The Unspoken Name was one of my most anticipated reads this month. Sadly, while I can appreciate why other people enjoyed it, and it definitely had good points, I found the focus shifts jarring. I DNF’d it halfway through.
The beginning of The Unspoken Name is captivating. It opens on a young girl, Csorwe, who has been raised in a religious house as a human sacrifice. We explore her feelings as the day of her death draws near, a death she’s been raised to expect and even believe in, and the intricacies of the rituals surrounding the culture. It’s beautifully written and utterly fascinating. Poignant without being sentimental. And slightly disturbing.
Then enters Sethennai, who adds a layer of mystery and intrigue. I was completely hooked as the story moved on and into an even more complex and beautifully imagined world. The worldbuilding in the beginning, the development of the characters, the mystery, is truly captivating. I was blown away. At the beginning of The Unspoken Name, it is difficult to believe this is a first novel, because it is just so accomplished.
And then, halfway through, the story changed completely. It still follows Csorwe, but the original focus on her relationship with her mentor, Sethennai, is gone. Now, she’s hunting for a relic – a relic which started off as an interesting point of sub-plot. So, it was fantasy, now it’s now a sort of fantasy Indiana Jones adventure. Then, suddenly, the relic has been found and its now a romance. This might have been acceptable if the three story phases were tied in together, or if it didn’t seem to just happen suddenly. I found all the chopping and changing too jarring. It was like the author couldn’t make up her mind which book to write.
Moreover, the character of Csorwe has changed so much by the time she’s doing her Indiana Jones thing as to be almost unrecognisable. It’s not just that she’s suddenly older. She’s like a different person: more confident, self-assured, and awkward rather than charmingly naive. Her touching loyalty to her mentor and the complex feelings about her past seem to have vanished completely.
The fine details of the worldbuilding, which is what made the beginning so special, also disappeared and plot holes started to appear. Why does the relic suddenly appear? How did they find it? We just jump to it and are expected to believe it was impossible to find, but has now been easily located. No real explanation. The Qarsazh are presented as prudish, prejudiced, overly religious, and highly structured. Yet, when one of the main characters starts openly and inappropriately flirting with one of them, this is completely accepted. They’re unfriendly one minute and relying on others like they’ve known them all their lives the next. We’re suddenly in a story which makes no sense and where nothing properly explained.
And then there’s Tal. Who is annoying as fuck. In the middle of a tense moment, he starts shouting, or mocking everything everyone says, or flirting with someone, and no one seems to notice he’s being inappropriate. He behaves appallingly in the beginning, is clearly an untrustworthy character, and yet suddenly becomes an ally. There’s no justice enacted or character growth to justify his inclusion as a protagonist. He’s just a distraction – and so annoying he actually set my teeth on edge.
Honestly, the book is well written. The world building is phenomenal. The characters and story are fascinating. The pacing itself is a work of art. But, for me, The Unspoken Name was confused. It was three books, sandwiched together into one. The plot holes and the characters made no sense by the middle. While there were things I liked about this book, ultimately I just couldn’t get passed the issues.
I really wanted to like this one, but it was a DNF for me.