The Thousand Eyes by A.K. Larkwood
In The Thousand Eyes (2022), A.K. Larkwood keeps all the good parts of The Unspoken Name — the first book in THE SERPENT GATES series — brings back most of the characters, and adds a few new ones into the mix while improving on some of the prior novel’s weaker areas, crafting a successful sequel that avoids the dreaded “second book” syndrome. Some inevitable spoilers for The Unspoken Name ahead.
At the start, Shuthmilli, Csorwe, and Tal are working to make themselves some money since the latter two left the services of immortal wizard Belthandros, but events quickly conspire to embroil them in major events, leading to some odd and sometimes shifting alliances (such as Tal and Oranna, for one), painful separations, reunions both pleasant and not, newfound responsibilities, the return of ancient powers, skywhale hunts, sacrifices, quests, attempted coups, magical duels, and sundry other complications.
While I often found myself wanting a stronger sense of world, place, and society in the first book, here things both open up a bit and also dive down into more details, giving Larkwood more opportunities to show off their creativity, as with the aforementioned skywhale (or “wood-whale,” as it’s called).
The characters are well drawn individually and in their relationships, and are given engrossing arcs that allow for a lot of personal development and change (especially true of Tal). I particularly liked how we view them somewhat differently both from the start of this book as well as from the events of book one as well. Larkwood also shows a deft hand at crafting strong antagonists, ones much more compelling and engaging than the dull “I’m bad because I’m evil” or over-the-top mustache-twirling sorts. I also liked how Larkwood offers up several echoes of character types and situations, creating a nice sense of unity and resonance.
As with the first book, the plot is somewhat slow-moving (albeit with a number of action scenes), but I think the pacing is improved here, smoother and more balanced, and Larkwood also successfully pulls off a lengthy time jump. While The Thousand Eyes ends with a nice sense of resolution, there’s obviously room for more stories to tell either with these characters (well, some of them) or in this universe, and I’d look forward to reading them.