Adult Fantasy – Editor Critiques

On a different battlefield, in different time, one ancient race was split in two over their early interferences with humans. One branch formed the hālien people, followers of Haligan, the Father, Teacher, Protector and Healer, a ridiculously lengthy title through which humans to this day remember him in their worship. The rest that protested Haligan’s meddling, followed his wife Daere into the first war, the Primordial War that forever changed the face of magic in this world. They became known as Awyrdans, the people that now stood united under his command.

Now the gyres of history have set them against each other again. Agitation like white hot flames cut through the king’s body. He felt his muscles harden and ache with terrible expectations. He briefly glanced through his familiar’s thoughts, an all observing eye of a great hawk gliding above the sombre battlefield.

Opening the novel with backstory and setup information is boring for the reader and will make it difficult to engage with the story. You might have a cool idea here, but when presented in this way it’s not fun to read about. Agitation doesn’t feel anything like “flames” to me so the description doesn’t resonate. “Glanced through his familiar’s thoughts” is a bit confusing. Do you mean that the hawk is his familiar? This needs to be phrased more clearly. This feels like a prologue and I think you’re probably starting in the wrong place.

Sheridan knew saying ‘bomb’ was not the thing to do in an airport, never mind one in the Middle East with its current situation. He knew that. But sitting around for long periods of time always made him feel loose and without control, as if he was about to completely unravel.

His mum said he had too much energy. That he should have rubber skin so he could bounce off the walls. Sheridan thought he might like that. His sister Lily said he was ADHD. Sometimes she called him retarded. Sometimes on a daily basis, when she was feeling mean. That he didn’t like.

But could they really blame him? After the last three weeks?

The opening line feels a bit in bad taste, but maybe that’s just me. At the very least it doesn’t really seem relevant to what’s going on. “That he didn’t like” reads a bit awkwardly. The writing is pretty smooth, but this feels like MG fiction in style and with the age of the character. I recommend starting at a point in the story that has something mature enough to push this out of MG. I also recommend working on developing a more mature voice.

The corpse was just out of arm’s reach. The Duke stared at a wool lump in the back of the wagon, holding back visions of the Caldwell’s boy beneath that old horse blanket. He fought to keep his attention on the victim, so he wouldn’t kill the woman shackled near the front.

A dozen armored men marched in procession, guarding the body as it wobbled through the small of the night. The Duke raised a hand and they slid to a stop in the loosening earth. The shudder dropped the blanket from the Caldwell boy’s foot.
Two soldiers sat atop the cart’s driving bench, one with a crossbow, the other with the reigns; both in House Cavan colors. Lanterns swung their half light, draining the blue from tabards, and rolling shadows onto freshly turned fields.

The first line feels a bit tacked on because there isn’t a nice flow from the first to second sentence. “A wool lump” doesn’t seem like a blanket to me. “A wool lump” also gives the sense it isn’t significant whereas “THE wool lump” would give the reader the sense that he has seen it before. “Holding back visions of the Caldwell’s boy beneath that old horse blanket” is a bit awkwardly worded. I also didn’t realize the “wool lump” was a blanket so I had to reread to understand the sentence. I assumed he was standing rather than marching so it was a bit jarring to find out he’s marching in the second paragraph. I think there’s a nice hook, the writing just needs to be a tad clearer.

Daxton sat down at his meager fire, stomach rumbling with hard hunger at the smell of cooking stew in the small iron pot, simmering with venison over the low flames. Tearing his auburn eyes from the licking tongues of fire against the use worn iron, he leaned back against a tree and sighed, gazing at the fading light. This sunset was different than the one the night before, streaks of burnt gold and brilliant turquoise rather than the dusky purple it had painted the sky in the week past. Yet it seemed the same as all the others as he stared up at the steadily lowering sun.

The clouds shifted slowly, lazy in the looming summer heat and the air bare of wind. Daxton’s stomach growled again, louder this time, and he sighed with impatience, settling back and closing his eyes. His dark brow was settled low and laxe over his eyes, his thin lips, curved naturally upward in a constant, amused smirk. He was an attractive man, taking mostly after his mother from the east than his father, a fair-haired, massive goliath with granite hewn features. Tall, lean with hard muscle and graced with dark brown hair, he indeed seemed to be the exact opposite of his sire. His shoulders were broad, his hair nearly brushing them, braided back to keep it out of his face while he rode.

The first sentence is too long and wordy, which makes it awkward to read. The second sentence is also too long. Don’t try to cram so much into each sentence because it reduces the reader’s comprehension. The description of the sunset being different but the same could be condensed to focus more on the emotional point and less on the description of the sunset (which isn’t particularly engaging). I’m not hooked yet, so I find the description of him uninteresting. I’d get to the hook faster as this is a fairly generic scene that doesn’t demonstrate what’s special about your writing, story, or character.

AWEN (Temple 3927 since the departure of the gods) The air inside the room was impregnated with the smell of burnt wood and little gray shavings drifted through without any apparent direction. The collapsed roof let in the light of the recently risen star, Disifán, but the clouds, both the ones of dust coming from the extinguished fire and the great conglomerations floating above the sky, tainted this light gray. A person was crouched on the floor, inspecting what was before the abandoned building. He was a young unamean, whose dark armor and black hair highlighted to a large degree the golden mask that hid the top half of his face. His name was Awen, known by must as “The Confiner”, guardian of the creation and eradicator of the darkness, a title that was granted to him by being the bearer of the “Eye of Danus”, a sword consecrated with the power of the god of the light, and that is rumored, was forged by the same, for whoever wielded it, exerted the will of the gods whenever they couldn´t.

“Was impregnated with” seems needlessly wordy when the sentence could be simplified to something like “The air inside the room smelled of burnt wood.” “Without any apparent direction” weakens the sentence. The second sentence is too long, which makes it difficult to follow and awkward to read. “What was before the abandoned building” is a bit vague and reads a little awkwardly. “To a large degree” weakens the sentence. The backstory about Awen isn’t very captivating so early in the story. I think you need a stronger hook to get the reader invested.

Was that a footstep?

Elgar stilled his muscles, listening, straining to hear through the dark tunnels of the ancient labyrinth. The far-off drip, drip, drip, of water masked the sound, but he heard it again, clearer now, coming closer.

No one travels these caves, except…

As if to confirm his line of thinking, the gem embedded in Elgar’s upper arm began to burn, subtle at first, but growing with each footstep. Beneath his sleeve, he knew its red light pulsed. He stood, adrenaline kicking in.

One of them was here.

His initial instinct was to flee, but he quelled the cowardice and reached for his sword. And so, within the base of a cliff in the middle of the forest, his mission had changed. This was not going to be a simple reconnaissance, after all.

The writing style feels more like MG than adult fiction. Starting with a question feels a little campy for adult fiction. Watch out for generic phrases: “straining to hear,” “adrenaline kicking in,” and “his initial instinct was to flee.” “He heard it again, clearer now” is also a very common phrase as is “as if to confirm.” I don’t feel any connection to this character. Starting with a risky situation (like being chased or in immediate danger) can be very difficult because you need to rely on mystery and tension rather than empathy, but the reader doesn’t have a clear enough sense of what’s going on to feel intrigued.

Lark did not — absolutely did not — want to return to Brood’s settlement, but she was out of options. The tracker was on her heels, and if he caught her, the Cannibals would tear the wands from her hands and drain her for sure.

She had been forced to swim for the settlement after wrecking her stolen motorboat only a mile away, which was infuriating after navigating it for hours through the cypress swamp in the dark. The bullet wound in her side would not stop bleeding and the wands embedded in her hands gave off a steady aching heat from overuse, but she continued to push through the filthy water.

All she had to do was get inside the shields. She could figure it out from there.

I’m not sure that “absolutely did not” is adding much to the first sentence. “For sure” weakens the second sentence. “Drain her” is a bit confusing/vague (Drain her of blood? Magic? Life force?). For some reason, I read “she had been forced to swim for the settlement” as meaning “she had been forced to swim on behalf of the settlement,” but that might just be me. It seems like losing the motorboat after using it “for hours” would actually be less infuriating than losing it right away. Rather than describing what the wound won’t “stop” doing, describe what it is doing (for example: “trickled blood”).

Starting with a character injured and running away is fairly common. For this to work, you need to rely on mystery/foreshadowing/intrigue rather than emotions/pain/empathy because the reader doesn’t have a connection to the character.

Junk. It was all junk. Sometimes, people turn junk into fantastic things. Other times, people turn fantastic things into junk. But for which will they be remembered? What becomes of their legacies?

A woman ripped shards of metal from her sculpture and hurled them to the ground. With a sigh she wiped sweat off her brow – it felt gritty and left smudges as if a Palm Sunday priest had gone rogue. The grungy walls of her dimly lit basement were offset by twinkling spider webs to which metal litter clung. And the steel, iron and bronze scraps made a fractured but charming mosaic. Her structure was no more beautiful than the debris at her feet.
Staring down her damned ‘work of art’; the icy verdigris eyes of a tattered silverback gorilla glared back. Much taller than she upon her footstool, he was poised above a small metal dining table set for two.

The first paragraph starts out okay but feels very melodramatic by the end. The Palm Sunday priest simile made me chuckle, but I don’t think that’s the intended effect. I don’t know that spider webs are strong enough to hold up metal litter, but maybe “metal shavings” (which I would imagine as much smaller). “Damned” was a bit jarring because we don’t seem to be deep into her POV prior to that. At first I thought the gorilla was her art. The wording isn’t clear. Overall, the writing needs to be cleaned up in a lot of places but I am a bit intrigued about her art.

May 1988

Jared stooped low to check the rusting lock. The flaky piece of red-brown metal rested against the wooden door, as unassuming as it had been thirty years ago. Besides his torso turning concave over the decades, all else had remained unchanged.

His refuge, the Dome, a ramshackle storehouse, was cut-off from the town by a brook. All banal relics from museums in the city, with little or no interesting history behind them wound up at the site. The building had few visitors on most days, usually folks from the archaeological center, who came down to check their vaults of decaying artifacts, at times adding the newest excavation to the pile. He was essentially the curator of a cache of medieval scraps no one cared about. Boredom and routine remained his sole companions as he trudged towards the legacy of futility.

“His torso turning concave” I’m assuming is meant to mean he’s very thin, but I initially imagined his chest was caved in. I think replacing “torso” with “belly” would help with clarity. This first paragraph gives the very strong impression that he has not been to this place in thirty years and that the lock has rusted in the meantime. This makes the second paragraph confusing. “Trudged towards the legacy of futility” could be worded more simply and clearly. I would probably give this a few more paragraphs to catch my interest.

Cold winds moaned against the grey sky. The Lynxjaw guards paced along the ramparts in double-breasted jerkins and signal horns on straps, scanning the ground with their eyes. “Little good a border does,” Rolf muttered to Sten in passing.

Sten stared over Rolf’s shoulder, widened his eyes, and thrust out his chin. Rolf turned and froze when his eyes caught Chieftain Lancehelve standing behind him. Lancehelve could’ve almost laughed at Rolf’s reaction. It was a fleeting relief he’d forgotten the real threat, distracted by having been caught.

“With their eyes” is unnecessary. It’s not clear if Rolf or Sten is the main character because both are mentioned almost at the same moment and without pulling the reader closer to one or the other. I didn’t immediately connect Sten’s gesture with the Chieftain standing behind Rolf and I think you could add a bit of introspection or even telling to make this clearer. It’s awkward to jump into Lancehelve’s thoughts about Rolf since he doesn’t seem to be the main character and the POV has been unclear. I think the last line of the second paragraph is jumping into Rolf’s head, but I can’t tell. The POV needs to be cleared up.

I woke to the sound of the phone ringing. I put the pillow over my head to drown out the noise but either the stuffing was to thin or the ringing of the phone was just that annoying. I rolled toward the nightstand and grabbed my phone. “Hello”
“Octavia”, a course voice screeched at me. Why didn’t you pick up sooner”? I rubbed my eyes and sat up in bed. I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep. Not with Dick calling me. He is the boss of Arcane Agency. The paranormal detective agency I work for.
“The Johnson case ended up having complications, in the form of Uncle Herschel not accepting his final death.” I looked at the clock. “And I’ve had about two hours of sleep”.
“Not important. I have a new case for you. I need you to head to Orchard Springs, Kentucky. A friend of mine called. Said they have a situation. Looks like some sort of disease.”

Starting with a character waking up is a trope and not recommended. The punctuation of the dialogue is wrong in the second paragraph. I don’t think it’s necessary to mention that the narrator isn’t going to go back to sleep, but I think what you mean is that Dick is going to have her get to work immediately, but that’s not initially apparent from the wording. “In the form of” seems awkward but could work if she’s being sarcastic or witty, but it’s coming across as unnatural. The voice isn’t strong enough to maintain my interest. I’d like more personality from the character and I don’t think this is necessarily the best place to start the novel.

Adria glared over the moonlit field. The full moon made each blade of grass gray. The air was chilly.
Her mare snorted and shook its head. Adria reached out, patted it on the back of its neck, and said, “Easy, girl.”

She looked back to the field. The trees were scattered over the landscape. The moon and stars were visible in the surface of the pond in the field’s center.

She glanced over her shoulder and assessed each of her men. They all stared straight ahead. Their eyes were narrowed. And, their hands were on the grips of their swords.

Adria scanned the edge of the field. She saw massive figures shift from beyond the edge of the outer trees.

Why does she glare over the field? “Visible in the surface of the pond” could be written more smoothly and “field’s center” seems like odd wording. I recommend rewriting to something like: “The moon and stars reflected off the pond in the center of the field.” “Shift from beyond the edge” isn’t a clear description. I’d like to feel more tension or intrigue about what’s going on, but the vibe/tone of the scene isn’t clear from the writing style.

Sigrún let her fingertips skim the rough stone wall that encircled the city. It had rained this morning, before she arrived. The hard-packed dirt beneath her boots was still damp, and the city smelled -as it rarely did- clean, fresh. Late afternoon sunlight filtered through the last lingering storm clouds, dipping the world in honey.

The wall turned gently north, and suddenly there it was, The Rock, looming above her. A great stone, nearly the half the size of the city itself, rose up to meet the sky. The Rock, the temple built on its flattened summit, and the city that grew up around it, all shared the same name; Ravnsgaard.

Three figures, tiny from where Sigrún stood, climbed the narrow stairs carved into the side of The Rock. They didn’t carry an offering. One figure was much smaller than the others. It was probably a child, going to call to the Great Raven, to see if he called back. The three would circle The Rock three more times before reaching the temple.

I don’t love the first line. The use of “let” seems odd to me, as if she usually controls her fingertips and now they are acting on their own freewill, but that might just be me. “Rose up to meet the sky” is a bit of an overused description but probably won’t bother most people. The writing is smooth and pleasant to read. I don’t find myself particularly engaged, mostly because I’m not sure what’s unique about this character or setting, but I would give the story a few more paragraphs to catch my interest.

Lucifer is not the same he once was. He has experienced many extraordinary events across the ages. More than 3,000 springs had passed ever since, in the presence of God, he sealed a pact that would radically transform his life forever. Forever… such word can sound frightening to an immortal creature.

In an England of the late sixteenth century, a young woman walks alone through an oak forest. A stranger is following her from behind. His mouth is dripping with saliva. He is thirsty for sex and blood. He sneakily approaches, he would never let a prey such as this to run away from his claws.

The woman is a gorgeous green-eyed ginger who walks around smiling. She wears a well-cut dress made out of silk. It shows off some freckles in a daring cleavage. She contemplates the sun rays glinting through the treetop leaves. It is a beautiful summer’s afternoon. The sky is of the most limpid blue possible, such a rare event for this grey island.

The writer of this passage mentioned on the submission form that English is not his native language and this was original written in Portuguese. There are several mistakes with the translation, but I’m going to ignore them. “Radically transform his life forever” sounds like part of a query letter or back cover blurb rather than text from the novel itself. “Walks around smiling” comes across a bit oddly as if all she does is walk around happily all day. The style is going to really make or break this opening and I don’t know how well it flows in Portuguese so it’s tough to offer much assistance. I like the hook about Lucifer and the woman being in danger, but I’d definitely want to see a unique spin on or version of Lucifer to stay engaged.

I became what I am today after I drowned at my engagement party, on the beach, at the estate.

* * *


Sometimes I wished life was a video game – hit the reset button and start over. If you didn’t like the outcome, reboot. Or like Mortal Kombat, ‘Choose your destiny’. As a college student, I had four years to try and figure out who I was. But I guess I wasted three of those years so far. Always super-studious and analytical, I needed to find out who I was meant to be and I found myself cramming for the first time in my life. I’d always welcomed challenges, always mapped them out in my mind – strategized alternate routes and solutions to find a way out. But now, I’d hit a dead end. My life was at a standstill – like I was a butterfly stuck in a chrysalis, waiting for the perfect moment, the day I could burst out, spread my wings, fly away, and find my new home.

The opening hook could work, but the sentence feels too long and “Five Years Earlier” feels very abrupt so I’d try to avoid the need for that title if possible. “As a college student, I had four years” implies that all four years are over so the next sentence “I wasted three” is a bit awkward. You seem to be describing a general sense of her college life so “I found myself cramming for the first time in my life” is a bit unclear: when is this cramming taking place? What does cramming have to do with her life being at a standstill? I would cut the butterfly simile because it’s a bit generic and isn’t adding much. I would work on clarity and bringing the reader more clearly into the specific moment.

It was Christmas morning and Theodora was being held at gunpoint at work.

She gulped as the barrel was aimed at her forehead, and she gently lowered the kettle over her shoulder back onto the shelf she first took it from. She cursed. Had she been a second faster, the gunman would already be on the floor with a bright red bump on his forehead, maybe even two if she was feeling particularly aggressive. As it was, she had just become a hostage, forced to do whatever this pale, zombie looking bastard demanded of her until he got what he wanted out of the situation. She imagined herself five hours from now, beaten blue and purple, writing up incident reports in a police station and possibly getting a call from her concerned mum. That last thought in particular made her shudder in disgust. Bonus pay be damned, she really shouldn’t have volunteered to work on Christmas.

The opening line works okay but isn’t as punchy as it could be. The second paragraph focuses too much on things not happening in the moment: what she should have done, what might happen, and what she will do. I’d focus more on what’s actually happening and get to the point a bit faster. The voice seems nice. The tone might be a bit unclear. I’m assuming there’s some intended humor (like with the last line), but if not, you might want to increase the intensity of the descriptions.

There was a flimsy home at the edge of a destitute village where not much good ever happened.

Nighttime can throw her veils to conceal dirty secrets but a keen gut can see through the thickest fabrics of deception.
Estera patted her mare in front of the decrepit house in a senseless attempt to draw strength from her fearless animal.
A dusty window gave away the flickering of a burning lamp. The man inside had to be awake, Estera knew he only dealt with his so-called customers at night.
A country away from home and a pile of people she had to buy or manipulate brought her to the kind of doorstep she would never have crossed before. A doorstep not even the lowlife mercenaries, thieves, and other shady crooks who were his neighbors would cross without a good reason and a pocket full of money.

It was rumored the man could learn so many of your weaknesses after touching you just once that he could drown you into your own madness if he so desired. Estera suspected some rumors might have started from his out mouth but she did not doubt his ability to twist minds. That, however, was not why she sought him. In fact, she needed him to tap into the knowledge that had once assured him an honorable life.

The first two paragraphs/sentences don’t have a clear relationship to each other which makes them a bit jarring/clunky. “Into your own madness” seems wordy and awkward. I assume you mean “own mouth” rather than “out mouth.” This kept my interest (though I’m not including the full excerpt). I want to know what happens next, which is the best outcome after reading the opening page. Just clean up the first few paragraphs because they feel disjointed and clunky.

Certainty gripped her. The worry of being discovery melted away. It was clear nobody had entered the Basilica’s grounds in years. No key existed to opened its heavy iron gates—she knew, she’d checked—and anyone trying to pick the lock would only receive rust stains as reward. The gate’s hinges were weathered from wind and rain off the mountains. And its surrounding fence could never be climbed; its tightly spaced black bars stretched up and up until they bent inwards to meet in the middle, like a birdcage. Strangely, this cage did not contain brightly coloured parrots or delightful song birds, it confined a building.

Inside the bars of the Basilica’s prison, weeds thrived. Tall grasses swayed in the pre-dawn zephyr and writhing brambles dominated between the bars and the abandoned building. She vaguely recalled mind-boggling patterns and intricate shapes carved into the Basilica’s outer walls, and regretted that her daily duties rarely brought her up the hill to see them. Not that those carvings were easily viewed amidst Old Town’s claustrophobic streets. The only place to survey them was standing the fort’s walls or peering in through the gate, where Embliea now stood.

The writing feels too wordy and gets boring quickly as a result. I would cut down the description of the gate by at least two sentences. There’s a typo in the second and fourth sentences. If she’s standing at the gate then why does she “vaguely recall mind-boggling patterns” when she would be looking at them in the moment? I’d get to the point (either a conflict or motivation) faster to keep the reader engaged.

The ceremony where she drank from the fountain of youth was her earliest memory. The drink destroys all others; resets your body to early teens, gives you the worst hangover. Before this, though, before you drink, you step up to the pyre and burn everything from your past life. Any link to who you once were is gone: your name, your family. It shows your devotion to The University. It proves that you will spend this life, so graciously given to you, in research. That you will dedicate everything you have to that esteemed institution.
She had broken their rules. On a scrap of paper, held tight in her hand as all her history burned, she had kept her name. She was Lucy Cardellse.

“I assure you, these maps are correct. They were drawn by Edward Rankle himself,” the Librarian at the greatest library in Sardo was telling her.
“Primary source?” She waved her hand nonchalantly over the priceless maps she had thrown across the librarian’s desk.
“Why of course! He traveled all over the new world and the old, best cartographer the worlds have ever seen!” The librarian’s beard bristled as he spoke, his Sardo accent as brittle as his stare.

I initially read “The drink destroys all others” as meaning that the drink destroys all other drinks (which seemed really weird for obvious reasons), but that might just be me. I like the hook that she broke the rules and kept her name. I think that works well. The lack of transition between the second and third paragraphs makes the dialogue a bit jarring. “Gives you the worst hangover” is a bit odd because this doesn’t seem to be in the voice of the character (though maybe it is, we just don’t know the character yet) and also seems more humorous than the rest of the paragraph.

‘The walls are going again, Earther 27,’ bellowed the warden. ‘Don’t just stand there, you useless mud-rat! Do your job!’

Kerrig, Earther 27, rolled his eyes but otherwise ignored the younger man. As he channeled his Elemental ability into the brittle rock of the tunnel, he wondered (not for the first time) why someone with a Talent like Sound Projection had been assigned as a warden to the prison mines. The man’s inability to restrain his voice had the entire sector on the verge of collapse. The big Earther sighed and shrugged. Who knew why the Avlem did anything?

The light shower of rock dust stopped falling, and Kerrig turned his attention to the rest of the tunnel. With another two Earthers and a couple of Marshlanders, this tunnel could be stabilized long enough to empty the seam of ore that had tempted them to dig into this shale in the first place. It would take a couple of weeks, and then it would be back to the main seam for all of them.

Though it is hidden a bit and incorporated into action, I still felt a bit bogged down with information. I’d like a better sense of Kerrig’s age and personality as well as a better sense of what this mine looks like. Is it tight and claustrophobic or big and cavernous? Is he alone or with other miners? The second sentence of the second paragraph has a lot of elements and information and I think breaking it up would make it easier for the reader to digest. The opening dialogue/situation doesn’t feel particularly unique and so there might be a better place to start the novel.

She inhaled sharply, and it was as if the air were broken glass, shoving shards into her esophagus and traveling down to her lungs. It forced the air back out in a hacking cough, and she pressed her palms against the floor to let her fingers grip onto the rough stone. Maybe it would keep her grounded, while the rest of her rushed through her mind in a tornado – too quickly for her to grasp onto anything solid, anything real.

Where am I?

She tilted her head up to see, but the movement was too fast; immediately her eyes were squeezed shut and her mouth was open to make way for gasps of breath she couldn’t stop. Even in the dark behind her eyelids, everything seemed to be cycloning. The pain of breathing worsened it, and eventually it was not just her hands against stone, but her forehead, too. The grainy bits of it dug into her skin, but it was cool against her, and for just a moment, the dizziness stopped.

I might be a bit jaded because I read so many unpublished novel openings per year, but I feel that starting a novel with a character disoriented and in pain is a trope and probably won’t stand out to agents. The reader doesn’t know enough about what’s happening in the first paragraph to interpret whether she’s being dramatic about her painful breathing or whether she’s extremely injured. This inability to interpret the severity of the situation makes it hard to grasp the tone.

The first and third paragraphs feel a bit redundant because the same basic descriptions (painful breathing, tornado/cycloning) are repeated. I think this could be more condense, but it may not be the best place to start the novel.

Thelonious looked up to Zolten — his best friend, blood brother and lord — stood loftily at the lip of the rocky ridge, brawny arms spread wide, tall and leather-armored embracing the breezing wind of the fall. He had yet to understand why they were so close to the border, however, he understood there must be a purpose behind it. Zolten never tend time without purpose.

“Come up here, brother,” Zolten said, waving Thelonious to join him.

The first sentence is too long and awkward. It needs to be broken up. The phrasing and dashes make it unclear if “stood loftily” refers to Zolten or Thelonious. “Breezing wind” is odd/redundant. “Never tend time” doesn’t make sense to me. I recommend shooting for a more natural style. Don’t try so hard to be writerly or to use long sentences. Clarity is more important.

“Final check? I am ready to collect.” Spiral said.

He sat alone in his self-driven car, tucked in the darkest part of the hill top he could find on this neighborhood street, waiting for the fucking fireworks to stop for New Year’s night. He parked his car to face the view of Los Angeles. A few Heroes flew around the L.A. night sky. Everyone partied and brought in the New Years with their friends and family. Most of the Famewhores were sucking up to Endless as his New Year’s party. A few minutes to midnight, almost time to collect.

Would any pretentious famewhore Heroes ever monitor this fancy of a neighborhood? The lower income areas were easy pickings for Heroes wanting some publicity. For the challenge, he requested only high-income marks, his name for clients. With all their money, their weapons, their armor, their reinforcements, the look on their face when he took everything away from them was his reward. He jumped at mortar exploding in the night sky, lighting up his dash board with blue and green light.

The voice waffles between super casual and awkwardly writerly. I primarily suggest working on smoothing out your voice so that it’s more consistent. “This neighborhood street” is awkward/odd as is “Everyone partied and brought in the New Years with their friends and family.” Those phrases feel extra odd when juxtaposed with phrases like “famewhores” and “the fucking fireworks.”

The third and fourth sentences of the second paragraph don’t make sense to me. I think you have an interesting idea, but clarity is really suffering.

Wind circled curiously, peeking between branches at a figure sitting on the frozen ground. Gathering leaves into tiny clouds it threw them at him, but the figure stayed still. Only movement in the clearing was of the falling leaves. The night was clear and cold, full moon above the small forest clearing cast luminous light around, creating fleeting shadows and competing with the shining stars. It was rather beautiful, a night when a young couple might sneak out for a romantic stroll in the woods, stealing kisses and caresses. The wind whipped more leaves against the figure and soon he was partly covered in them. Some were damp and brown, others bright yellow or red. Together they made rather festive outfit and partly disguised him from the view. The wind quickly grew bored and moved on leaving the figure sitting alone under a tree.

The moon moved in the sky and finally cast its light on the pale face. The man was very handsome and most definitely dead. Moon´s light illuminated empty eyes staring at the distance and dried blood that had trickled from his nose, already dried and turning brown. His face looked empty of any emotion. Tightness of his lips, lines around his eyes and couple of gray strands in his black hair became visible only after careful inspection. There was sorrow in the way he carried himself even in death.

A lot of fantasy novels open in the woods and so it can feel a bit generic. I don’t get the impression that sentient wind is a component of this story outside of this initial paragraph. I’m not sure it’s a captivating opening. At the very least, this feels too wordy to me. I recommend getting to the point faster. The setting (autumn forest at night) is pretty simple and could be conveyed in a lot less space. I almost didn’t get to the dead body as I lost interest in the first paragraph. The discovery that the man is dead is satisfying and engaging so I’d try to get to it a bit sooner.

I don’t dare tell you my real name. He knows too much already. He’s reading this too, probably over your left shoulder, he favors the left. Don’t look, you don’t want to meet him, having made his acquaintance myself, I have mixed feelings.

Looking through the wavy old glass window, bellow there is a crumbling stone wall, beyond it a grassy hill and still further atop the hill at the edge of the forest his scouts wait. It’s cold in August, they’re here. A half hour ago there were two, eight foot tall, evergreen shrubs now there are five. They only look like ordinary boxwood shrubs, I know better.

Since I can’t properly introduce myself and “Call me Ishmael”, seems a little derivative, my respect’s Mr. Melville. I need a name you can call me. Derivative is a word I look up the meaning, after Paul McCartney called the band Oasis derivative. Both acts were very successful, so why not be derivative? What’s more derivative still? I’ve got it, you can call me, “Paul Oasis.”

Until recently, I, “Paul Oasis” (wink, that’s not my real name) was a very unremarkable. Why am I even involved you may ask? Well likely you’re asking something else, but patience please and one question at a time.

This kept my attention throughout, but I’m not going to include the full excerpt. I love the beginning. It reminds me of a Creepypasta (in a good way). It’s entertaining first and foremost, which I like. There are several mistakes: “bellow” should be “below,” “I look up the meaning” should be just “I looked up,” “was a very unremarkable” should be “was very unremarkable” or “was a very unremarkable person.” “So why not be derivative” doesn’t really make sense as a conclusion to me. “Well likely you’re asking something else” seems to point to a specific question you think the reader is asking, but I don’t know what it is. It might work better to write something like, “Well, that’s probably not your only question.” Great and fun voice, but you might need to find someone to help you with proofreading.

We are granted but a short time in this life. Fragmented moments, stitched together to form the imperfect paths of our journey. But in that imperfection lays our grace, our redemption. With frailties laid bare, we walk through this world unfettered and unburdened. We cast away doubts and hold at bay the demons that seek dominion of our souls, who would turn us from our path. So we carry on, lonely, but not alone, bowed, but not broken. Embrace the pleasures of life, and share the spoils of your fortune-ours is but a temporary gleaming.

Chapter One – The Visitors

‘Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon;
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.’
William Penn

Alger sunk down into the faded burgundy chair. His fingers traced the cracks of the leather armrest. The rhythmic ticking of the mantel clock mocked him. It had not been reset since the last daylight savings change–he remained behind. He longed for the mundane routines of life. He ached for Carole.

He had taken a leave of absence to care for her–to watch his beautiful wife succumb to an inoperable brain tumor. For two agonizing months, he had bathed and fed her, prayed with her, and cried with her. Even with his own hope lost, he fought to keep her spirits up, to fuel her indomitable spirit. But the flesh was weary, the struggle too great.

The two opening quotes are a bit generic and probably aren’t needed. “He remained behind” threw me off. Does he not know the clock is wrong? If he knows the clock is wrong, then he isn’t behind because he knows the correct time. The reader doesn’t know anything about these characters so starting with his suffering over his wife’s death is unlikely to be emotionally engaging. I would highlight areas of intrigue/mystery/tension rather than focusing on sadness/emotions because it will be much easier to engage the reader this way.

Ten minutes before the Red Mark appeared in St. Martin’s Ward, New York, Officer Charles Mansbury drove his battered police cruiser down a deserted backroad. He felt a jolt and knew he’d run over one of the empty soda bottles lining the lanes. Soda or beer? Hard to tell, and either was likely. Kids nowadays left their shit everywhere.

He assumed the tires would’ve popped at least a hole or two by now, given how they were older than him. All part of “short-term financial restrictions”, which translated roughly to “budget cuts”.

Never mind the department already being understaffed by almost a dozen people. Or that only three in every four members of the force carried a firearm with live ammunition instead of a taser or pepper spray. Or that they had zero, count em, ZERO body cams when everyone and their fuckin’ mother had them from Champlain all the way down to Newsburgh.

The first sentence doesn’t mean much since I have no idea what the “Red Mark” is. The debate about whether the bottle is a soda or beer bottle seems irrelevant. This entertained me enough that I read the rest of the excerpt (though I’m not including it here), but it runs the risk of feeling meandering/aimless so I’d direct focus back to the point as quickly as possible. Also watch out for meandering bits that don’t have any meaning or value (like the soda vs. beer debate). Otherwise, the voice is strong.

From the ashes of The Devil’s Smile
Rose a beaten and broken man from the dark
Burned and broken in body and mind
He rallied the lost to protect the sightless
As a creature of Thorns, toyed with the nations
A new race emerged, embraced in the shadows
The Knight’s of Dread began their new station
To ensure that the servants of Bal’neth
Never stood unopposed
~Dread Knight Historic Records


The screams of battle filled the hot summer air and blood ran down the hills in rivers as these lands became the last resting place for those who fought for them.
The war had gone on for several weeks now and this was supposed to be House Newfold’s final stand against the opposing House Acre.
But neither side was willing to surrender as they both won and lost critical points to each other again and again over the day.

The historic record is okay, but most readers will skip it, skim it, or forget it. It’s not clear what information the reader is meant to take away from it, so they will most likely never think about it again.

The paragraphs are oddly short, especially for adult fantasy. The first three paragraphs feel generic because there are so many unpublished novels with similar openings. Starting with a war can be really tough and is unlikely to seem special or engaging to agents/editors. I recommend pulling the reader in tighter to a specific character and/or providing some interesting visuals that are unique to your story. Consider carefully whether the prologue is really needed.

The sea air hit his nose harshly. He snorted, unhappy with the current weather. Rain was pouring down on the Grecian islands in full force, the waves from the sea crashing against the cliffs. He needed to eat, soaked to the bone as he was. How sure he was the gods laughed when he was forced on his hands and knees to graze the grasses of the island. The meat he craved was hard to find, and harder to kill considering his teeth were not meant for it.
He flicked his ears, trying to keep them from filling with water as he ate, his great eyes blinking slowly. His lips grabbed onto the grasses easily, no matter the spines against the leaves. Such was his fate after the crumbling of the civilization that once patrolled his island.
He remembered when the maze had first started to break down. The vines, it seemed, had been grown using magic, and magic, fickle as it is, always fails when there is no one around to groom it. He had been wandering, hoping for flesh, craving human or bird when he came upon an opening in the walls. He had never seen yellow before in leaves. The usual grey that tinged them had given way to something new; the yellows. His mother had told him he would never see all colour, that was impossible for him, but he did remember the gold of her hair wrapped loosely in buns.

Needing to eat doesn’t feel like particularly high stakes and there isn’t enough information about what makes this character or world unique to hook the reader with the concept in the first couple paragraphs. That said, the third paragraph is much more captivating. I recommend condensing the first two paragraphs to make them shorter. For example, perhaps he flicks his ears, trying to keep out the water as he eats the grass, then you could explain how he craves meat (I think this reordering would reduce the first two paragraphs by 20-40 words).

Mercenary Station. It is a damp, dusty place. Dim lighting by lamps hanging up around the walls. Mercenaries crowd around tables gambling and drinking, while waiting to be hired for a job. Many of them have scars from jobs that took them into dangerous parts of the kingdom including the Desert of Quicksand and the Cliffs of Doom. In truth, it was more like the common room of an inn then a station. It was a long day at work and I was tired. I wasn’t in the mood for the usual talk of the day, but I didn’t want to go home either. So I sat in the corner of the room at my table. I listened to the hustle and bustle of the station. I was doing it more and more often. I suppose it was just nerves of tomorrows test to get my master’s licence.

The description of the mercenaries feels a bit typical/generic (gambling, drinking, scars). I’d like to see something unique to your world or idea. Rather than describing the place plainly, try describing it in a way that reflects the narrator’s mood and opinions. This will make it more dynamic and will help to create a stronger tone.

(at the beginning)
Grays Hall Castle, Devonshire – 1623
Cacophonous gasps rose from the polished floor and echoed off the plastered ceiling of the great cathedral hall. Each breath, each desperate beat against Odelia’s chest vibrated pain throughout her battered form. Her head pressed firmly against the floor, listening as if waiting for a signal, anything that might propel her to bolt. If she were going to live, it was her breath she must save. She steadied herself with slow deliberate beats, inhaling through bloodied nostrils, exhaling through busted lips. She had only minutes perhaps seconds to change her fate. Odelia blinked. Blood dripped from her gashed brow as she focused four feet away. His name was Daricus – a priest, a self-appointed witch hunter, her rapist. He stared back with an empty gaze, his bowels pooled in crimson where the knife she imbedded remained.
A surge of breath helped to lift Odelia into a sitting position. Her linen smock, bloodied and ripped, exposed bruised legs and scraped thighs. With her wrists bound firmly behind her back, the young woman began to inch slowly on her bare bottom toward the priest’s lifeless form. She grimaced, pushing closer to the man whose heartbeat she had stopped. The oozing of his last essence smeared the floor and tears began to drown the madness that had surfaced in her eyes. Odelia collapsed, squirming onto her side. Her breath deepened as her mind flashed to moments earlier – Daricus was alive, thrusting himself against her backside. Odelia stopped, her gaze locked in another world as her body began to shudder. She wretched, sputtering blood and bile onto the floor. If only he had killed her. Another flash – his fist smashed against her nose, his hands grasped her neck, cutting her breath as he forced himself inside her.

Opening with rape is really not advised. That’s an extreme place to take the reader right at the beginning of a novel. Consider whether showing this immediately is truly beneficial. Pushing it into backstory or a flashback later in the story is most likely a better option.

The descriptions are at times difficult to understand. “Each desperate beat” doesn’t sound like the description of breath. Why does she need to save her breath and/or what do you mean by that? Does she think he’s dead in the first paragraph? I can’t tell why she feels her life is at risk if she believes he’s dead.

“Are you ready?”
The man known as Ram—though he would soon take a new name—had his back to the door. Still, he knew that gravelly voice.
“Master Byor.” Ram grinned. So much for solemn contemplation.
Byor the Sunset, whose hair and beard were twelve tones of rust, shuffled into the stony alcove, picking a careful path around the acolytes at work. The Master plopped down on the mat with a magnificent groan. Ram chuckled. The other Masters did not “plop.” Nor did they joke, or slouch, or…
…or welcome me here. Only Byor.
“Is this a rescue?” A gaggle of acolytes bustled around Ram, tugging at his tunic to make sure each fold and crease fell just so. One of them, a tall black-haired youth that could have been himself at ten, pulled Ram’s hair into a tail. Ram didn’t like to be fussed over. He hoped it was time to go.
“That depends.” Byor turned his shining black eyes on Ram. “Are. You. Ready?”
“I am.”
“Eager, aren’t you? Shoo.” Byor waved the acolytes away. They scattered like pigeons from a cat. “And why not! Such a fine horizon of carrying water and scrubbing steps must be chased at full tilt!”
Ram frowned. “All the temple tasks have merit—”
“Speak for yourself, son. I hated scrubbing steps.”

The second sentence, specifically “though he would soon take a new name” feels distant/omniscient which gave me the sense that we were not in Ram’s POV, however the rest of the scene is in Ram’s POV. I’d cut that section to avoid confusion. I’m not sure what “Is this a rescue?” refers to.

This kept my attention fairly well, but I really want a better sense of motive from Ram or some sort of emotional context for the scene. Just something small to let the reader know how he’s feeling.

The Sun dipped into the horizon, casting shadows across the cobbled together city of Advent Tura. Smoke billowed lazily from the assorted chimneys that dotted across the rooftops, with the occasional urchin cleaner examining these cavities for any blockages. The streets were quiet at this time, market stalls were packing away and most of the working men were heading to the nearest Taverns to spend their days pay on watered down beer and cheap ale. It was common knowledge that the drinks they bought were of a low quality, but then again it was cleaner than the water they’d get from their faucets at home. For, clean water was for the rich and established, and not the humble commoner.

There are too many expected/cliché descriptions: “The sun dipped into the horizon, casting shadows” (if you search that phrase in Google, you get 454,000 hits), “smoke billowed,” “chimneys that dotted across the rooftops,” “the streets were quiet.” This might seem nitpicky, but an abundance of typical/expected phrases makes the writing feel unoriginal.

“Absolutely not. There is no place in my caravan for useless girls”, said the merchant.

“Fortunately, I am a useful woman”, insisted Gaia. “I’m good at numbers, and I know everything about the area and the trade.”

“Ha! Really? Let’s see… Who in this market is not from the village?”

“Apart from you, the wood craftsmen from the south and the pavers from the east.”, she said fast. “Ah, and the tall Vösnar goldsmith, he’s the only foreigner.”

“Very well, very well indeed… except he’s not. No, I’m not telling you. Good hunt!”

Opening with dialogue can sometimes work well, but without a sense of the stakes or Gaia’s genuineness, the reader doesn’t have much investment in what’s going on. More setup would probably be more beneficial than starting with the dialogue.

I had to read the last line three times before I realized “I’m not telling you” referred to her telling Gaia about where the goldsmith is from. I’m not sure what “Good hunt!” means or refers to.

“I’ll be damned, Bill, if that ain’t Joe Sullivan here to claim yer pitch-black soul!”

With a trembling hand, Bill put down his beer on the counter.

“Quit yapping, will ya, Kurt?” he said. “I ain’t to blame fer that old man fallin’ of his friggin’ bike and breakin’ his friggin’ neck!”

“Damn right ye are! Didn’t ye fix that bike of his last time?”

“Well, I did. So what?.. He was a hundred years old, for God’s sake, just like his bike! No wonder he end’d up in that friggin’ ditch.”

“Yeah, right after he lost his front wheel,” Kurt went on. “’Cause ye didn’t tighten it properly!”

This conversation is a bit goofy and humorous, which I mention just in case that isn’t the vibe you’re going for. I like the idea of Bill being responsible for the death and the implication that Joe is a ghost. I’m assuming this is just an introductory section and that these aren’t the main characters. As such, it works well as an opening and I’d keep reading to see if the main storyline had an opening that caught my interest.

Corben Wilton locked the brass clasps of his leather travel chest excitedly. The smile on his cleanly shaven face was so exuberant that his cheeks lifted the spectacles off the bridge of his nose; he habitually tapped them back into place. A flash of sunlight illuminated the pork pie hat he snatched from its peg near the vanity mirror. He patted it atop his slick mop of straight, dark hair, ignoring a tuft of strands that obscured his left eye. Corben wheeled about to don his leather duster onto his shoulders with a clatter of buckles. He patted his pockets and withdrew a heavy, travel worn envelope.
The haunting bellow of the train’s whistle horned through the bright afternoon air outside the portal of his small cabin. Corben took the envelope in his teeth and drew his travel chest off the bunk and onto the floor with a heavy thud, its wheels struggling to carry the weight of all he owned. He glanced at the polished brass pocket watch dangling from the chain at his waist, and then hooked it back onto the pocket of his burgundy vest. He shouldered the door open to the narrow hall and suddenly stopped.

The first paragraph has a lot of description that could help to illustrate the setting, but I’m not getting a sense of time period, the age of the character, or the type of world he’s living in. I would try to focus on details that convey something clear about him and his world. I think you might be too invested in what the character looks like and what he’s wearing which the reader won’t care about or remember without being given more context with which to appreciate it.

Is he dressed normally or strangely for his setting? Does this outfit convey status, wealth, age, etc? If it’s just included for the interest of aesthetics, it’s probably going to slow down the opening scene and would be best cut down to just a few key details.

Sometimes, one has to make decisions. Decisions, which will change one’s life. Thorn was at that point and he knew exactly, what he wanted. Carefully he closed the door of the small hut, he had called home for his entire life. As he checked his backpack one last time, his cat, Seran, strolled around the corner. He felt a sting of sadness in his chest, when she rubbed against his legs. One last time, he petted her head, then he shoved the feeling aside. His father would be sad, but he also never would have agreed to let him go. He never would have understood. Thorn frowned and shouldered his supplies. Step after step, he left his village, his future as farmer behind and strode towards the unknown. Maybe he would return one day, after he found, what he was searching: Knowledge and, even more than that, revenge.

General statements about what “one” has to do usually don’t work very well because they’re awkwardly broad and aren’t really saying anything. There are loads of unnecessary commas which makes the writing read very choppily.

Thorn leaving home has no particular interest to the reader because there’s no clear conflict or consequence and the reader knows nothing about Thorn, how he arrived at this decision, or what he’s giving up by leaving. I recommend pulling the reader into Thorn’s life a bit more and finding some source of intrigue to highlight for the reader.

*They’re gone. I have to leave.*

He opened his eyes to the pounding silence. Disoriented, he blinked at the unseen pugilist. He had heard the door, and nothing else, for some time, but he had to be certain–it was his only chance. Cautiously, silently, he turned, –first his eyes, then his head, –surveying the room. As he did, a searing pain shot up and down from the left side of his neck. It was then that he saw the blood. He had known it must be there, but did not have a chance to see it, earlier. Now, he saw it. Now he felt it. Blood soaked his shirt so that it clung to him, as he reached for the wound on his neck, like algae on a creature sloughing through waters too long unmoved. At his stirring, the tatters of his neck re-opened, slightly, and a small but steady trickle started from it. Even so, he realized that it must have begun to close, somewhat, based on his blood-drenched clothes and the small amount leaking from him, now. *It must not have hit exactly on target,* he thought. *I didn’t get its full strength.*

This might be an interesting place to start the story, but often starting with an injured character can be challenging because the reader doesn’t yet care about this character so the injury has little emotional value.

This paragraph feels a bit verbose to me and I think you could tighten it up. “Pugilist” is a bit of a funny word that pulled me out of the seriousness of the situation (maybe this is regional, but I’ve never heard it used in a serious context). The simile “like algae on a creature” is unnecessary because it doesn’t clarify anything and is harder to imagine than what’s actually occurring. I’d get to the point (what happened) faster rather than lingering so long on the wound.

Last night I had another dream of Galapagos. My beautiful, beloved, lost island home. Yet again another dream.

This was only the latest of thousands of dreams of my home I’ve dreamed of during the more than two centuries since my kidnapping by the human two-leggeds upon Darwin’s vessel the Beagle. (Yes, that Darwin, that Beagle. More of him later. Much more.) My collective dreams long ago became a form of hope, a means of sustaining in my heart what has been lost to my senses. Often during the day I’ll find myself daydreaming, in a trance of reverie for my long ago island. And while I “see” my old land during these waking visions, it’s only when I’m asleep that my island is crystal clear. It’s in dreams that I can grasp the sand beneath my paws, that I can drink from the drinking pools, being one part of a great circle of turtles around the water, that I can feel the warm breezes that carry the island aromas to me, the smell of wild flowers, and of the vast ocean, of the fine trees and grassy hills. Oh, the sky, that incredible blue sky, the most beautiful blue anywhere in the world. Only in dreams am I home again. Only in dreams is what’s lost regained.

Opening with a dream is a trope that I recommend staying away from. The second paragraph is an info-dump and unfortunately (though you have some interesting ideas) it gets boring very quickly. I recommend finding a different place to start the novel, one that avoids dreams and info-dumping.

Get up, he’s watching!

His vision was choked by dark, pulsating dots. Standing shakily, icy balls of heavy, falling water continued shriveling him from the inside-out. With a bent back, he stumbled into a wooden door to stabilize his footing. Whatever weak breath he’d been allowed up to this point was ousted from him again.

His body, coughing and retching saltwater, allowed him the knowledge that he yet lived. He slid back onto the floor, and, as the Queen’s Arrow reassumed an upright position, he rolled to his knees, making the wise decision to remain on all fours, for now.

The first line is intriguing, which is great. I’m not sure if the “icy balls” are supernatural or if he is simply drowning in the beginning. This would benefit from clarification. I don’t have any sense of location. There’s a wooden door, which suggests he’s indoors, but he seems to be drowning.

“Allowed him the knowledge that he yet lived” is awkward. I’m not sure what the Queen’s Arrow was doing before it “reassumed an upright position.” Was it pointed at him? This scene is rather disorienting which makes it difficult to be engaged.

Arnu picked up the spear to the sound of another prisoner dying. Defiant snarls accompanied the noise of a reveling crowd. It consumed him as the Pit’s door hoisted open. Arnu exhaled a quivering breath. It was his turn to die.

Arnu entered the arena, squinting. The crowd stood on the tiered stands encircling the fighting stage. Wrought iron bars sprang from the walls surrounding the floor and met at its center dozens of feet high. The bars protected the spectators from the grueling battles while confining the contestants to fight until only one remained. The floor comprised from a mixture of sand, sweat, blood and bone that compacted over centuries’ worth of slaughter. Spectators edged their seats. Their hopes for a grand fight were in vain.

The first sentence is a little awkward because the sound and picking up the spear aren’t related to each other. Who is making the “defiant snarls”? “Exhaled a quivering breath” is a standard phrase (not quite a cliché) and so it doesn’t reach the reader emotionally.

I had to read the description of the bars twice to understand what you meant. I’d look for a clearer/simpler explanation. “The floor comprised from” is awkward wording.

It was an untamed land, although not from a lack of trying. Many a soul – both bright-eyed and desperate – had seen his or her hopes dashed on the rocky valleys, drowned in the deep rivers, or snatched away by a flash of sharp fangs in the night. But it didn’t matter much to the rest of Avaron.

“Only the worst sorts travel out that far, anyway,” a duchess might say, sipping her tea in the safety of the main states, as if those lost souls deserved their fate. Of course, she could be right, as the desperation to seek shelter in the Wynshire Waste often stemmed from the harshest threat of punishment elsewhere. But such a fight for survival here was sure to bring out either the worst, or the best, of a soul in the end – and who can truly speak of the destination of a heart as it beats its last?

For a lucky few, however, that battle had yet to be fought. Alone in that dense green forest, accompanied only by the noisy footfalls of her leather boots on the dry leaves, a young woman ran along the open flat beside the ravine. She was twenty years of age, old enough to have seen both the best and worst of the world but still young enough to have yet to become a part of either. She continued forward at a brisk pace – not out of fear, but certainly something close to it – as her straight, auburn hair streamed freely over her shoulders, and she set her sight on the small grove of fir trees in the otherwise leafy forest around her.

I don’t think the first couple paragraphs are doing much to hook the reader. The dialogue in the second paragraph threw me off a bit, and seems as if it would work better in a humorous novel. “Lucky few” seems like strange wording since the implication of the first paragraph is that most people die.

The writing feels a little stiff so I’d work towards bringing out your own style. The omniscient narrator is very obvious/present (rather than invisible) and would benefit from a clearer style/personality. As I mentioned, the second paragraph teeters on the verge of being humorous but it’s not clear if that’s intended.

Maru had long ago left the past behind but one thing she still missed was her heartbeat. Now, as she stealthed through the water-gardens, hunting and being hunted in turn, she was sure its pace would have been electric. Alas, all there was was the eery void within her chest, still and endless. As it had been since the day the priests cut out her heart.
Foliage rustled to her left—Maru spun. Only shadows, cut in sharp black lines against the stark moonlight. She wouldn’t have made any sound. Chastising herself silently, Maru stalked with leonine precision toward the fountain pools, the hiss of their waters the only noise that breached the frosty air. Maru felt herself being watched. Myriad eyes seemed to penetrate her from the darkness. There would only be two, of course, but where they peered from was a mystery. The vulnerability made Maru anxious, though her pulse was dead.

I love the hook about the missing heartbeat, but I think “long ago left the past behind” is a bit vague and could be made more specific or interesting. I don’t love “alas, all there was” because it feels wordy and perhaps a bit too formal/writerly. Love the last line of the first paragraph.

I don’t know what “she wouldn’t have made any sound” means or refers to, even after reading the second paragraph three times. “Myriad eyes” is awkward, especially because you backtrack and say that there are actually only two eyes. Repeating that “her pulse was dead” feels redundant.

My arm ached something fierce, but I swung the sickle all the same. The sky that I could see above the wheat stalks was going purple; it’d be first light soon and I was bent on getting my share done before Da was up and out of the house.

I thought of him as I swung at the stalks. He’d stand there, tall as the high wheat and face forever reddened by the sun, hands on his hips and a smile on his face. My hard-working girl, he’d call me. He’d praise the swiftness of my work, how neatly I’d stacked the harvest for bundling. He’d invite me on a trip to the city. I swelled with pride at the imagined reward. I kept my swings as steady as I could, though my arm’s complaining was hard to ignore. I felt my work shirt sticking to me though the sun hadn’t broken into the sky yet and contemplated taking a moment to catch my breath. No, this would be my farm someday and if I wanted to make my Da proud I would have to learn to work it on my own.

“Addie?” A harsh whisper called out. I yelped and nearly dropped the sickle. Da stood at the edge of the field, still in his night shirt. His hands were on his hips but the look on his face couldn’t have been mistaken for a smile even in the low light of predawn. He bowed his head for a moment, no doubt offering a prayer to the spirits that kept watch over our fields, before he stomped out to me. He hadn’t yet tied his boots.

This kept my attention throughout, and though I’m not including the full excerpt, I did read the whole thing. The writing is clean and engaging.

It’s rather obvious that her father is going to be angry instead of proud, but that’s okay because it gets the reader anticipating disaster. Ultimately, the stakes feel a bit low. Why does it matter that Da is unhappy with her? I’m not sure there’s enough hook there, especially for a fantasy (which usually promises whimsy, magic, escapism, etc.).

Three years ago the world broke.

There was a moment when it almost didn’t happen. Incidentally, the man responsible almost backed out. It just so happens the moment was recorded.

Magico-journalist Amber Spare chronicled the episode. She observed the man responsible curiously, who was taking a moment to ponder how the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin felt. Squeezed into that tiny compartment of the Vostok module, surrounded by obscure dials and wires. Catapulted like a rock from a little boy’s slingshot around the planet at 5 miles per second in complete and utter darkness. The world spinning below him, without him. A rusted ball sucked through a vacuum.

I like the opening hook, but the second paragraph is confusing. Did “the man responsible” break the world or almost prevent it from breaking? The wording makes it unclear.

The third paragraph lost me and I had to read it three times before I felt like I really understood it. The second sentence of paragraph three is difficult to understand (Who does the “who” refer to?). It’s hard to figure out initially whether “the man” is “Yuri” because of the wording of that sentence.


“The devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.” – A.W. Tozer

COMMON KNOWLEDGE IS ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN THAT it didn’t often rain in the desert. However, when the rain did come, it came as a torrential deluge, a living beast of precipitation that attacked the charred earth with furious passion. Its eyes were lightning; its voice, thunder. It choked the unwary weed and drowned the mouse in his burrow. None were safe in its path.

For the better part of a fortnight it had rained, and still there was no sign of the storm’s end. Kháros’ room was dark, and he slept, his dark form rising and falling rhythmically; only the summer monsoons could dampen the dragon’s usual vivacity. As raindrops bombarded the north window like bullets, the circular bedchamber lit up for a brief moment, showing walls lined all around with bookcases and unfinished paintings. A thunderclap sounded angrily, and Kháros grunted, shifting in his sleep—but he did not wake. Instead, he waited. He had waited half a millennium for this moment, and even in his deep slumber, he sensed that it was near…the moment when the One who would challenge his throne would arrive in this world. Another shout of thunder, closer, proclaimed her birth, and Kháros’ amethyst eyes snapped open. “So, she has finally awoken.”

Kháros rose slowly, arching his spine and yawning. His teeth were a perfect white, and his tongue, like grey amber. The scents of woody smoke and sagebrush rose off his yawn, and as he straightened, he began to stretch each of his four wings individually. How beautiful they were! he thought; how majestic! He blew a stream of flame from his nostrils to light the chandelier hanging from above his nest, then turned his neck to get a better look at himself. Every barb of every translucent feather glowed opalescent, casting a rainbow of shadows on the obsidian glass floor. He likewise examined his hands, which were long and slender, ending in gently curving talons and encrusted with violet scales that were at once as warm and flexible as human skin and as impenetrable as diamonds.

The writing feels very professional. As is common with fantasy openings, it feels a bit standard/expected. Opening with the throne being challenged is a very common fantasy opening. The weather is also a common opening as is waking up in the morning and a prophecy/proclamation, so you’re hitting on quite a few tropes, though the quality of the writing will likely distract most readers from realizing this.

“Common knowledge is enough to explain” weakens the first sentence because it doesn’t truly add any value.

The dragon complimenting himself strikes me as MG. Dragons can be a tough sell to adults, but the writing is strong enough that I would give the story a chance to hook me, but I’d need to see something original/unique very quickly.

“Are you alright?” was the first thing he remembered as he woke with a start; and, once he thought about it, it was the only thing he could remember. His eyes scanned the area; trying to figure out where he was; trees and grass lied in front of him, but little else, while a small hill stood behind him. But nothing seemed familiar. As he turned his head, a dull ache in the side of his head throbbed from the movement. Instinctively, he put his right hand over the spot. “Ah,” He pulled his hand away from the congealed mess within his curly hair. Holding his fingers to the front of his face, he noticed bits of a deep redness on them. His eyes widened in alarm as he realized: the red was dried blood!

The first sentence isn’t clear. Is he remembering someone asking him if he’s alright? Why is this significant?

Waking up at the beginning of a novel is a trope and is best avoided.

The writing is quite wordy and could be cut down. For example, the last three sentences could be shortened to something like, “He pulled his hand away and saw dried blood on his fingertips.”

My ex’s face looked like fresh asphalt: thoroughly run-down by a road roller. “Babe, are you serious?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m breaking up with you.”

It was a bit hard to believe. He was the popular type: handsome, slightly arrogant but still funny, with a fancy sport car. And I was the trophy type: attractive enough to parade around, tolerable, with no sex-prohibiting morals. We worked together well. Only, he couldn’t give me what I wanted.
“I have plans for my future and you … don’t fit in.”
“What plans? You haven’t even decided on a university!”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t have my life planned.”
His parting words were, expectedly, to fuck off. I would miss what came with being his girlfriend: other girls’ envy. But it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t give me Lifgaard.

While it starts the novel on a lighthearted note (which may be your objective), the first sentence doesn’t quite work for me.

My biggest concern is that the dialogue feels very generic and doesn’t demonstrate the personality of your character. Coupling that with the description of her as a generic attractive girl doesn’t give the reader much of a chance to see her as a real person.

The hook at the end is strong and gets the reader wondering what Lifgaard is, but the character doesn’t seem well developed and that’s going to hold back many readers from continuing to read.

Aria clung to the side of the tower wall, heart pounding in anticipation. Forcing herself to not look down at the moat below, she continued to make the slow climb upward. The moon’s light was hidden, shrouded by clouds, cloaking her in darkness. Good. That should make it much harder for the guards patrolling above to spot her. She hoped the Almighty was with her this evening, sending him a silent prayer of thanks for the darkness.

Peering up toward the top of the tower, she grimaced slightly. She was only halfway there. Even with her skill at climbing, her pace was slower than she liked, especially when trying to break into the king’s own castle. The ancient tower, which she climbed, was attached to the rest of the castle by a wall. Its weathered surface held several hand holds making the climb not nearly as hard as it should have been. Even so, she needed to be careful. If she slipped and fell into the water below, it wouldn’t kill her, but it most certainly would alert the guards patrolling above.

Perhaps I’ve just personally read too many novels that open with a character climbing and/or breaking into a building, but this felt a bit too generic/typical to me even though the writing seems competent. Bringing the reader into her motivation or showing something unique about your world would help to make this opening stand out.