Friday, November 11, 2016

On The Block #20 - WEBS OF GHOST MAGIC 12:10 PM EST

GENRE: YA Fantasy

In WEBS OF GHOST MAGIC, a princess of Glenwys reaches across two kingdoms to save a prince of Emlyn from a Cadmarian assassin, but saving him reveals her as the dreamer Emperor Cadmar sent his ghost mage to find. And the prince can’t let a dreamer live.

Prince Lael caught his first whiff of murder three weeks before his seventeenth birthday. No one committed murder in the Kingdom of Emlyn.

Lael and his champion were on their way back from the Southern Markets when Lael smelled the corpse. Lael swung down from his horse to investigate—not from any real sense of concern or urgency but because his backside needed a break. They’d spent a lot of time in the saddle over the last few days, setting a much needed renovation in motion. Kellen protested the detour at first, but then he dismounted to follow.

Deep snow grabbed at Lael’s boots, nearly yanking them off with each step he took. Sun shining on the vast expanse of white made him squint to protect his eyes.

Which direction had the wind blown that smell from?

There. A patch of brown splotched the white to his left, not far from a tall pine tree. Lael veered toward it. Wavy brown hair covered most of the bloated face. A girl. She lay stretched out on her side, arms flung wide. Up close, the stench made him hold his breath. It was difficult to tell her age, but she looked younger than he was. Horrified, he reached for the knife handle protruding from her shoulder.

“Don’t touch that,” Kellen said, investigating the surrounding area. “It isn’t safe this close to the border, my prince. We should go.”

“But we aren’t that close to the border, Kel, and this little knife shouldn’t have killed her.”


  1. The first paragraph confused me, a whiff of murder, but no murder. The rest was nice and drew me in.

  2. Obviously some world building is coming to help us better understand the characters and situation, however I think it was a very good idea to start with a murder and some mystery on the very first page instead of explanations and description.

  3. I agree, seems like the right place to start! Draws you in. I'd say two things. First, the prince doesn't investigate out of any sense of concern or urgency. But we want to like him. And if murder never happens in this kingdom, I'd think he would be concerned. Second, I'd say the girl could have been killed from a little knife. But that shoulder wound is what wouldn't have killed her.

  4. I agree about that 'no sense of urgency' line. Perhaps consider replacing it, and most of that 2nd parg with dialogue.

    In parg five, I'd suggest putting 'a girl' before describing her hair and face, that way the reader knows what you're describing.

    The word 'investigating' is used twice. You may want to change one.

    And if it turns out that the girl is Glenwys, then Lael didn't really smell murder. I only mention it because that's a great line that won't work if the girl is Glenwys, and/or still alive.

  5. I'm definitely intrigued and would keep reading. As I read your first line, I thought the hook would be stronger if you swapped line 1 and 2. "No one committed murder in the..." That being said, I also thought there might be more draw if you added an emotion. For example, "No one had anything to fear in the kingdom of Emlyn. Until Prince Lael..." Just an idea since you use murder twice in the first two lines. Otherwise, super interesting. I did also wonder why the prince's right hand man would think they were close to the border and yet the prince did not. Wouldn't that be clear? Maybe you have a reason for their different views on this. Good luck!

  6. I love this premise and starting with a murder is a great way to draw the reader in. My only comment would be that I found it a little dry and emotionless. Murder never happens, but there is no surprise or indignation or anger, just a single "horrified".

  7. I really like your pitch; it has great cadence and definitely arouses interest. I love "And the prince can’t let a dreamer live." Beautiful.

    I would remove "—not from any real sense of concern or urgency but because his backside needed a break. " I would keep the mystery and go easy on the details to keep the pace and tension.

  8. The tagline definitely drew me in although it seems like multiple plots and I might focus on one. Which antagonist is primary? The assassin or the ghost mage? Painting Lael as more interested in a break from riding then investigating a murder-that-never-happens makes him unlikable and reduces tension. I suggest having Lael be super-interested as well as disgusted, and then having his champion think that the prince is really just looking for distraction. I would show Kellen being more worried since attackers may still lurk nearby. I need a hint of Kellen's age too? Is he fatherly to Lael or younger and more friendly in his tone? Cheers!

  9. I thought the pitch was intriguing! This is the kind of premise that I like—an assassin, and the prince who can’t let the MC live. Nice. If you get in other contests with short pitches (unlike normal queries), I’d try and cut a few words (like repeating the title and putting the names, like Glenwys, Emlyn, Cadmarian, etc), and use that space to flesh out the problem a bit more. Because now I’m wondering why the prince can’t let a dreamer live, and what exactly is a dreamer. But overall, as I said, I liked the premise!

    I thought the first page was intriguing, too. I like the details you have there about the snow nearly yanking the boots off, and I also like that you let us know it’s daytime from the start. There’s also tension and a mystery because of the murder and that is interesting, too.

    As a personal preference, I love it when books zoom in the character, so you can FEEL what the POV character is going through. I thought like this first page was a little zoomed out. Like you say Lael smelled the corpse, but right that moment, he actually doesn’t know it’s a corpse, right? Because you say he wasn’t concerned. OR, if he knew it was a corpse, then why in the world wasn't he concerned?

    To zoom in, you could tell us what the smell is like—like blood? Maybe like bird poop, because all these nasty birds are around wanting to eat the body? Like rotten meat? Etc. And then you can show us Lael, like rolling his shoulders, or rubbing his neck, because he needs a break from the saddle—but in a way that we see he’s tired (if he doesn't know it's a murder). And then you could show us Kellen’s protests—and show us a bit there about who Kellen is. So I think fleshing out this a bit would make us zoom in the character more and we could see how his sense of urgency goes from unconcerned to worried.

    Also, watch out when you name the emotions your characters are feeling. Like you say he’s “horrified.” But I wonder, is there a way that you can build that up and show us he’s scared? Is he a little sick? Is your character someone who flinches? I see an instance here where you could show us who your character is more, letting us know how he reacts. When you name an emotion is usually a way to see that you’re “telling instead of showing.”

    Nitpicking.... It would be nice for you to introduce the knife thing a bit more—like, you say “the knife handle” as if he’s already seen a knife. I’d try to introduce the knife and maybe what he thinks about it before he reaches for it. What does he want to know about the knife? If the girl is dead, why does he want to touch it? See, that’s what I mean when I say, “zoom in.”

    Overall, I think this is a nice, intriguing start, and I wish you luck in the agents’ round!

    Mónica Bustamante Wagner

  10. The premise is great, something I could really get into.

    However, the second sentence in the first paragraph ruined the mood. Murder is dramatic enough. Point out how unheard of it is in this setting later in the passage, when he finds the body. The point is still made without diminishing the power of the opening sentence.

    There was a lot of passive language too, that bogged down the scene. "Which direction had the wind blown that smell from?" could have easily been more active. "Where was the smell coming from?" would do it, or simply showing him trying to locate it. Don't let the inanimate things be the ones to take action, let the things happen around the character so THEY take the action.

    This does look promising. Best of luck to you!

    Leah Petersen

  11. "Caught his first whiff of murder" seems callous, contrived, or cute, and none of them work for me. I'd cut the first sentence and start with the second, adding the word 'Prince' and saying who or what his champion is (a horse, a person?).

    "Setting a much needed renovation in motion" is confusing and tells me nothing. Third paragraph: delete "he took" - not needed; slows the flow.

    Not clear why Lael is horrified to find the body when he felt no "concern or urgency" to investigate. If he thought it was just a dead animal, say so there - because it makes him come across very callous. But you say "the corpse," and that's used to refer to a dead human, not animals.

    Rather than say "investigating the surrounding area," say what he is doing. Looking around? Scanning the area?

    I'm confused both why he would reach for the knife handle, and why he thinks a small knife couldn't have killed the girl - if these are significant, give us more of a hint.

    Probably a compelling story here, but I'd tighten and focus, and make it come a bit more alive.

  12. Intriguing premise and great beginning, opening with a mystery/murder. I wanted there to be more intensity, more curiosity. A sense of danger beyond the warning given by Lael's champion.
    I wanted to feel more immersed in the scene, rather than 'observing' it in description (if that makes sense).
    The dead body and the way/reason the girl died is a great hook and makes me want to read on to see what happened!

  13. You have a great hook to start the book off with. The log line intrigued me as well- good job. My only comment is that you mention knee high snow. If the snow's that deep it must be very cold. Very cold means a frozen corpse, which leads to low, if any, decomposition. My point being, the girl's body wouldn't smell. Perhaps he should just see her (a break in the monotony of white) instead of smell her?
    Good luck! :)

  14. Thanks so much for these comments!