Reasons for Inclusion: Samad is gay, Abeha changes gender partway through the book
Publisher’s Summary: On the planet of Thalassa, history is passed on from generation to generation by Storytellers. For one woman who calls herself Teller, storytelling is her life. At her side are her harsel, the great sea-beast to whom she is telepathically bonded, and Samad, a young street boy whom she reluctantly took in as an apprentice. But eventually, Samad will discover the secret at the heart of Teller’s life-a discovery that will change him profoundly…
Long ago, a spaceship pilot crashlanded on the planet Thalassa. She thought she was alone, and began to lose hope– and then she met the telepathic harsels, massive whale-like creatures perfectly built to carry passenger pods across Thalassa’s wide oceans. More colonists arrive, and an alliance is struck with the harsels.
Centuries later, a traveling storyteller adopts the street orphan Samad and takes him with her on her adventures.
Samad learns from Teller’s stories and his own experience, but she can’t protect him from all of life’s sorrows and fears.
This is an absolutely beautiful book, rich with themes of memory, family, and loss. I loved it from the beginning, where Teller saves Samad from an angry baker, even though he stole bread. The baker is a selfish man who won’t even give away his scraps. The next day, she tells a fable about the virtue of kindness, and the man learns to change his ways.
The book isn’t always so happy: there are many heartbreaking times in Samad’s life. But all of it is meaningful and emotional, especially when Samad realizes he’s gay and fears he won’t be accepted.
Storyteller is full of subtle worldbuilding and memorable characters. Thalassa’s culture is a melting pot of Arab, Greek, and Italian influences.
The harsels are unforgettable. They “talk” to their captains mentally; among themselves they have memory songs to immortalize the past.
I got this book secondhand, so I don’t know how hard it would be to get a copy. But it’s well worth it.