By: Kathryn Hilliard Klos
Publication Date: April 2011
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 2011
The Storyteller is the tale of Maryan, a woman who has spent her life as a slave, whose life changes in an instant when the planet she's been living on is attacked and destroyed by a violent race bent on destruction. As she travels in new directions, Maryan learns the truth about herself – a truth that just might change the course of intergalactic relations.
As the story opens, Maryan, a Zaiuni slave, is hiding among the debris on the planet of Delvis, which has just been attacked by the Banlite. The Banlite are a violent race of creatures with hairy bodies, lashless yellow eyes beneath a “supra-orbital ridge-bone,” and the most repugnant odor Maryan has ever smelled. They spend their time going from planet to planet, pillaging the wealth and “harvesting” the people.
Maryan’s owner is dead, as are most inhabitants of Delvis. Maryan is trying her best to remain motionless and avoid detection by an approaching Banlite Harvester, a member of that vicious race whose job it is to pick through the ruble and harvest whatever may be of use. Unfortunately for Maryan, the Banlite spots her and Maryan’s heart begins to race for she knows that these creatures use Zaiuni as sex slaves, and those that are not kept for slavery are eaten.
The Banlite, Diguat Vendan, decides to keep Maryan as his personal Zaiuni and brings her back to the Banlite ship, the Xarlot. It is here that he repeatedly rapes her; drawing blood with his claws each time as he savagely has his way with her. It is also here that Vendan quickly realizes that Maryan is not a typical Zaiuni, a race bred to be dull, subservient, and unable to fight back against their tormentors. This slave can speak the Banlite language, something no Zaiuni can do. She also appears to be able to “see” into Vendan’s mind. The Banlite suspects that Maryan is actually a telepath who somehow was brought into a Zaiuni breeder camp as a child. At first, this pleases Vendan because this “Zai” just might last more than the few days others last under his brutal treatment. But as time passes, and he sees the abilities this woman posses, and her kindness, he begins to develop feelings for her, feelings he’s never had for any female, let alone a slave.
Surprisingly, Maryan begins to develop feelings for Vendan, a big, brooding, violent creature who does seem to care for her. As she gains his trust, and the trust of Bordah, a female Banlite in charge of the Zai, Maryan is given limited amounts of freedom on board the ship. As her ability to read minds improves, Maryan is given the job of Storyteller, a job that requires her to tell stories to the Zai to entertain them and keep them compliant. Maryan relishes this job and soon expands on it to tell stories to the Banlite too. By reaching into other’s minds, she can tell amazing stories, stories that have come from her listeners’ own desires.
As Maryan’s talents evolve, encompassing not just reading thoughts but also feelings, she slowly comes to appreciate the Banlite while also harboring a desire for both her and the Zai to escape. As the months pass, Maryan settles into an uneasy life with Vendan. But when the Xarlot is attacked by a ship sent by WorldGuard Warranty, an organization that is paid to protect planets from the Banlite, Maryan’s loyalty is tested. The Xarlot wins the battle and only a few WorldGuard Warranty survivors are taken prisoner. One is Paul Spencer, a senior agent for the company. Through him and his love interest Lucy, Maryan’s world is about the change again.
The Storyteller is a unique twist on stories that pit good against evil, showing that sometimes evil is not quite so clear cut. The villains in this story, the Banlite, do horrible things in the name of self-preservation, things that their culture and genetics tell them to do. From the outside, there are no redeeming qualities to this race. But as Maryan explains to Lucy, “…I’ve learned more about myself in the months I’ve been here than in all the years before. Much of this has come through discovering our differences…and our similarities. Yes, Lucy – we hold many things in common with the Banli. Sometimes it’s easier to learn about ourselves when we examine our ideas and feelings in relation to beings whose orientation is different from ours.” (pg. 100)
While it was hard to believe that Maryan could ever harbor feelings for Vendan, a creature who brutally raped her over and over, and allowed others to do the same, she is a character the reader will come to care about. Bordah (the female Banlite) is also a character that has much to offer, including an interesting history. However, it was admittedly hard to care about Vendan after all he had done. While he did have redeeming characteristics, it was difficult to get beyond his initial brutal treatment of Maryan. For those who are squeamish, it should be noted that the author kept graphic violence to a minimum. While we briefly see what Vendan does to other Zai that he eats, there are no gory details and his attacks on Maryan are mentioned, but again, no great detail is given.
There is a fair amount of action in The Storyteller, which is primarily in the first 2/3rds of the book. The tale tends to slow near the end as Maryan searches for answers to her past and there is no action-packed ending as warring planets clash. Instead, The Storyteller is more about one woman’s journey of self-discovery as she attempts to heal century’s old wounds brought about by different races. It is a “thinking book” that is set amid wild, fascinating planets and creatures that will make you hide under the covers as you turn the page.
Quill says: Follow along as Maryan discovers who she is and why she cares so much about an alien race that others wish to destroy.