Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January Secret Agent #45

TITLE: By Virtue Fall
GENRE: YA Apocalyptic Fantasy

Mama always said freedom could be found inside Haven’s walls. When we’d sit together on the porch at night, mending Papa’s casting nets to the glow of fireflies and chirrup of katydids, she’d weave stories she’d picked up in the market: that a temple in Haven’s central city had a steeple so tall it scraped the clouds; that lordlings there lived in palaces and held parties in rooms dipped in gold; that shiny black locomotives raced across metal tracks, moving faster than any horse could run.

But I never believed her.

What kind of freedom could be confined by walls?

I was naive to ever mistake shelter for confinement.

Tribulation rises over the southern landscape like a metal tidal wave, seconds from crashing onto the ghost town below. My squad shouldn’t be this close to the wall. If Haven’s knights catch us they won’t hesitate to shoot. But we haven’t found a usable voltic cell in months, so the abandoned research facility inside their “dreg free” zone may be our last chance to get one before my brother’s heart stops ticking.

I grip my battle axe and lead my squad through the dusty streets. All around, the city’s roofs are caved in, with glass shards clinging to their windows like cracked teeth. My metal arm rattles from the tension coiled in my shoulders as I step into Tribulation’s shadow. No going back to camp empty handed today. Ari won’t have to pull another brave face to shield me from his disappointment.


  1. Very well written!

    Excellent descriptions; they give me a clear mental picture of the MC’s life.

    The transition from the first half of the passage to the last two paragraphs is a little disorienting. Perhaps the first half of the passage can be a prolouge?

    Again, beautiful writing and a pleasure to read.

  2. I like the first sentence. The juxtaposition of finding freedom behind walls is a great concept. You have a quiet, contemplative beginning, with some homey detail.

    But then, the tone and pace of the story change completely in the second to last paragraph and it’s jarring. It feels like two different stories. Also, the last two paragraphs are packed with a lot of names and concepts we have no context for: Tribulation, dreg free, voltic cell, ghost town. Where are they? Are they close to the wall or are they on the inside of it? It took me a read or two to break down what’s happening, and that prevented me from getting completely engaged in the story. Maybe you could slow this down and help us understand, where we are, what’s happening and who is talking. Without some sort of set up, it’s very confusing. Good luck!

  3. I agree with the first two comments. I thought we were talking about slavery in the South. Then we were in a futuristic dystopia. I would smooth out the transition, probably by expansion. Otherwise, the writing is quite good.

  4. I like your opening sentence and I like the only sentence in the second paragraph. But there's too much in between, in my opinion. Maybe you could repeat something else Mama always said. Or write, "Mama always said that shiny black locomotives raced across metal tracks, moving faster than any horse could run.

    But I never believed her."

    That way, the never believing is closer to the phrase "Mama always said." Just a thought.

    I also spent a little while not knowing that Tribulation was a place. I thought at first that you meant it metaphorically, like great suffering was spreading in waves over the town or whatever it is. I’m sure that’s a bit of what you mean, by naming the place as such, but maybe you could just add that it’s a town or a settlement or whatever.

    Also, a lot is packed into the second to last paragraph. That’s a lot fo exposition and plot building to put into the very beginning of the story. The beginning pulls me in nicely, but then there are too many concepts that I don’t know about, too many unfamiliar. Maybe this exposition can be moved a bit later in the story. I want to know more about the MC! You hooked me from the start, now give me more!

  5. I felt a bit torn between worlds while reading this. Some of the descriptions led me to believe it was a world without technology (heading into battle with an axe). Yet there are railroads. Also, the action seemed to jump from a secluded home (or village) to a populated walled city and I felt confused in that moment, as I wasn't sure why the scene had abruptly changed. Questions that come to mind: What tribulation rose over the ghost town? Was Haven the ghost town? Or is the wall somewhere else? Do the Haven knights use arrows, or do they shoot guns? There is style in your writing, and I think by taking the time to transition from one idea to the next in a clearer way will allow your style to shine through!

  6. I felt like I had whiplash reading this, that was one abrupt change in style and tone. I wasn't sure what just happened there but it felt like a totally different story from the first half to the second.

    Maybe a smoother transition would help, it was hard to get into what was happening because I was questioning too much

  7. Aside from the other critiques, I have two other suggestions to make.

    I like your opening sentence. The second sentence in your first paragraph is pretty long. I suggest trying to find a spot to split them it into two.

    Some terms are mentioned that need to be subtly defined: voltic cell and dreg free.

  8. I agree with the others that the transition from past and present is a bit rough. Starting your book with a flashback is really risky, too--it breaks the standard author rules, and sometimes you can get away with that, but some agents will just treat it as a hard pass.

    I think there's a way you can integrate her bitter thoughts about Haven into the fight as it happens, so you don't need the flashback. It's completely reasonable for her to be thinking about why she doesn't like Haven as they shoot at her, and then you can skip the flashback.

  9. The mama/papa and casting nets and katydids tells us historical, country, and poor. It’s a lovely description, but it’s not the tone you’re going for. It’s certainly not a match for the jarring battle axe toting tone we get later on.
    I think framing this attack as a simultaneous assault on the childish idealism she once harbored for this place is a solid idea, so just keep playing around with the execution.

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