The Storyspinner is set sixteen years after the king of Santarem has been murdered and the kingdom parcelled out to the dukes, and three hundred years since the magical Keepers withdrew to the north-east and sealed themselves off to prevent the more ill-minded amongst them from using their powers to enslave the people of Santarem. Now that barrier is crumbling, requiring the heir to the throne of Santarem to preserve it, while there is growing discord amongst the nobility of Santarem, discord that could be mitigated by uniting once more under a monarch. Inextricably linked to all of this is Johanna Von Arlo, a teenage girl raised amongst the Performers and taught the craft of storyspinning.
The Keepers seek the heir to the throne of Santarem to save the world, bring peace and prosperity, you know the drill. But there’s a twist. The Keepers seeking out the young princess are doing so to protect the people of Santarem from their fellow Keepers. Moreover, Wallace ensures we see this heir as a whole person. To the Keepers, she may be the tool that protects Santarem, but to us, she’s Johanna, the storyspinner, trying to keep her family from crumbling in the wake of her father’s death. The interweaving of these two storylines is what makes this book so enjoyable. Without Johanna’s storyline, we’d lack the specific human cost of the wider events, but without the background provided by the Keepers we wouldn’t appreciate those wider events that are affecting Johanna, a teenage girl who wants nothing more than to be a Performer.
This brings me to another thing I loved about this book: Johanna is a storyteller. The boundary between fact and fiction is toyed with in this book, with some of Johanna’s tales having more basis in fact than she gives them credit for. Moreover, the art of storyspinning is in many ways a visual performance, with magical powders creating images to accompany the words spoken by the storyspinner, but those words must also be spoken in a way that arrests the audience and draws them into the tale. Johanna is skilled at doing just that, and she even uses her skills to distract enemies to allow her companion to sneak up on them. One of my favourite things is when characters with artistic skills put them to use in life-threatening circumstances, from Lúthien’s singing to save Beren from Sauron to Clary’s rune-drawing to fight Valentine.
The world-building in this novel is astounding. Linguistically, it would seem Santarem is roughly cognate with Europe: Johanna Von Arlo hails from a place north of Santiago, home of Rafael DeSilva. Many aspects of Santarem culture also mirror pre-industrial Europe; Johanna’s occupation itself is clearly based on mediaeval bards and minstrels. Yet this is set on a continent with mango and papaya trees and mangroves filled with caimans. The result is a rich and unique world that I cannot wait to spend more time in.
The Storyspinner is a thrilling read, weaving action and politics alongside myth and romance, and should definitely be on your TBR this spring.
Nicola is an English Lit graduate with a passion for YA fantasy and books by and about women, neither of which she got nearly enough of during her degree. Her favourite things are books, cats and tea, preferably all at once. You can follow her on her blog and on Twitter.