Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March Secret Agent #34

TITLE: The Binder's Web
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Caryn urged her mare to hurry. The sooner she found her brother, the less chance there was of anyone noticing her absence at Caer Penrhyn. With the bustle over the crown prince’s visit, it’d been easier than usual to sneak out. Gwain didn’t get away from his duties at Caer Traeth often enough, and when he did, she rarely had him to herself. She missed him.

Gwain’s message had worried Father, but if there had been a tragedy, surely the messenger would have told his king. Gwain had asked for a private family dinner to discuss something of grave importance. Important news needn’t be bad.

Oak and maple trees, dripping with snow, minimized the sunlight to bright spots that skittered from the wind, blue highlights crawling through Raven’s black mane. The thought of those highlights crawling through her own hair made Caryn’s scalp itch, but she resisted the urge to scratch. Raven’s ears had perked up, and the way she kept pulling right suggested there was another horse that way.

The crossroads at the bottom of the slope would afford Caryn the best advantage for surprising her brother, but he should be approaching from her left. It was the wrong time of day for patrols to be returning from the coast. Could Gwain have anticipated her plan and hidden to catch her off guard? It would be like him.

Caryn stroked Raven's neck. “Quiet. I don't think they know we're here.”

Down the slope, a horse snorted.


  1. The first two paragraphs of this are fine. They do a good job of introducing the main characters, set up some tension with the prince's visit, and Gwain's troubling message.

    The third paragraph has me scratching my head a little. Dripping snow, spots of sunlight skittering in the wind, blue highlights (sunlight) crawling through Raven's mane and her hair, are too much of a stretch of literary description for me. I had to read the sentences a few times to decipher what you were saying. Consider simplifying this section to make it easier for the reader.

    I'm also a little confused by the sequence of the horse's pace.
    1. Caryn urges Raven to hurry.
    2. Raven signals horses ahead.
    3. Caryn quiets Raven and says they haven't yet been heard.

    How is that possible when Raven is still going at a fast pace? Consider having Caryn slow Raven down after she alerts Caryn to strangers.

    Horses have incredible hearing, and also an incredible sense of smell. Consider adding something about Caryn traveling downwind. Otherwise the strange horses would be alerted by Raven's scent.

    I'm also bothered by the many woulds, coulds and shoulds. Have a look at paragraph four and you will find all three of them. Consider rewording to eliminate some of them.

    This sounds pretty negative, but I liked this opening. A little editing will help it stand out.

  2. Less words would make this a stronger opening. In the first paragraph, the second sentence doesn't need "there was." And the sentence about the crown prince's visit slows everything down. That can be mentioned later.

    The third paragraph has good imagery, but the wording is repetitive. If you break off the last part of the first sentence and join it to the second one, it becomes "Blue highlights crawled through Raven's mane, making Caryn's own scalp itch, but she resisited the urge to scratch."

    Then to have more punch, the last sentence can be broken up and become its own paragraph.

    "Raven's ears perked up. She pulled to the right, suggesting another horse that way."

    I'm having a hard time understanding the fourth paragraph. Maybe a little more explanation, while keeping the same amount of words?

    As the commenter above said, this may sound negative, but I like this opening.

  3. I love the opening two sentences -- they definitely pull me in. I stumbled a bit over the place names of Caer Penrhyn and Caer Traeth, but that might just be because I don't read much fantasy so I'm not used to such names!

    I think for me, it feels like there's too much information packed into these opening paragraphs. Personally, I'd love it if the opening visuals were expanded, letting us see her riding, see the landscape, and maybe getting a more gradual feel for the urgency here through the word choices and imagery. Not sure if I'm explaining that very well! Basically, I do really like it, but had trouble really feeling "in" the scene because I was trying to figure things out.

  4. Oho, Welsh fantasy? I'm in! I loved Lloyd Alexander as a kid, and I've still got a soft spot for anything Welsh :)

    "Dripping with snow" kind of threw me. The image I got was that the trees were weighed down, heavy with snow.

    Also curious about the "blue highlights crawling" through hair--is this a magical thing? Why does it make Caryn itchy? The description in the third para needs a little more clarifying, I think. It's close.

    I think I see what everyone's saying about too much info, but...I think there's an easy fix. Swapping the third para with the second would help to keep the info from reading as too much all at once.

    There's also the possibility of cutting the second para altogether--that would keep the focus on Caryn finding her brother without bogging the flow at all.

    Overall, though, I'd keep reading.

  5. I think you have a worthwhile story here, but you are setting the reader up for frustration on two levels, I think. One is too much info too fast. And the second is info that doesn't flow logically.

    In the first paragraph you have Caryn, her brother, Gwain, the crown prince, Caer Penrhyn, and Caer Treth.

    Really there are only two people and two castles, but you are throwing a lot at us in one paragraph. I had to read this several times to figure out who she was, and who he was and how they were related.

    And then I wonder why is it true that the sooner she finds her brother the less chance there is of people noticing her missing? What will finding him on the road do for the people back home at her castle to make them not notice that she is gone?

    I can't figure that out.

    And I don't know what that has to do with the fact that it was easy for her to sneak out.

    And I don't know what the ease of sneaking out has to do with the fact that Gwain doesn't get away often.

    So I'm having a hard time getting into the flow of the story. I don't see one sentence leading to the next, to the next.

    I also don't understand this sentence: Oak and maple trees, dripping with snow, minimized the sunlight to bright spots that skittered from the wind, blue highlights crawling through Raven’s black mane.

    And I don't understand why blue hightlights in the mares mane make Caryn's head itch.

    So at the end, I think, "Wow, this is interesting. There is possibly someone waiting to waylay the crown prince. And Caryn may witness a kidnapping or a murder." But I think you need make the opening much easier to understand if you want people to make it down to this part.

  6. I liked the first line. I got the picture of her pushing her mount faster because she was in a hurry.

    I thought the backstory came in so quickly, I had a hard time staying interested. After the opening two lines, we go back to her sneaking out and her brother not getting away often and the urgent message to father--all things that happened previously. We don't return to what the character is doing until she resists scratching her scalp.

    I'd need more story, I think, to make me want to keep reading.