as a sword, aimed at her tearing flesh, and Csorwe readying herself to die in the shrine of her patron god, with nothing of her own. The after: an exiled wizard named Sethennai, and a purpose: to help him find the Reliquary of Pentravesse. Csorwe’s life, like a door, closed, and another opened elsewhere. But this new door seemed to only lead her to a another world where she, once again, hung on by a single filament of purpose that wasn’t her own. And while I hold no particular fondness for Sethennai, his motivations at least are not unexplainable. They are aggravatingly practical—driven by greed, and magnified by a desire to impress his significance upon the world. But Csorwe’s actions never attain the same moral stakes, and the novel’s ethics ultimately feel confused.

The novel’s biggest flaw, however—and what really kicked me out of its pages—is that the flow of the story is freighted with a distant, impassive kind of writing that I really did not care for. Alone, this would not have been a deal-breaking quibble, but it just added to the overall impression that “The Unspoken Name” was lacking. Even the potential of a sapphic romance couldn’t keep the book in my good graces, and if you know me, you’ll know there’s not much I can’t forgive for the promise of sapphic content.

I rarely ever not finish a book. Something about exiting stories, while unfinished, nags at me like an itch that needs to be scratched. But I needn’t worry about “The Unspoken Name”, because the story quickly evaporated, like dew from a morning leaf.

One thought on “Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A.K. Larkwood

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