When my copy of “Storykiller” by Kelly Thompson arrived in the post, I literally squealed in delight. (It’s okay, I do that kind of thing.) I had backed the publication o this book on Kickstarter, based solely on the cover art (A woman staring ferociously out of the silhouette of a labrys made of paper) and the plot description: Tessa Battle is the Last Scion – the only Mortal with the power to kill Stories – the fictional characters who live among us.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Fables, with a labrys! Where could I possibly go wrong?
I am really really disappointed.
Now I’ve written what follows, I realise it’s actually a poorly written review, because I tried not to go too emphatic with my problems. It’s not the worst book ever, but the characters and plot itself are bland enough that the things that bother me, really do bother me.
The tagline for the book – a phrase repeated a couple of times by characters, and which is all over the promotional material – is “Fight your Fiction.” This is explained by a character as the struggle between the written word and the free-will of the character. “Fighting your Fiction” means battling your predetermined role in life and exerting yourself as a real, independent person. A great idea for a book, amirite? It certainly hooked me.
Except then Storykiller goes all-out nihilistic on that very concept. Sure, it says, fight your Fiction if you must, but why bother? You will lose.
And that’s the spoiler-free review. To explain exactly why, I’m going to launch into spoilers straight away, including the major spoiler for the plot of the book.
– The titular Storykiller herself, Tessa Battle, initially attempts to reject her Destiny, only to have it explicitly stated at the end that by doing so she caused deaths. She should just get on with being the Storykiller from the beginning.
– The central romance is a love triangle between Tessa, Robin Hood, and Maid Marian – and Marian doesn’t even need to appear on page to snatch him away. Because the POWER OF THE STORY is more important that Marian actually having a personality, or choices, or a physical presence. They talk about Marian a lot, but never in terms of actual description, only “I love her because I have to.”
– Tell you who does get page time: Little Red Riding Hood, who turns up for a page to be sultry and sexy and to exert her SEX POWER all over the poor ol’ Big Bad Wolf, whose Spikification is so severe that he keeps dropping the word ‘luv’ at the end of his sentences. (Dear American authors: Please stop that. Ta.) I know I have a slight obsession about the victim-blaming and slut-shaming that goes into “edgy modern takes” on the world’s most well-known rape allegory for pre-schoolers. But I have feelings about Little Red Riding Hood, okay?
– The ‘you will never be more than your heritage’ theme is so strong that when Tessa’s mortal friends get given special powers, her friend Micah Chen… Look, I’m just going to quote it here.
“Remember Snow said that it could latch on to latent heritage or traditions? Well my parents are both so steeped in ancient Asian culture, even if I couldn’t give a damn, so I don’t know.”
Micah’s special magic power? Is being Asian. (Not any specific Asian culture. Just Asian.)
– And while I’m talking (and quoting) about characters of colour, there’s Romeo, a person of unspecified colour, because all that matters is he isn’t white, okay? And this is because:
“Here in the Mortal world, my appearance is even more versatile, and this is what feels right to me.”
At least SOMEONE gets some agency, right?
(Romeo is also gay, dontcherknow, and this is specified. But then it never turns up again because it’s not relevant to the plot.)
– And lastly, there’s the main plot itself – the final Monster Tessa has to battle, who is so frustrated and angry about his story that he constructs an elaborate suicide plot. And that’s it. That’s the plot. There’s a lot of fight scenes leading up to a story committing Suicide By
That’s right, kids! Fed up with your lot in life? Hampered by your heritage? Tied down by the stories someone else has forced you into? Well you can always commit suicide.
And I was so looking forward to reading it.