Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Jurata's Daughter
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Nyada pushed aside the empty boxes stacked at the rear of the garden shed and eased open the hidden door. Strips of moonlight from the windows illuminated rough-hewn steps descending to a cellar lined with vats of mead, each barrel topped with pear-shaped costrels for easy transport. At the far end, a second door—bolted and locked—guarded what Nyada supposed was another storeroom, most likely holding the Order's jewels.

She moved quickly, using a dipper hung from the rocky wall to fill a pouch, then plugged the top and slid the cord over her tunic. At the top of the steps, she paused, brows furrowed. Was someone singing behind the barred door? The haunting melody vanished and Nyada blew out a breath. Nerves, that's all it was. Nobody at the Order lived underground.

Outside the garden she hugged the walls that bordered a five-sided courtyard, taking care to step softly, though all the lights had dimmed save for the ever-burning candles in Mother Gintare’s office. Leaving the Order at night without permission meant a thrashing and the honey wine slung over Nyada's shoulder would no doubt add to her penance. Truth be told, she was beyond caring. If she failed tomorrow Mother’s pine switch would be the least of her worries.

Hardly daring to breathe, she crawled below the office window, bare knees scraping against the cobblestones, keeping a low profile until she reached the westward gate that led to the Baltic Sea.


  1. Ooooh, you've got some beautiful images here, and you've really set the scene for something exciting with great stakes.

    I assume Robin LaFevers' books are going to be great comp titles for this.

    The only picky comment I had was about the dipper filling the pouch in the second paragraph. A dipper of what? Or maybe just drop it and keep her moving.

    In any case, I'm intrigued and would definitely keep reading!

  2. I assumed she was dipping mead, since she was in a room full of mead barrels, but maybe the process could use a bit more description.

    This is another good story beginning where the author gently drops in cues for time and place without being overbearing about it (tunic, candles, Baltic Sea).

    If there's a prisoner behind that barred door, imagine the torment of being confined next to the mead storehouse!

  3. Interesting. Wonder who's behind the door and what's happening tomorrow that has her worried about failure.

  4. Great start: beautiful images, lots of tension, and an interesting setting. I want to know where she's going with that mead.

    My only tiny criticism is that I got hung up in the first paragraph on whether the door to the cellar was in the wall or the floor of the shed. It seems silly to pick on such a minor detail, but it made it hard for me to visualize the scene.

  5. This is an interesting concept. A girl leaving the Order at night without permission on some unknown quest.

    You did a good job of giving us what we need in a gentle way–the setting, the time period, etc.
    Rich descriptions!

    The first paragraph could be a middle one. This needs a better hook. Perhaps start with her spooning the mead into the bag. A key sentence should be moved up: 'if she failed tomorrow,' for tension.

    Also, all your sentences are the same length. This is a problem with YA, who will quit reading long, complex sentences after the first few.

  6. There is a lot of information cleverly dished out in just a few paragraphs, and even the descriptive set up of the scene is weaved in while the action is happening in the scene. Great work.

  7. Well written opening. The only thing that hung me up was the sentence that abruptly said she thought she heard a sound, but then it was nothing. Show us rather than telling us. Describe the actual noise, her straining to hear it, her worrying if someone is down there, and then a bird flying by or some other explanation of what she really heard.

  8. I actually didn't read past the second paragraph because I had too many problems with the visuals you are creating (or not creating). Was the moonlight really coming from the window, or through the window? Also, it must have been some powerful moonlight to be able to illuminate down into the cellar and show the tops of the barrels as well as the door at the far end.

    Then you don't give me the visual of her climbing down the steps and I'm confused when she's reaching for a dipper and filling a pouch I didn't know about. What's she filling it with? Mead? Was one of the barrels already open? Did she open it?

  9. A nice touch of mystery!

    Perhaps, after she slips the cord over her tunic, add a line that says she hears something, then go on to ‘Was it someone singing?”

    You also need a transition between pargs 2 and 3. She hasn’t even gotten outside the shed, and she’s suddenly outside the garden (which the reader doesn’t even know exists). Show the progression from shed to garden to outside the garden.

    And in the last parg, ‘keeping a low profile’ sounds too modern. Maybe rephrase. I’d read more.

  10. I'm intrigued but I suggest working on that first paragraph. It's a bit unwieldly.

  11. I like this very much. The way you have woven in the little historical details to set time and place is wonderful. I love the clandestine feeling of this opening piece.

    I also was unsure if she filled her pouch with mead or something else. Since it is mead,as you tell us later, it's probably better to clarify it here.

    A couple of the sentences could be shortened. Consider putting a period after "...meant a thrashing." Continue with the next sentence "The honey..."

    Also the last line in that paragraph needs a comma, "If she failed tomorrow, Mother's...".

    Finally, consider making the very last line two sentences. "...cobblestones. Keeping a low profile, she...".

    Good Luck.