The Storyspinner: Review
I feel I was a little led on by this one...and I should have known better. Never judge a book by its cover is so cliche, but this one had every warning splashed right in the cover design. Since The Hunger Games, publishers seem to be jumping all over any chance to boast a heroine with a bow. Can the heroine of this tale shoot a bow? Yes. Is it in any way the highlight of her talent? No. For some reason this was one of the main annoyances I had with The Storyspinner, the heart of the issue being this book is simply pretending to be something it's not.
Johanna von Arlo's background is what initially sparked my interest, raised in a family of traveling acrobats. What she would like more than anything in the world is to follow in her father's footsteps and become a Storyspinner, able to enthrall an audience with her voice and story teller's tricks.
As a book lover and writer, this is a heroine that should speak to my core. Sadly, she just annoyed me. It's hard to put a finger on exactly what I had wrong with this book, as in theory it sounds like everything you'd want in a tale; a lost princess, a magical race of beings set out to kidnap/rescue/protect her, and the hate-turned-love affair with a young handsome lord.
But I can't shake the image of a child playing dress-up in adult make-up and heels. There was so much potential with this story, and while written well enough, it lacked simple creativity in the foundation of even the names. A traveling group of performers is a fantastic backdrop, one I've loved in several stories (The Name of the Wind; Kushiel's Dart), but here the whole idea fell flat starting with the fact they were called...wait for it...Performers. Hmm. A little underwhelming, but all right it's just a name. So I thought until pretty much every other would-be interesting aspect and character of this book received equally underwhelming naming and descriptions. So much of this story just felt plain lazy, as if the author had the great ideas but lacked the initiative to put in the work to maximize the potential.
That, for me, was the biggest disappointment.
Johanna's dream of becoming a Storyspinner hits a bump after her father suffers a fatal accident during a show and her family is thrown out of the troupe for fear of spreading the "ill-luck". An attempt to hunt and provide ever dwindling food for her remaining three brothers and alcoholic, grieving mother puts her in the hands of Rafael, the soon to be lord of the land in which they currently reside. After a ridiculous turn of events in which "Rafi" *cringe* is publicly punished for assaulting a woman, Johanna ends up in his employ as a Storyspinner for nobles at his estate. The other thing getting in her way is a pesky little bit of her history stating that she is not the daughter of acrobats, but rather the believed-to-be-dead princess and heir to the kingdom.
It's easy to spot the romance to come as soon as Rafael (I just can't keep using that nickname) discovers he's attacked a female and not a male poacher, no matter the efforts the author goes through to describe how much they *hate* each other. (sure) This didn't bother me, as it's a staple in this genre. No, what bothered me was for all the attempts to focus the story on anything besides this romance, it was obvious that it was really the only plot point the author, editors, publisher...anyone really...cared about.
The world-building was decent enough, and I suppose Jacare was a favorite character. *impartial shrug* As one of the mythical Keepers, there is an interesting history to Jacare and his people's race, especially the fact that they are more than a hundred years old in most cases. But this aspect, too, was mashed in with the awkward, thrown-in "extra" romance between Pira and Leao, something that felt added in because...well, why not I guess. (Um, because it added nothing to the story and furthered the characters' development in no way).
I tried to like The Storyspinner, to become more invested in the characters. But when an attack occurred on Johanna's family and I barely felt anything for the losses, I knew it wasn't to be. I could not get deeper into this story; could not shake the feeling that everything was...fake. For all the hints at adult themes such as rape, murder, and adult relationships, the book was incredibly tame. Thus my imagery of a child playing dress-up, prancing around in adult costumes, but blushing in embarrassment should they be caught messing with things far beyond their years.
Review with any spoilers over here on Goodreads.