2022 is already shaping up to be one of the strongest years for SFF books in the decade, and I just read a book that stands out in a room full of giants. The Thousand Eyes, by A.K. Larkwood, is a masterpiece of storytelling that forges a path uniquely its own while also hitting upon a number of my favorite features in my top books. On top of being just an absolutely fabulous read, it is a monument to love and relationships (romantic, familial, and platonic), making it a fabulous pick for Valentine’s Day. This is a book about the lengths that people will go to to protect and cherish the people they care about, the dangers of affection clouding our judgment, and the difficult choice of thinking with your heart vs. thinking with your head.
The Thousand Eyes is the science fantasy sequel to Larkwood’s debut novel The Unspoken Name. Unspoken was my favorite debut of 2020, but it wasn’t a perfect book. It had some pacing issues, but these were vastly offset by the book’s refreshing characters and atmospheric setting. Unspoken revolves around Csorwe, an orc-esk priestess of a god of endings (called The Unspoken) as she goes on a journey of self-discovery and builds several unlikely connections. The book ends with Csorwe at the center of a web of complicated relationships that kept me thinking for months after the last page. The Thousand Eyes picks up some time later after Cworwe has established herself in a new life and is just trying to get by. The story is actually primarily told by all of the side characters from the first book and uses this powerful form of negative space to continue Csorwe’s story using the POV’s of people she has built relationships with. The Thousand Eyes keeps things casual for a little bit, but then violently isolates the entire cast from one another through traumatic upheaval. The rest of the book then catalogs how these individuals slowly come back together and re-establish their connections many years later when they have all fundamentally changed as people.
At its core, The Thousand Eyes is a tragedy about the nature of how change affects relationships. The story, both through its ideas and prose, is beautiful and haunting, and the characters emotionally resonated with me. All of the characters have this wonderful complexity that just begs to be explored. Gaining insight into the heads of the larger cast also does a lot to expand on the events of the first book. This is not a simple story of good vs. evil, the characters are as interesting and nuanced as the people you will find in your own life. In multiple sections of the story, I found myself just holding my wife’s hand as she slept and crying as heartache and love washed over me.
Larkwood’s narrative style is simultaneously compelling and minimalist. She favors atmosphere and vibes over logistics and minutia in her settings. This means that the worldbuilding is “lighter” in a way that feels freeing. It allows Larkwood to pack an absolutely enormous amount of story into a book that is only 400 pages long. Yet, even though her style bursts free of the trappings of dense and overwhelming worldbuilding, Larkwood’s world is one of the most exciting I have ever visited. Her races and cultures, like the titular Thousand Eyes, stand out like shining diamonds in a mine of coal. These giant magical god snakes were the hook that originally piqued my interest in this series and they more than deliver on their divine expectations. There is a myriad of other groups of people that also amaze and astound, and the magic and technology of the world are also great. All of this comes together to form a rich and vast world that is very smart in what it focuses on to keep everything moving at a great pace.
I have no criticisms of The Thousand Eyes, it is the best thing I have read this year so far. It was a particularly fabulous book to read around Valentine’s Day, and a great book to read the rest of the year as well. The book ends with a sense of finality and I can’t figure out if this series is a duology or a larger series. Regardless, whatever Larkwood does next I will be picking up as soon as possible. Her writing is wonderful to enjoy.
Rating: The Thousand Eyes – 10/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.