Friday, December 2, 2011

#60 YA Fantasy: The Book of Three

TITLE: The Book of Three
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Three unlikely conspirators—Janey the miller’s daughter, her suitor Dickon, and a young prince with a price on his head—are thrown together by a civil war sparked by a regicide baron of the magic-working race who conquered Salix three hundred years ago. Janey befriends young Val before learning his identity, but his enemies hunt him with beasts spawned by corrupt magic. To save themselves, their families, and Salix itself, Janey and Dickon must persuade young Val to embrace his perilous birthright, then help him unite their oppressed people against the baron’s army and evil powers.

The day of Thane Scammony’s flour distribution, my father ordered me to make the trek to Ulworthy to collect our portion, despite Mam’s protests that a girl shouldn’t be alone on the road. Time was, I’d have been glad to go. Time was, I’d sought any chance to go to town, eager for the shops and exotic wares river traders brought—for a world wider than our village mill.

Now, three years on from the old king’s death, I was afraid. Too many of Thane Scammony’s hard-eyed soldiers quartered in Ulworthy, and the royal foresters had been withdrawn, so the road through the Arrowood scared me as never in my almost seventeen years. What with the fighting down south, rumor whispered of masterless men killing folk on the roads.

Worse, last month, I’d heard a scream rising outside Grimsby village that froze my marrow. Next day, Mistress Pymm couldn’t find her pigs, only a pool of blood in the sty. No wolf left so little trace. It was a fiend-cat haunting us, evil come to life out of ancient tales.

Fiend-cats stalked by night, the tales said. I prayed so, for if I didn’t go to town, we’d have no flour. No bread in lean times meant my family starved. Da couldn’t go, not with him doing the work of three, laying in wood and fodder against the cold months and draining our rented fields. Not that he’d go anyhow—not Da, the miller of Grimsby Dale, to beg someone else’s flour.


  1. From your logline, the plot seems quite complex, which isn't a bad thing - I love to hunker down with a complex-plotted book.

    I love love LOVE the voice here. It's just enough old-time-otherworldly to really take me to your world, but not so much that it's distancing. (I love "Time was" and "masterless men.")

    I really love the feeling of danger we get from this first page. Would definitely settle down with this book to see what happens.

  2. I really liked this...there's a palpable sense of danger, especially in the last paragraph. A couple minor things: there are a lot of unfamiliar names introduced, especially in the first couple of lines. "Thane" "Ulworthy"...maybe spread these out a bit more to keep from inundating the reader with unfamiliar terms right away.

    Also, "The Book of Three" is the title of a wonderful MG fantasy/adventure Lloyd Alexander. I'd suggest changing.

  3. Logline: Sorry, I'm lost. Does Val = the prince? Does it matter that she befriends him without knowing who he is? It seems that the effect (that they do end up together) would be more important. And a lot of history crammed in that just raises a lot of questions. I'd focus on the present situation rather than past conquests.

    On the excerpt itself: great voice; really evokes a historical tone, and the sort of pragmatism that a commoner of the era would have to possess. And the bit about the fiend was suitably eerie.

    But plot-wise, I am a little shocked that the father would prize his pride over his daughter's safety and virtue. Also, would she not have to reveal that she's his daughter, anyway?

    Another point of confusion: if there's a war going on, why are there so many soldiers in the city? Shouldn't they be out fighting?

    These things will probably smooth out with more reading, but as it is I'm feeling a bit at sea with what the current situation is, besides clear danger for the girl and a not-particularly admirable father sending her into it. If saving her family ends up being an important factor, I hope there'll be more about their relationship.

  4. I also liked the voice. The high fantasy style of your prose felt natural, not over-done, and it really pulled me in. The story also sounds like something I'd enjoy reading. That said I'd have preferred a little less backstory and a little more show in an opening page.

    I like the opening paragraph, but I expected the action/scene to commence in paragraph two. I think if you showed the MC in Ulworthy engaged in whatever your opening problem/incident is you'd give the reader someone to connect with. We could also see the creatures, soldiers, etc. in action and learn about the world in that way.

    Good luck.

  5. The logline confuses me. Is the prince Val? I think you need to take out the history in the logline and focus on the major point, using as few names as possible.

    I love the style of writing, very different and refreshing. But the style of writing mixed with all the new names right at the beginning leaves me very confused.

    I'm also a little pissed that the father would let her go.. but maybe you want us to be pissed at him :)

  6. I love LOVE the voice here. It's utterly fantastic. Her Dad sounds like a hard man, though. I'm very much intrigued by the voice alone.

  7. High fantasy-- sign me up. My only problem aside from the confusing/long log-line is this: a clutter of proper nouns early on. Slow down, let us absorb your world.

  8. I agree with everyone about the voice - it's fantastic. Also confused about Prince = Val in the log line. There are a lot of people introduced at the start of the log line.

    Great sense of danger and tension. The dad sounds like a mean one, so no love lost there when she sets out on her adventure.

  9. Love the voice, there's a great sense of urgency. I would read on to see what happens!! I also got confused in your logline, the word "regicide" held me up and I had a hard time following. I agree with Amanda G. Maybe slow things down a little so we have time to grasp Ulworthy and the rules of the world you're setting up here before moving on (although I LOVE the concepts going on here! Just need more time to absorb).

  10. This style reminds me of The Song of Ice and Fire books, which I love, love, love. Great voice and I am sufficiently intrigued. It feels like I'm in capable hands. My only nit is as others have said. It's very cumbersom, difficult to read at first because of the names, etc. I'm thinking this may smooth out as you get further in, though. I also echo the idea of starting further in to the scene without quite so much backstory. You can save it for later.

    Great job!

  11. I'm in the same boat as many of the commenters here. I like the high-fantasy concept and the voice is intriguing, but I am lost in the logline. I had to read the first sentence three times and actually parse the ending grammatically to figure out what was going on.

    I also agree that jumping into the action would be a stronger opening than this back story. You open with "the day of the flour distribution" - which made me sit up and take notice. What is the flour distribution? Are people starving? Ooh what's going to happen...and I was ready to roll with you to get those answers. First sentence - good hook.

    The problem is, from there it diverged into backstory and that lost me. I think if you could bring the action forward and seed the backstory farther in, this would be a really interesting read.

    I like the voice a lot, though.

  12. I'm with everyone else. Nice voice, intriguing set-up, but the logline was confusing (particularly "are thrown together by a civil war sparked by a regicide baron of the magic-working race who conquered Salix three hundred years ago), and the excerpt was a little too back story heavy for my taste.

    Obviously I don't know what's in the next page or so, but would it be possible to give us that first paragraph and give us the rest of the back story as she's on this perilous journey?

    Best of luck!

  13. Love the voice. You've nailed that hint of "other" that characterizes high fantasy.

    On the action not starting right away - I feel like your story really starts as soon as she steps onto the road to go get the flour. In some ways the backstory is jarring because you set up the action so well in that first sentence. I'm okay waiting a few more paragraphs to get there, but at some point she's got to stop worrying about it and get on with the adventure.

    One nitpick, and this may just be me, but the voice feels older than YA. This may be because in a medieval-type setting, 17 is much more adult than child (and, IMO, the YA/adult distinction doesn't matter so much in fantasy.)

    Best of luck.

  14. Yes, the logline was confusing, but as I struggled with my own, I get that condensing a high fantasy novel into a couple of sentences would be pretty difficult.

    I loved the high-fantasy voice. Especially the MC's turn of phrase, "time was". The hint of danger throughout was also well done.

    I did get a little overwhelmed with all those proper nouns in just the first 250 words. Some of it was from backstory, so maybe you could focus on the most pressing conflict--the fiend-cats.

    Good luck with this!

  15. As Lariss said, the part of the logline about 'civil war sparked by a regicide baron of the magic-working race who conquered Salix three hundred years ago' really tripped me up. I think if you broke the sentence into two, ending at the civil war, and later feed the information about the baron when you talk more about Val (could you name him the first time you mention the prince?), it would flow better.

    I loved the voice, especially the way you captured the small-village mindset-- a trip to town, how exciting! The threat of everything that could go wrong on the trip is interesting, but as others have said, I'd rather *see* the troubles than be told about them. Still, I'd definitely read on.

  16. This hooked me. I love the voice, and the world-building seems really solid. The log line is complex and a bit confusing, but I feel like it would explain itself as the story went on. Definitely something I'd read. Nicely done! =)

  17. I'm agreeing with most of the comments on here, so not adding a lot of new feedback: the voice is fantastic, pulled me in from the start, and I immediately feel part of this girl's world - or that I'd like to be. Very interested to learn more about her!

    And I agree that the logline seems a bit cluttered, and that for this genre, I'd prefer to see a bit of action happening before we get inside the MC's head, even just a sentence or two would help. I assumed that Val was the prince, so not sure why people are asking, other than they want to make the point that it's not 100% clear, but it seemed clear to me... I guess I just assumed since you say he's got a price on his head, then say Val has enemies hunting him. Kinda makes sense. Especially when you get to the birthright thing. So I don't necessarily think it's required to spoonfeed the reader. The only thing about the logline that I'd change is try to shorten the sentences, and maybe that would help make it easier to digest.

    I would definitely keep reading because it's clear from your writing that you've read the pants off your genre and are putting your own stamp on it!! :)

  18. I think the problem with your logline is your focus is too split. Agents generally recommend focusing on one character in your query, and though this is a logline, just from reading this I'd assume your query is similarly structured. Even though this book is about three main characters, just pick ONE to focus on (ideally your initial protag), and trust that her storyline is interesting enough to hook an agent/reader into reading further. If your initial character's story/actions aren't engaging enough to keep someone reading, its likely not going to matter that you have two more POVs to offer them further on...they'll quit reading before then.

    That said, you've got a quality voice and seem to have a good direction going here - trust in it and just highlight where THIS character is going. If you hook readers with this first character and storyline, the other two will just be added gravy.

  19. So my first reaction to your title is The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, one of my favorite books. The inclusion of pigs on the first page, three unlikely travellers bound together, and a village-born adventurer wannabe only furthered this reaction. I think you'll want another title for sure!

    The road seems very dangerous, and if ever her mother doesn't want her to go, I have a hard time believing Janey's father would ask her to go. Wouldn't he send someone with her if he couldn't accompany her?

    There is a lot of explaining about the times and rumors in this opening, but not so much action. I want to know more about Janey and her personality. All I know is that she wants to see more of the world and that she's afraid of the road. Maybe you could open with her on the road already, in some sort of situation where I'll learn who she is and want to learn more about her.

    This page has tension but it's sort of lurking in the shadows, not affecting Janey directly. Why not swirl that tension around her and see how she reacts?

    Good luck!

  20. I had the same reaction as others. You write beautifully, but I think this page could use some showing and not so much telling. The world you have created sounds intriguing, but you've included a lot of ideas on this first page. I'd prefer a first page that was focused on one aspect of this story and showed us Janey in action.

    I also think your logline is too long. It's more of a query than a logline. I would pare it down to the very basics: "When civil war breaks out in the land of Selix, miller's daughter Janey and her suitor Dickon must help Val, a prince in disguise, unite their oppressed people against the ruling baron's army and evil magical powers." That's 34 words vs the 96 in your logline. That's just an example by the way, you will probably want to word it differently and maybe include different info, but you get the general idea.


    Logline: I think this needs some tightening and trimming to be more direct and clear – get right to the protagonist and what trouble she’s up against, and leave all these world details to the appropriate moment where we need to understand in the manuscript.

    Line notes: For an opening page, this has a LOT of history, not a lot of actual walking down a road observing things/doing things. Could you show Da sending her off, Mam protesting? Might be better to get this information, and why it could be dangerous for her to go, firsthand.

    Overall: I’m intrigued by this girl and her voice, which feels natural to you, and the situation she finds herself in, out alone on the road, the daughter of a miller on her way to beg for a ration of flour. I’d love for you to show me more of all these events unfolding – start your story with a bit more action and therefore momentum.

    Best of success.