This book has been on my to-read list since it came out in 2018. The cover caught my eye, and the premise was even more intriguing. Weavers use stories to make magic? Their stories manifest into objects the creators can then sell? We’ll get deeper into the story in a moment, but I can tell you when I finally got around to ordering this and reading it, I was glad I did.
Spiritual Content: There are goddesses and a Creator in the mythos of this series as well as a church that exerts its power in politics. Franklin explores this trope in a positive way that believers in Christ will likely enjoy.
Violence: Scenes depict blood and some violence one would expect in a PG-13 movie.
Language/Crude Humor: None
Sexual Content: Nothing overt, but an antagonist does threaten to “force himself” on a princess. The reader is left to infer what that means, but the lack of dark or sexual themes in the book seems to imply the character doesn’t intend to rape her.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Other Negative Themes: Racism in the elites of society that is explored in a negative light by the author.
Positive Content: Be truthful no matter the cost; without mercy the world is a dark place; and the importance of friends and family.
Tanwen En-Yestin has grown up in a small farm town living a relatively simple life, save that she lost her family at a young age and now lives alone as a teenager. She’s a lively young girl who has a hard time balancing fitting into social norms expected of her and being truthful to herself. This creates an interesting dynamic between her and a tyrannical government.
Tanwen peddles stories, but not in the way you would expect. She travels to various cities, stands in their town squares, and tells her stories. But Tanwen is a Weaver. When she tells her stories, ribbons of light dance around the crowd and move to the words she speaks to the public. Women clap and children laugh as the stories play out before them. When Tanwen finishes the story, the ribbons of light coalesce and form a crystal trinket in a symbol that represents the story. She can then sell the “story” to someone in the crowd – hence the name Story Peddler.
The problem with this is that an oppressive king has a list of “crown stories” that are approved for telling…only most of them aren’t true. As Tanwen tells one of these stories, her truthful nature comes out and the dark truth weaves itself into the story. When the king finds out, he provides a hefty kill-or-capture bounty the starving tenants of Tir would love to get their hands on.
What I find so great about Tanwen is it takes great effort for her to tell the story the way the king demands. She constantly finds herself struggling to keep herself out of the king’s crosshairs by telling the story the way she is supposed to. The stories range from religious ones mandated by high church officials about the goddesses, tales of the king’s honorable victories, and other falsities. What I love is the truth always finds its way into these stories and suppressing it severely harms the storyteller. Even to the point of diseasing them.
The most prominent and overt theme in the book is that art has a way of revealing truth. This profound truth is illustrated perfectly in this book. Just as we connect with stories in the real world because they highlight something we know but can’t quite articulate, the stories told by weavers in The Story Peddler reveal a truth that lies beneath the surface in Tir. Side note: I also believe this is why Jesus used stories to teach us lessons in the New Testament and why the Bible is the story of God not just an instruction manual.
Tanwen’s story intertwines with Princess Braith who is constantly at odds with her father. King Gareth’s appetite for power, fear, and respect leads him to merciless executions and taxation of his people. Fortunately, Tir’s laws allow Princess Braith to exercise mercy in some instances, so she risks a lot to intercede several times on her peoples’ behalves.
The best part of Braith’s story (oddly because it is the worst for her), is that we get a first-person look at the struggles of a woman receiving excessive unwanted attention from a man. Now I’m not talking about honest flirting or courting but when someone can’t take a hint or take no for an answer. There’s a clear difference between simply being romantic and sticking around when you aren’t wanted.
A noble named Sir Dray consistently finds her alone in the hallway and uses his position or information he has against her to let her know he can have anything from her whenever he wants. We get to feel the emotions Braith feels, and you sincerely just want to creep to back off! I think this is a great way of using art to reveal the truth. Many of us don’t truly get to see the other side of this to know how uncomfortable and annoying this can be, myself included.
The part of The Story Peddler that I find the most interesting is its mythos, and this is where I think Christian fantasy authors can shine but often fail to. Franklin took full advantage of this. Whereas having false gods can be a reason some Christians can turn away from fiction, the religion in Tir is actually faith-affirming.
Elites in the church that is in bed with the crown pushes a story of goddesses creating and maintaining the world. Many of Tir’s inhabitants buy the narrative without question, while some find it hard to believe. There are stories of a Creator that are condemned by the church, and very few of Tir’s inhabitants are aware of them. Franklin does a great job of exploring this with some of the characters, including an overt prayer by Tanwen to the Creator that plays an important part in the story. I find myself excited every time the mythos of Tir comes up, and it is a major component of driving me forward with the story. It is brilliantly done.
I do think Franklin tries to explore too many themes and leaves some wanting in The Story Peddler, though. We see the necessity of truth, what happens to us when we suppress the truth to fit the narrative, creepy guys not taking the hint, the importance of friendships and family, what not growing up with a family can do to you, false gods perpetuated by the elites versus real faith, and racism. Most of these themes are explored well, but I wasn’t satisfied with the theme of racism. I felt there wasn’t enough space in the novel to adequately engage the topic, so it felt sprinkled on versus interwoven into the world.
The nobles of the capital city Urian have some unfavorable words for their neighbors to the south that the present king dominated in conquest. They also happen to have dark skin. Perhaps this theme will flesh out more in the next two books, but I do not feel it was sufficiently explored in The Story Peddler.
Franklin does a great job of making the world feel real, too. Journal entries, words specific to locations such as fluffhoppers for rabbits, and additions to last names to signify marriage, motherhood, and being unwed all distinguished Tir from our world. I very much enjoyed the classic fantasy feel to Tir, too. With an intricate magic system such as weaving, I think it was the right call to not make the world too complex.
+Great pacing, story, and use of mystery to keep you interested +Relatable characters +Intriguing magic system +Great use of mythos and lore
-Too many themes to explore fully -Description of characters comes far too many chapters in
The Bottom Line
The Story Peddler is a great read. The pacing is good, the characters have depth, and the world has a rich history. You never feel like the story is drudging on, and there is always something drawing you to the next page or chapter. Most importantly, I cared about everything going on. All of the promises made by Franklin in the beginning of the book are tied off nicely in the end. There are even some surprises that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. There’s enough left over at the end to make you excited about the next book. The Story Peddler definitely breaks the rule "you can’t judge a book by its cover."