The Maze of the multiverse and our friends from who explore them are back in A.K. Larkwood’s The Thousand Eyes in the second book in The Serpent Gates series. According to the author, this sequel was not planned initially, and this will be the end of the adventures with Csorwe, Shuthmili, and Talasseres. Whether that will ultimately be true, the duology should be appreciated. The two-book series is rare, especially in fantasy, as it tends to lean hard into three or more books if it is not meant to be a one-off. Larkwood, in one sequel, writes both The Two Towers and The Return of the King in one go. Although these books, as the author describes, are fantasy with a bit of space opera, a combination of The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi might be a more apt comparison
The first book, The Unspoken Name, came out at such an unfortunate time, on the cusp of the global pandemic we are still living in as we lived through the collective trauma of March 2020 and beyond. As a result, I remembered loving the first book, but all the nitty-gritty details when I started its sequel were left in the before times. No problem because The Thousand Eyes does a great job summarizing what is essential to remember while telling its distinct story. If you remember the first book, well, there are many details and easter eggs sprinkled throughout that’ll make the two books together feel like a whole connected universe and series. Plus, as I’m seeing a lot more in fantasy books these days, there is a dramatis personae or people you should know before the book begins that is short, sweet, and tell you everything about the characters you need to know.
The first act of the book begins with an adventure. The trio of Csorwe, Tal, and Shuthmili simply try to get paid so they may continue with their lives without Belthandros Sethennai in it, only for them to get sucked back into his shenanigans once again. This time though, it is a new world within the Maze. Once again, it is one dealing with the snake goddess Iriskavaal’s past once as they accidentally awoke one of her soldiers, Cherenthisse, thousand of years after her empire had fallen. Larkwood’s many worlds within the maze of portals feel fresh even if the essential portions of this book remain on one world, the one containing the city of Tlaanthothe. While the first book dealt mainly with the search for an ancient artifact from one of these worlds, one of which was long dead, this one deals with what if someone were to try to bring that mortal world back. A dead world ruled over by the snake goddess of space and time, Iriskavaal, and as the book goes on, this snake goddess isn’t the only one at play.
The characters are easy to fall in love with, not because of their actions or choices but the more minor details. Csorwe says things under her breath when she’s annoyed. Tal is such an ass that people jokingly want to murder him, the two of them arguing like siblings in the middle of dangerous situations, Csorwe and Shuthmili flirting. Even Cherenthisse, who is a cold zealot, is fun to read how much she hates Shuthmili and how much, in turn, Shuthmili needles the soldier to piss her off even more. Talasseres might be the character that stands tall as top-ranked in development, becoming more of an uncle who learns how to care for another person with newcomer Tsereg, a teenage usharu like Csorwe was in the first book on the run when he runs into Tal.
The only slightly disappointing part of the second book is the lack of Csorwe’s point-of-view through most of it for reasons I will not spoil. It makes sense, as The Unspoken Name saw her grow up and find herself no longer seeking self-value and self-worth from the approval of Belthandros. It’s Shuthmili and Talasseres, in Csorwe’s absence, who must do the growing in this book, and they are in the situation of having no other choice but to do so. Much of that growth happens alongside constant pining, Shuthmili for Csorwe, and Tal for Belathandros. Tal finds himself in the reluctant hero role going from famously not caring about anything to caring just enough to make him seem admirable. Still, in reality, many of his actions are done out of fear or spite in an entertaining fashion to read. Shuthmili is the double agent holding on to hope in the evil empire, all the while planning its downfall to return to Csorwe’s side. Both have to learn how to be cleverer than they are.
If this is the end for these characters, and it certainly seems like it, I am happy with how it all turned out in The Thousand Eyes. If you didn’t already love Shuthmili and Talasseres as much as Csorwe in the first book, this one definitely would fill that in for you. The plot is on a grander scale but ultimately boils down to two broken people trying to find who they are in a crisis and the extent they will go to to save their loved ones. The worlds are fun, and the characters are fun to read in them, and what more could you ask from a book?
Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Tor books.
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