Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January Secret Agent #3

GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

Today, the horizon was a promise, not a prison.

Isa stood at the bow of her uncle’s ship, her face turned into the wind and spray. For two days the merchant vessel had skimmed through the waves, past mountains and islands carved off from the mainland when gods and giants still waged their wars.

The ship had long left her mother’s lands—of farms and forests and deep, wild mountains—and still there was more to discover. What else was out there? Beyond Helgeland, beyond Nordland... Isa’s wool cloak twisted in her fist. Better not think about it—she'd never have the chance to find out. A jarl’s place was within her borders, save for brief, diplomatic trips like this one.

It took Isa months to convince her mother to send her to the festival in Oslo this year, but being one failure shy of exile made for a strong argument. The Oslo king hosted the largest Winter Nights Festival in the twelve kingdoms, and it was Isa’s last chance to prove herself worthy of being her mother’s heir.

With the twilight of an early evening fading, the crew should have been on the lookout for an inlet to put into for the night, but they sailed on without slowing. Lanterns at the fore and aft of the karve turned the ship into a glowing island passing through the dark. The one above Isa cut stark shadows into the dragon figurehead that marked the ship as part of Uncle Eyvind's fleet.


  1. This has vivid imagery with great scene-setting - I can clearly picture the ship. The premise is interesting and is succinctly revealed in just 3 short paragraphs. I'd keep reading.
    If I had any criticism, it's to fine-tune the sentences and strengthen the verbs. Example: "carved off from the mainland" could be "carved from the mainland". "...into a glowing island passing through the dark" could use a stronger verb. Slicing? Floating?

  2. Oh wow, I love the first line. And all the imagery makes it SO vivid! I'm Norwegian so I might be biased, but I also love that it takes place in a lesser known place (aka Norway)! I'm interested to know what happens at this festival and exactly how she'll be able to prove herself.

  3. LOVE the alliteration of the first line. I think the whole section flows so smoothly.

  4. Nothing happened. A girl stood on a ship.

    The writing is good, but you immediately go into backstory. A short descriptive parg could work to set time, place, and mood, but you might try replacing the rest with what's happening now. Once you have the reader firmly placed in the 'now' of your story, then you can add in some backstory.

    Perhaps start with some action. It doesn't have to be grandiose. Show us who's rowing the boat. Maybe have Isa speak to someone. Do we have sails flapping in the wind? Waves lapping or crashing? Give us movement.

    Nice work with the historical elements.

  5. With the first line, I thought this story was in first person. But its not. And I thought it was today not before. She needs to be doing something. Getting her sea legs, hanging on so she won't fall overboard? Something. Isn't early evening and twilight the same thing? Can you start with the last paragraph and have her see the inlet even though the ship sails past?Only my opinion though.

  6. I love the title and a maritime historical is right up my alley! This feels like a really rich historical to get lost in. My only critiques are

    1. The wind and spray on the bow of a ship - would love more physical description of how this feels. Is it freezing cold, salty on her lips, a harsh wind or gentle breeze? "Winter Nights Festival" makes me thinks he should be freezing out there, but I don't feel anything. I want to feel it along with her.

    2. The explanations / backstory. Would like to see more happening in the here and now.

  7. I like this.

    The only thing I would consider possibly changing is where you are using the - . I used these a lot in my first draft so I know the temptation of the dash.

    If you went from this 'The ship had long left her mother’s lands—of farms and forests and deep, wild mountains—and still there was more to discover.' to maybe this 'The ship had long left her mother’s lands of farms and forests and deep, wild mountains. There was more to discover...' it might make it read a little stronger. It gives you a chance to let us know what she's thinking of that's out there. But that's just me!

  8. Ooh… Great first line! I love it!

    Few small copyedit-type quibbles. For example: Can an island be carved into a mainland? Love the tone, but you could massage some of these a bit.

    I’d caution you not to try too-too hard to sound like a fantasy. (for example the awkward phrasing/structure of The ship had long left her mother’s lands) It’s too easy to start to sound derivative. Similarly, I don’t think many readers will immediately know what “jarl’s place” means based on the existing context clues since there are a few potential definitions, so you might consider waiting a bit longer, until the reader is grounded with a sense of place before introducing a sentence one might have to reread a few times to understand.

    “The Oslo king hosted the largest Winter Nights Festival… last chance to prove herself worthy of being her mother’s heir.” This sentence is a perfect example of telling vs. showing. Trust your reader to pick up on your clues without having to spell everything out to us on the first page. And trust yourself to be able to convey the energy, the feeling, the uncertainty of a moment like this, enough to intrigue the reader, to keep us turning the pages until we can discover for ourselves what exactly this means.

    All in all, I think you’ve done a great job setting the tone. It’s a great first page.

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