Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A.K. Larkwood
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 11, 2020
Shelves: Female-fronted, Female-authored
Much like Queen of the Conquered back in December, I feel like I’m reading against the grain of popular opinion on The Unspoken Name. I didn’t hate it, not by any stretch, but I also didn’t love it either. Instead, I came away from it sort of . . . well, feeling like it was simply a book that passed through my eyes, but which left no impression on my thoughts or my emotions.
I know I’m going to take flak for this, and I apologize in advance to those who are offended, but A.K. Larkwood’s debut reminded me of what I remember of YA novels back in my school days . . . or perhaps a better comparison would be to some of the lesser Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance books of that same era. Bland, safe, and inconsequential. It had some entertainment value, and offered some decent escapism, but I never once felt any sort of dramatic tension, and I failed to form an emotional connection with any of the characters.
Part of the problem for me was the narrative style. This is very much a book that tells rather than shows, a technique that fails to engage me every time. While it does get better as the book progresses, it’s so heavy on the telling at the start that I very nearly abandoned it. It’s also a book that’s largely episodic, jumping from ‘cool’ scene to ‘big’ scene, without any of the connective planning, travelling, training, or general downtime where characters are so often developed through their ordinary struggles. Another issue for me was the simplicity and superficiality of the overall word-building. There’s this cool sort of universe of gates and gods, but no cohesive map to explain how and why it all fits together.
Then there’s the issue of race, and I honestly don’t know whether that’s a failing, or whether it’s part of some deliberate statement to be applauded. This is a story about Orcs. We’re told that. We’re regularly reminded they have tusks. We’re even reminded about skin color from time to time. But, otherwise, they’re just generic humans, with nothing notable or cultural to define them or set them apart. Finally, sticking with the characters, there’s the romance aspect, which I was initially excited about, but which had me rolling my eyes at how, well, immature it was.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I skimmed most of the last 100 pages, and stopped paying close attention long before that. I did finish it, which says something, but ask me about it in a month, or even a week, and I doubt I’ll remember much beyond character names. I likely could have dealt with the narrative style if the characters had been stronger, or overlooked with the flatness of the characters if the narrative had been stronger but, for me, The Unspoken Name was less unspoken and more unremembered.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.