Friday, November 29, 2013

(7) Historical Fantasy: TALASSIO

TITLE: Talassio
GENRE: Historical Fantasy

In 18th century England, Elisabeth’s sister is violently kidnapped, forcing her family back into the supernatural world they disavowed. Now, as Elisabeth journeys across Europe to rescue her sister, she faces her people’s warring families, the vampire servants they create, and a cabal of powerful madmen—and her success might prove the destruction of them all.

They walked single-file and surefooted through the dark woods, their bare feet padding lightly atop the damp carpet of earth and leaf and needle, their shifts knotted above their knees so as to clear the brush just coming into leaf. It had been a bitter winter and a rainy spring, but now the sky was clear and filled with stars, casting a spectral glow on the new green leaves. The moon was high already and when again she could let herself remember this night Elisabeth would realize it was a sickle, unusually thin and bright: a tool for reaping, and she should have taken it for a sign.

But she was never one to pay attention to such things, and this night had been no different. Her mind had wandered as she trailed after Cathy, watching the scaly soles of her eldest sister’s feet turn black with soil, her pale calves flashing from beneath her yellowed shift. At their head Mary was singing:

Ombra mai fu

Di vegetabile

Cara ed amabile

Soave più

Her sweet, clear voice rising on the wind to curl among the trees, and Elisabeth fancied they were rustling in response, their branches stirring to gather the music towards themselves. How many times had they walked this path? More than ten springs now, the longest she could remember staying anywhere. Their home. For the first time she understood all that the word invoked: safety, family, a place of refuge.


  1. The atmosphere of the writing was great--consistent, lyrical, and confident. Most intriguing moment was Cathy's scaly soles--a sign of her otherness? I also loved the subtle reference to the sickle, though I had to reread the particular line. In "When again she could let herself remember this night Elisabeth would realize it was a sickle," I read the "she" as someone else. Simply switching "she" and "Elizabeth" would do wonders.

    I loved the vampire servants in the logline, though I wasn't sure how to interpret the madmen. I also stumbled over the word "success." Success at finding her sister? Success in defeating her enemy? In magic?

    Aside from the nitpicks, I would continue reading to see how the characterization turns out. So far, the writing has focused on the setting and mood, with success.

  2. I'm with Lookinglass--very atmospheric writing and strong descriptions. I agree with switching "she" and "Elisabeth" in the line beginning "The moon was high already." Would also recommend adding a comma after "already."

    There are some nice tidbits in here--"when again she could let herself remember this night" adds a nice sense of mystery, because what would make her forget it?

    However, one thing to consider is that doing so is a break from Elisabeth's POV and is more the observation of a distinct narrator. If Elisabeth can't name the moon as a sickle in this story moment, then it's not her voice. If you don't have that distinct narrator throughout the book, I'd recommend removing it here (though if it were me, it'd be a murdered darling!).

    Best of luck!

  3. This is beautifully written and I'm intrigued by the lyrical quality of your descriptions. This is something I'd definitely keep reading. I found the logline straightforward and clear, and I especially loved the way you put me right into that damp carpet of earth and pine needles. The title is a mystery, and I love it when it's not immediately apparent as to what it's referencing. I'm trying to think of something to suggest, but I think sometimes the writing just speaks for itself. Well done and good luck :)

  4. There's a lot here that's really great. I particularly liked the sickle line, and unlike Lookingglass, I had no trouble catching the line and it's meaning in the first run through.

    There were two moments where the tense seemed confused. "Her mind had wandered" is more of a nostalgic, remembering sort of telling, which just happened in the sickle line a sentence or so earlier. The reason this catches us is that we are already in past tense, and if you have the had wandered in, you drop us into past perfect (not a bad tense), but since you've just done it, it's jarring and makes us wonder if you're going to settle on a tense.

    The second quibble (and these really are quibbles at this point int he game!) "Her sweet, clear voice, rising on the wind to curl among the trees" is present tense when everything around it is past tense. just change the rising to rose.

    Overall, this is a great sample and I like your voice, so I'm very interested to see what happens next. Good job, and good luck!

  5. I liked the writing, just had a quibble with the "little did she know at the time" type of asides.

  6. I assume you've purposefully chosen to write in an omniscient voice, and I like the freshness of it. It allows you to drop in little tidbits about Elisabeth, such as she's not the type to pay attention to signs.

    The portion of the line that bothered Rena, "Her sweet, clear voice rising on the wind to curl among the trees," caused me to stumble, too, not because it's present--"rising" is a participle--but because it's an incomplete clause. We know the subject--voice-- and we have a description of it, but no verb. That could work, but then there's the conjunction that links it with an independent clause, basically saying that both parts should be independent clauses.

    This is identified as historical fantasy, so I'm wondering if the language of the song is a known language. I didn't recognize it. I assumed at first it was your own creation. But I was thrown by "Di vegetabile" which seems related to English and perhaps other romance languages. The word made me think of vegetables in the grocery store or on a dinner plate. Reading further I see the connection with the branches stirring, so it probably refers to vegetation.

    I liked the fact that she grasped the meaning of home even as she was losing it. An interesting point that made me feel for Elisabeth.

  7. I thought the description was well-written and helped create an atmosphere, but that seemed to be all it had. I wanted a hint of a problem, a promise of adventure, and I just didn't see it. A more patient reader probably won't have a problem with this.

    I thought you could cut the line about winter and spring since neither of them have any bearing on anything. The now is what matters here, and nothing you said about winter and spring bears on what's happening now.

    You could also cut the last sentence in the first parg, as well as the first sentence in the next parg. because you're telling us what she'll do in the future. If it doesn't matter, you don't need it. If it does matter, we'll see it happen when it happens. ANd then you go on to say she never paid attention to such things, so it seems it doesn't matter. You might cut all reference to it. If you want us to know it's a crescent moon, just say that and skip all the other unnecessary stuff.

    Voice rising on the wind should be voice rose on the wind.

    Good luck!

  8. The logline definitely entices. Sounds like a engaging story.

    The writing here feels solid, flowing and almost lyrical. But while I'm getting a lot of atmosphere, I'm having trouble identifying with the MC. For one thing, we get three people introduced here in the first 250 words. That feels like a lot, and I'm having trouble figuring out who I should be focusing on, especially since I really know nothing about any of them.

    I would still keep reading a little longer though, based on the overall plot alone.

    Best of luck with it!

  9. Let me start by saying I like this and want to read more, but I have a few nitpicks. The logline is a bit too wordy for me. Violently kidnapped could just be kidnapped. The vampire servants are an interesting point, but whose servants are they? Did the warring families create them? How? Since we don't know the details I'm thinking that maybe they don't belong in the logline. I want to know more details about the sisters and the stakes.

    The first paragraph paints a vivid picture, but I got hung up when the tense shifts and she's thinking about when she could let herself remember this night. Then I stopped again 'when her mind had wandered' and again when we get to the song. Stopping to read lyrics that I can't pronounce and don't understand pulls me out of the story. I'm sure the lyrics have meaning to the sisters but since they have no meaning for the reader at this point I think maybe they would make a bigger impact a little further into the storyline. Just a suggestion. Also got hung up at 'clear voice rising on the wind' but I would keep reading this on the strength of the descriptions alone if it goes somewhere quickly. We are introduced to three characters in the first 250 words and none of the plot. I'm assuming that we're in the woods because that's where the action starts, but I hope it starts soon.

  10. Lyrical writing and excellent atmosphere. I liked the damp carpet of earth and leaf and needle; the spectral glow on the green leaves; and especially her sister's feet turning black with soil.

    This nighttime walk and the reference to doing it for 10 years creates a fantasy feel. I don't know if the song lyrics are an existing language or a made up one, so not sure if it helps the cause.

    I would suggest going a step further and telling us what the character's action goal is in this walk. I can't figure out if they are coming or going and how important the walk is. And since her sister's kidnapping will trigger the action, why not create a stronger bond between them right off the bat than her watching as she walks behind her.

    Nancy Bilyeau

  11. The logline is very intriguing. I think you may want to define the ‘supernatural world’ and why they disavowed it to begin with—therefore expanding on the internal conflict she’ll face going back to that world. Also to distinguish is this purely a vampire story?

    You do a great job setting up the atmosphere in this opening—but the tension could be even more heightened by remaining in deep 3rd POV (at times, the voice becomes omniscient) and upping her perception of the events more. Introducing the stakes, the significance, for what’s going on… What is the purpose of this walk?

    Beware noting things the character herself doesn’t notice. It reads rather telling/foreshadowing, like you’re taking a break to insert it for the reader’s sake in an omniscient voice. These areas could go deeper to establish more of Elisabeth’s character—is she enjoying the walk? Or no? Bringing out more tension from the start could engage readers all the more in the significance of the walk--to let them feel as she does about it.

    I think the premise here is awesome—good luck!