Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Chasing Skyfire
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

Insects flitted among the dust motes in the soft glow of the lantern, dancing drunkenly with every rush of wind from the erratic sword swings in the narrow stables.

Isa preferred the company of the horses to what the Longhouse had to offer on a feast night. Horses were easier to please—a handful of oats bought their affection.

The air in the stables was warm and musty. Safe. Not like the prickly smells of roasting meat and spiced ale filling the Longhouse.

Taking a step back, she glared at her cedar opponent and adjusted her grip on her sword. Scrunching up her nose, she mocked the weary, faceless dummy with her mother's words: “Have you listened to nothing the swordmaster has taught you? Are you heir to this clan—or aren't you?

At the last, Isa swung hard at the practice dummy. The impact of her strike rattled up her arms and the blade stuck fast in the scarred wood. The pommel gems shone black in the lantern light. Muttering furious oaths under her breath, she tugged at her sword but it didn't give an inch.

If she left it there, she'd get lectured again on how proper Nords, especially daughters of jarls, were supposed to behave. Proper Nords did not leave their mark of status sticking out of a dummy in the stables.

Proper Nords did as they were told. Proper Nords would be honored to represent their clan at the annual ass-kissing festival in the Oslo court.


  1. I'm hooked. I liked this quite a bit. Here are just some nit-picky things.

    Your first line is great.

    "Isa preferred the company of the horses to what the Longhouse had to offer on a feast night. Horses were easier to please—a handful of oats bought their affection."

    I'm embarrassed to say that I had to read this twice. At first blush, for some dumb reason, I thought, oh my gosh, she is going to eat the horses. She prefers the horses to the food that is served at the Longhouse. I think it is the combo of "had to offer" and "Feast night." But of course I now understand she prefers the company of horses to the PEOPLE who might be at the tavern.

    "The air in the stables was warm and musty. Safe. Not like the prickly smells of roasting meat and spiced ale filling the Longhouse."

    While I like this, I wonder if we should instead compare the company/ safety of horses/ barn to the company of PEOPLE (not compare the safety of the barn to the yummy smell of a tavern). Because we're talking about food again and I don't think the stable can offer her an alternative form of sustenance. AND most of us prefer the smell of a restaurant to the smell of a stable.

    Also I love the word jarl.

  2. That first line begins with setting. Not a huge fan. I'd prefer you used "Isa preferred the company of horses" as your opening line. Much more unique than "dancing insects".

    Also, that paragraph has a lot of "the" and "of the". Maybe TOO MUCH description?

    "ass-kissing" seems anachronistic

  3. I like this a lot. I also agree with most of the comments above. But I disagree with the comment about starting with setting. In this case, I think you give us a nice sensory sense of your character in a specific place. Your writing is very lyrical and I wonder if trimming a few select adjectives might better suit a YA audience. A.Wells

  4. I’m going to jump in here and say that your setting in this piece is pretty much well thought out. I love the sensory descriptions, the belligerent daughter. My mind goes straight to Merida and BRAVE.

    However that first sentence stumps me every time I try to read it, especially aloud. It’s too much rushing at me all in one sentence. It’s too much in one mouthful. Try slowing it down, maybe making it into two sentences.

    Or reduce it to something like:
    "In the soft glow of the lantern, insects and dust motes dance with every rush of wind from the erratic swinging of Isa’s sword in the narrow stables. The air was warm and musty. Safe. Not prickly like the Longhouse with it’s roasted meats and spiced ale scents."

    Then I think it helps the pacing if you switch the fourth and fifth paragraphs. Have her hit the dummy. Show this aggression first then explain where it’s coming form.

  5. An interesting opening page. You could give us a tad more. What is the problem? Does she not want to go to the ass kissing festival because she does not want to kiss asses, or because she doesn’t want to be the clan’s heir, or she hates sword fighting. Let us know what the problem is.

    Parg 1 –change stables to stable, because Isa is only swinging her sword in one stable.

    Parg 2 implies it’s hard to gain affection in the long house on feast night. Is that what you are trying to say? Perhaps tell us what it is the longhouse offers on feast night.

    Parg 3 says the smells of roasting meat and spiced ale aren’t safe. Again, is that what you mean to say.

    Parg 4 Taking a step back from what?

    Parg 5 rattled up her arms – a nice image! And perhaps tell us what color the gems really are.

    Last parg – Nice! It gives a sense of where the story is going.

  6. I loved this opening. It gave a really great sense of time, place and character. I particularly liked the way you brought out her relationship with her mother through her interactions with the dummy.

    I'd consider either losing the first paragraph or moving it further down, as I think para 2 would make a great opening.

    I was also a little puzzled by the idea that the roasting meats and spiced ale smelt "prickly" and were negative scents. I think most people would think they were pleasant, inviting smells. If she genuinely hates the food and drink, I think that needs bringing out more. If you're simply trying to emphasise how much she hates the feast as an event, perhaps focus on another, more obviously unpleasant detail.

    These are small things though, I really did think this was great.

  7. There's too much in this first sentence - "Insects flitted among the dust motes in the soft glow on the lantern." STOP. That's a lovely image! Leave it there! The next sentence can tell us about the sword swings.
    There's also too much description here:
    "dancing drunkenly, erratic sword swings, narrow stables" - it's a bit too much.

    However, I do like the next sentence and so far I'm keen to read on.

    As I read I thought this was going to be a typical medieval type setting (which it sort of is) but I was happy to see that you took it in what seems like a Scandinavian direction. I'd definitely read on.

    Thanks for entering!