Review: The Story Peddler - But Where Did The Cool Magic Go?


title: The Story Peddler
author: Lindsay A. Franklin
pages: 336
format: eARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 1/5
Genre: Fantasy
Topics: Found Family, Rebellion, Royalty
CW: Sexual assault, Racism (see end of review for rant)

The Princess and The Peddler


Tanwen lives in a world where certain people can create visual representations of their stories, which can then be sold as a souvenir. She makes a living going on tours to her local villages with a mentor who is teaching her this storytelling craft. But on one such tour, her story and magic get away from her and forces her to change the story she’s telling, so that it speaks ill of the current cruel and oppressive king. This one act brings her to the attention of the king and rebels alike. Soon the rebels have to help her escape her home one step ahead of the royal guard, there to bring her into custody.

At the same time, the princess Braith navigates her father’s court, trying to prevent the worst of his cruel impulses and avoid the attentions of a power-hungry noble. When she hears about the plight of the accidentally rebellious storyteller, she knows she has to help.

A Wizard Did It


The Story Peddler started out with a really cool magic system, and that’s what initially made me pick it up. But the execution really didn’t live up to the promise. There’s only a handful that are ‘approved’ by the king, desperate to keep control over the country he gained through coup, and there’s an undercurrent of ‘repressing the arts to control the people’ throughout the story. All well and good. But the approved stories are…really boring. Much of the storytelling scenes in the book are given over to describing what Tanwen is doing visually, while the story itself is reduced to a few extremely bland summary lines that I cannot imagine would draw any kind of paying audience. I mean, we’re talking “there’s a king and he’s got a daughter and she’s really pretty and that’s the story of our princess” levels of boring. It’s a pretty big letdown, considering this is supposed to be a central part of the story.

After Tanwen meets up with rebels she finds out that similar magic exists for singing and painting, as well, and that her magic can do more than just make light shows that solidify into souvenirs. Except ‘do more’ turns into ‘do anything’ which is also really boring. Magic (in my opinion) is most interesting when it has to operate within a set of parameters, when the characters have to be creative about implementing their solutions. In this book, the parameter-having part isn’t used creatively, and then the parameters get tossed out the window for ‘eh, just, things happen. Because magic.’ I could not get into it at all.

(There’s also a nonsensical river that apparently goes all the way up a mountain that I spent a long time yelling at, but apparently that’s a pet peeve not a lot of people share with me so.)

Why Is This Here?


The narrative of The Story Peddler is really three or four different stories in one, and as a result the pacing of the book becomes very fractured and each part is rushed. To start with, there’s a dual POV between Tanwen and Braith, so we switch back and forth from outside the palace to inside. I think Bronwyn’s whole story (and character) could have been cut from the book because it added nothing to the overall story. Her entire contribution was “I’d like to help, but woe is me, I cannot.” We didn’t even get anything from seeing the other characters inside the palace, because all of that information was relayed to us through the rebels or the actions of the guards.

But even beyond that, Tanwen’s story goes through three distinct parts. 1) She’s a travelling storyteller with a cruel mentor that she puts up with because she loves her job. She juggles her dream of going to the capital city with the affections of a neighbor boy. 2) She lives with the rebels and learns more about her magic and the world and forms a connection with them. 3) She gets captured and goes to the palace and gets treated like a guest under house arrest more than a prisoner, and then has to fight everyone. Each of these parts could have made a whole book by itself, or maybe part one with either part 2 or 3. All of them together, however, makes them feel terribly rushed. Tanwen forms instant connections with each of the rebels she’s with, because there’s no time for a slower found family story. Tanwen accomplishes nothing in the palace and only randomly learns one thing, because there’s only a couple chapters before we have to rush to a big battle of a climax. The first part is actually pretty well paced, but I think the author should have split the book instead of trying to force so much plot into one story.

Here There Be Spoilers


Okay, so now I need to talk about the book’s ending. Because this where it went from ‘eh’ to ‘no.’ Throughout the book there’s talk of the need to get rid of the evil king, how the evil king is illegitimate, etc. BUT there’s also one character constantly talking about other forms of government and about anarchy and democracy and such. So at the very end, when the evil king is defeated and the rag-tag group of like six people who somehow managed to stage a whole coup are discussing how to proceed?

They decide that radical change is too hard and they’re keeping the monarchy. And also that Braith  should be queen because ‘maybe absolute monarchy isn’t so bad if it’s got the right person at the top.’ LIKE.

WHAT.

NO.

That’s just such a terrible take that I don’t think I can say more than ‘WHAT NO’ to it. On top of being freaking whiplash from what the book appeared to be setting up. Also on top of the fact that Braith has shown no leadership abilities besides ‘not freaking evil.’

Also on top of the fact that this coup makes no sense and that it completely ignores anyone who isn’t The King. Local governments? Lol, what’s that. Regional leaders like other nobles or governors? Haha, don’t exist, there is only king. OTHER COUNTRIES THAT THE EVIL KING INVADED AND TOOK OVER? Literally not even brought up.

It’s such a bizarre ending to essentially say “yeah, let’s just keep the system that the evil king set up and change absolutely nothing and let everything continue on into perpetuity. Yay, victory!” M’kay?

And while we're talking about the ending, ye gads, there was a scene that just about made me throw my ereader. Throughout the book there's a group of black people from a country that was an ally of the protagonist's country, but then Evil King took them over. Throughout the book all these characters are either servants or rebels, and there's a very racist Story that's told multiple times by Tanwyn. Yeah, it's obviously supposed to be a lie from the king to justify the invasion/prove his evilness, but...not handled well. And then.

AND THEN.

Braith has a lady's maid who is black, Cameria. In the final pages, they have a conversation in which Braith apologizes for being part of her father's government and Cameria basically says "oh no, you shouldn't do that, you tried to stand up to him. Not like me, no, I should be so terribly sorry because..." Literally because she always knew the Evil King was evil, participated in a rebellion early on, and after surviving the brutal beatdown that happened decided to keep her head down and not get killed. That. That's why Cameria thinks she's terrible, whereas Braith is just So Nice for occasionally "but that's mean, maybe be a little less mean" to her dad.

Between "you're so brave for occasionally pointing out mean things" and "nah, we're going to give you power over the whole country because you're such an awesome leader" for a character that had no impact on the story at all, Braith is, like, prototypical White Feminism Savior. Throw in the strong Christian overtones that the magic/religion has in this book and, yeah, I was very close to throwing things. If it hadn't waited until the end to get that overt, this would have been a DNF.

My thoughts overall


A cool premise, but a weak execution that just got weirder as the book went on. The book’s unwillingness to capitalize on its own unique opportunities turned it not only dull but frustrating to boot.

Will I read this author again? Nope.
Will I continue this series? It's part of a series, but reads like a standalone and there's nothing to make me eager for a continuation.

More Reviews for The Story Peddler


The Story Sanctuary - Review: The Story Peddler
Backing Books - The Story Peddler
The Page Dreamer - 10 Thoughts on The Story Peddler

Note: I received this copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  

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