The Storyspinner -- Becky Wallace
Book 1 of The Keepers' Chronicles
2015 Release -- Margaret K. McElderry Books
Young Adult, High Fantasy, Adventure, Magic, Romance
The Storyspinner was certainly an exciting and adventurous, well-crafted high fantasy. While the beginning of the story was a little slow, with a world that was slightly difficult to grasp, it managed to pick up in story progression pretty quickly. I found myself unable to put the book down once things started happening.
The entire book, though, felt like it had several plot lines that ultimately converged into one; however, there were really only few main conflicts going on in The Storyspinner. I’d say that it was the multiple characters that the narration follows that made the story feel a little scattered; this was a rare YA written in third person POV, with multiple POVs that flipped back and forth from character to character in short spurts.
Johanna von Arlo is a Performer along with her family and has just turned sixteen recently. While her parents and her brothers are natural talents at acrobatics, her father has specifically trained Johanna to be a Storyspinner, a Performer who can tell tales with vivid imagery and sing songs that feel like magic. On one fateful day, Johanna’s father falls to his death during one of his acrobatic acts. The entire von Arlo family is expelled from the Performer’s troupe and now must survive by other means.
On the other side of Donovan’s Wall, a high guard named Jacarè notes that the guardian’s mirror has frozen for much too long. This, to him, is an indication that something has gone wrong in Santarem, that the guardian of Santarem’s long lost princess is in trouble. A frozen mirror could be disastrous as it affects the stability of Donovan’s Wall; if the wall fails, there could be another ugly war between the humans of Santarem and the near immortal, magic-wielding Keepers living in Olinda. Because the Mage Council could take years to decide on a plan of action, Jacarè takes things into his own hands, forming a small group of four warriors to find and retrieve the lost Princess of Santarem before something fatal befalls her.
In the small dukedom of Santiago, Rafael Santiago DeSilva is preparing to take on the position of Duke of Santiago as his name day draws near. His father had past away not long ago and now it is up to him to take responsibility over the lands and people of Santiago. But there are others of the broken kingdom who would see him fail if it meant getting themselves crowned as the next ruler of Santarem. After all, Santiago has always been unwaveringly loyal to the royal family who perished when the Duke Inimigo of Maringo decided to covet the royal throne.
After a grueling battle and war, the five states of Santarem now remain in a fragile stalemate and treaty to keep the peace. But this peace is starting to crumble because Duke Inimigo still has ambitions for the Santarem crown.
At the same time, young girls are being murdered, all of the age of sixteen, all bearing a striking resemblance to the late Queen Christiana... and it turns out that Johanna also has the same dark hair and gray eyes as the murdered girls.
The plot of The Storyspinner was not hard to grasp and was enjoyable in its own right. It was actually the world-building and story set-up that seemed a little confusing. And while I appreciate that there were no massive infodumps at the beginning of the story, a little bit more info about the Keepers of Olinda and the common people of Santarem would have been helpful.
I was immensely confused about the Keepers, about Jacarè and Tex, Pira and Leão. There was mention that Jacarè had been a Keeper and had been guarding and monitoring Donovan’s Wall for centuries. And yet he presents as a young man--which is then explained away as a magic rebound attack gone wrong. But then he has a half-sister, Pira, whom is described as a youngling at twenty-one years old.
The disconnect was a little hard for me to... connect until it was mentioned offhandedly that Keepers in Olinda had much longer lifespans than the common human living in Santarem. A lot of other things that confused me about the plot, the history, and the characters of this story were carefully laid out and explained as the book progressed, so a lot of my questions DID end up being answered properly.
And yet my comprehension of the world building in The Storyspinner was still a little shaky.
Otherwise, the rest of the story was quite enjoyable. The characters were well-developed, each with their own unique characterizations and likability. Johanna was resourceful, witty, and feisty when she needed to be, though I wished she would take threats to her life more seriously. It took some time for Rafi to grow on me, and even by the end of the book he still didn’t stand out much, but became quite likable. Dom was an intriguing boy all on his own, and Johanna’s younger brothers were a delight.
The Keepers who took upon the mission to find the Princess of Santarem were an interesting group of traveling companions. And while at first I had my reserves about them, their camaraderie and the adventure of their mission made their part of the story entertaining. I had more interest in Johanna’s part of the story development, but Jacarè, Pira, Leão, and Tex didn’t disappoint either.
As for our resident villains (Duke Inimigo, Vibora, etc.)… they seemed slightly one-dimensional if only because I can’t pinpoint what drives them to be terrible people aside from the standard greed for power. Or just the fact that they’re just evil. I’d like a little more back story on them, because otherwise, they’re just carbon-copy, power-hungry bad guys and we all know where the story will end up going from there. Nothing about either Duke Inimigo or Vibora really stands out.
Though I admit, I DID like that the book focused more on our heroes than the villains. I’m hard to please.
Final Thoughts: I’m not a fan of cliff-hangers and this book definitely stopped at a point where very little has concluded. The ending left a lot to be desired and makes you feel as if there should be a couple more chapters to round out Book #1’s ending.
The entire book of The Storyspinner leading up to the last moments of the book were exciting, though: secrets are revealed, plot lines come together, certain resolutions seem at hand, and lots of things happen. And yet, the thing that the book really lacked was a sense of anticipation and surprise--the secrets revealed were predictable, I’m sure I know what’s going to happen in the next book (or two). I was never caught off-guard by any new twists and new exactly how things would come to a close--though I hadn’t expected a cliff-hanger.
Really, this entire book was 400 pages worth of story set-up even after all the initial story set-up happened. The story itself is original, but the concept behind this high fantasy adventure feels like it’s been done before.
Fortunately, The Storyspinner still has a cast of great characters going for it as well as good writing. It leaves us with a sense of “What’s going to happen next?” enough for me to want to read the next book when it comes out.
Character interactions are great and the main romance was developed very well between Johanna and Rafael--a classic Bickering Romance that had its sweet and cute moments, even if I didn’t really find everything they said to each other entirely witty. Nonetheless, they make a great combination and I look forward to seeing their newly developed relationship develop even further in the next book.
There was even a side romance that was sort of a non-romance-romance type of relationship between Pira and Leão... though it came off both cute and confusing.