Does she owe her life to those planning her death . . .
Csorwe was raised by a death cult steeped in old magic. And on her fourteenth birthday, she’ll be sacrificed to their god. But as she waits for the end, she’s offered a chance to escape her fate. A sorcerer wants her as his assistant, sword-hand and assassin. As this involves her not dying that day, she accepts.
Csorwe spends years living on a knife-edge, helping her master hunt an artefact which could change many worlds. Then comes the day she’s been dreading. They encounter Csorwe’s old cult – seeking the same magical object – and Csorwe is forced to reckon with her past. She also meets Shuthmili, the war-mage who’ll change her future.
If she’s to survive, Csorwe must evade her enemies, claim the artefact and stop the death cult once and for all. As she plunges from one danger to the next, the hunt is on . . .
tw: religious human sacrifice, suicidal thoughts, blood, death, neglectful parental guardian.
The three of them sat and watched, astronomers waiting for the falling stars that would waste the world.
We’re introduced to a world where a civilization of snake people and their god is something of the past, gods slumber and brides sacrifice themselves, worlds die in ice and ash, enemies vie for knowledge, gay prideful wizards hire henchmen, STEM girls are powerful wizards used as weapons, and ships travel through portals to other worlds.
The Unspoken Name follows a cast of characters. Larkwood uses third person omniscient to tell the story of the characters and the world in which they live. The world is diverse and not based on the racism of our own. There are people with brown skin, like Sethennai, Tal and Shuthmili. The time frame of the novel spans about 7 years, with a time jump of 5 years. The story is in told in four parts. It starts with Csorwe, at 14 years old she is an orc priestess and bride to the Unspoken god of the Oshaar. Csorwe’s a fucking orc so she’s got grey skin and tusks. An asshole wizard convinces her to be his henchman, assassinating and collecting an important object and whatnot.
Csorwe is insecure from her service in the Oshaar church. She attains and learns she’s got this thing called a personality, separate from her past. Hired by Sethennai, Csorwe collects what he wants; whatever shit he’s into. The author does not do assassins as you may expect. Her assassin is more of what I would call subtle than explicit. Csorwe, the assassin, is more tactful and plotting, sneaking into people’s private circles, hopefully unrecognized. Don’t expect the traditional swords and daggers type of assassin. She’s more of a dry humor gay girl and obsessing over swords.
Sethennai takes on another henchman, Talasseres (Tal) Charossa. At their meeting, he’s an adult. His relationship with Sethennai is different than Csorswe’s. Where her relationship is toxic daddy/daughter dynamic, his relationship is gay dude has a crush on older fancy gentle-wizard.
Tal is like her asshole brother/co-worker. Just a really fucked up dynamic all around.
“Oh, sure, I should’ve remembered you’re a fucking joke,” said Csorwe. “You’re a joke,” said Tal, for form’s sake.
They act like brother and sister. Reminds me of my own relationship to my brother, but with less anger and no murderous shenanigans.
Tal is one of the most interesting characters in the book. If you’re going to read this book for anyone, it should be him. If you like complex and unlikeable but fascinating characters he’s it.
Tal’s favourite thing to do was pick a noisy, pointless fight at the worst possible moment.
Tal is a loveable asshole, sprinkled with more asshole than loveable. He’s prideful, arrogant, thinks up a good one liner beforehand, and always expects to win the game. He’s got a corny sense of humor, deliberately written to sound like he tries way too hard to be funny. All of that has to do with his intense insecurities and fear of failure.
“Thank fuck,” said Tal. “Count yourself lucky you didn’t have to sit through any more of her. The way she stares. And Sethennai’s spent the whole time buttering her up. Oh, tell me about your vineyards, tell me about your summerhouse. Makes me sick.”
Sethennai is asshole daddy to Csorwe. Like most toxic daddies, they’re cold and ask the world of their children. Larkwood doesn’t shy away from the fact that Sethennai is not a good dude. Just a giant arrogant dick wizard.
He never lost his temper, which made it so easy to believe that he was being reasonable and you were a petulant child.
He’s not some lovable but misunderstood daddy. He’s complex in the way you would find an asshole side character interesting: dynamic, strange, enthralling, and raw. The author’s talent is in her characterization and dialogue. That’s what makes this book good.
Mages, or wizards, are tied to the gods and therefore to religion. Power is through the living gods who use people’s bodies as vessels. Magic is different and based on the god and knowledge. The author uses a naturalistic and realistic approach to how magic works:
“Do you have any idea how much study, how much negotiation, how much prayer and sacrifice . . . I have dominion over the hungering dead, over the whole kingdom of death. I am an extremely accomplished necromancer. I cannot make you invisible.”
Everything about magic is sacrifice. Nothing is given without a price.
On a mission, Tal and Csorwe travel to a world called Qarsazh. Csorwe first meets Shuthmili, a powerful wizard and adept in service to her people’s religion. The author suggests there’s a difference between Sethennai’s magic and Shuthmili’s magic.
Tal was used to Tlaanthothei magic. Sethennai’s magic. Clean, economical, controlled. Whatever they had seen last night, it had been none of those things.
Authorities of the church and their teachings ask young girls to sacrifice themselves for their god. The price of power is girls sacrificing their lives, personality, for their god. The author fuses ancient aesthetics with the modern to show us the way modern day people and their religions are not so different. Violence, brutality, the every day run of the mill mayhem of the world is not just in the past but in the present. Are we not just as violent as those in the past?
The church teaches these girls to be silent to authority. Are modern day girls silenced more or less in our own world? Does the fact that we have all this technology mean we’re more advanced or does it mean we have more power to silence people? Csorwe and complex female characters are all fighting on behalf or against these large authoritative systems of power.
She thought of the girls who had come here before her, and brought with them the offering of blood for the Unspoken One. If they were so chosen, so perfectly selected for this honour, perhaps they had known the same uncertainty, here in the silence of the halls under the hill.
Is this possibly referencing the way girls often experience sexual violence in religious spaces in our own world? I also suspect the author is saying something about f/f relationships and the history of churches suppressing gay relationships within nun convents. By the way, historians know nuns would write love letters to other nuns. Given Christian history’s suppression and influence of gay people’s relationships as sinful, I wonder if the author is doing something with how Csorwe is seen to be a corruption to Shuthmili.
If you like incredibly raw characters, a diverse cast of characters, likeable and unlikeable, ass wizards and loveable gays, this is full of all that. Criticisms need to be acknowledged about this book. I wish it had been better but it’s still an interesting read.
Thank you to Tor for an advanced reader’s copy in exhange for an honest review. All quotes were checked against a published copy.