Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September Secret Agent #46

Title: The Relic Heir
Genre: MG Fantasy Adventure

Kazan Governate, Russian Empire, 1772

Ivan Kirilov threw open the warped shutters and scanned the swirling snow. Furious flurries of powder pelted his face, but beyond the grayish white of endless winter he couldn’t see a thing.

He quickly shut the window. A loud growl erupted from his belly. He didn’t like cooking, but on days like this—when his father was late from work—he knew better than to delay supper.

Ivan’s mouth sagged while he stoked the fire. Turnip stew again. The warm hearth turned his thoughts from the bland meal to the coming spring and the freedom it would give him to wander outside the village borders, to hunt and fish and gorge himself on wild berries. With a frustrated sigh he lugged the large iron pot off the table and nestled it among the dancing flames.

When he removed the lid, he was surprised to find an envelope inside. He quickly snatched it up. The wax seal had been hastily applied, and red dots trailed across the envelope like droplets of blood. Ivan sat down and ripped the envelope open. Several sheets of parchment fell onto the rough tabletop. One was crumpled and torn like it had been stuffed in as an afterthought. He read it first.

Son, forgive me. I will not be coming back.

Ivan quickly reread it, confusion clouding his face like the storm outside. It had to be a joke.

The enclosed letter will explain everything, but before you read it you must flee!


  1. The setting draws me in with the warmth of the interior verses the cold outside. You've done a good job showing Ivan works for what little he has in life. Great suspense with the letter! Great visual and possible foreshadowing with " dots trailed across the envelope like droplets of blood."

    This wording is a little tongue tying--"Furious flurries of powder pelted" so maybe change a word or two but keep the visual.


    Hello! I loved this so much that I had to be excited about it first. Great opening, great tension, and the sentence that begins 'The warm hearth turned his thoughts' made me fixed in for life.

    The hook is a good one, but comes off slightly awkard. I wonder if you removed 'It had to be a joke', which is a heavy cliché, (his confusion and disbelief is already perfectly expressed in the previous line anyway), it might read better to me.

    I didn't like this line 'Furious flurries of powder pelted his face', it read kind of jarringly (a little too alliterative), but could be fixed simply by removing 'furious', I think.

    I would definitely read on. I'm also curious as to whether or not this is a historical fantasy -- the 'Russian Empire' has peaked my interest -- but I don't suppose I'll find out during the contest.

    Great work and good luck!

  3. Great but consider slowing down the pacing a touch when he finds the letter. It happens a little abruptly to the point of feeling a little unrealistic. For instance, there are a lot of details about how the envelop feels, maybe when he opens it he sees his father's hand writing and gets anxious. There is also no insight into how Ivan feels when he first sees the envelop.

    Those things could intensify the already great tension you have here. well done.

  4. I like this. the description is good and I could really follow along without getting lost. I think you set the tension up well and when his father told him he had to flee, it gave it urgency. My question is if he has to flee before reading the note, why was it hidden. I also wondered if it is historical fantasy. I am hooked and would read on to see where the fantasy comes in.

  5. Wow, what a whirlwind. Great story starting off with a bang. I understand wanting to get to the point in 250 words, but slowing the pacing a little as mentioned above is worth a try.

  6. I'm not as excited as other readers because the action doesn't make sense to me.

    Why put a large pot on the table if nothing goes in it first?
    Why stoke the fire when starting to cook? Embers heat better, and if it's cold outside he'd want the fire hot anyway.
    Why take the lid off the pot after it's on the fire? Isn't it lighter without a lid?
    Where does he get the water for his soup? Why does food not enter the scene if the focus is supposed to be on soup at first?
    And would he rip the envelop when paper was scarce?

    All these things are rolling through my brain as I read, so it didn't pull me in. Sorry.

    It's good writing, but sometimes I think a better word here and there might make the writing stronger. E.g. 'growl erupted from his belly' sounds like a weird burp. I don't think erupted is the best word.

    Also, I'd rather he stagger through the door with ingredients or wood rather than open the window shutters. The start is like 'lookie, there's snow' and now I'll start the story.

    That's not to say, I wouldn't read further. I would. There are many bits and pieces I enjoyed. But I'd need to be convinced it was worthwhile quickly.

  7. I really liked the mood in this piece. Turnip stew, the wandering thoughts of wild berries, and lugging the large iron pot all work to create mood, whilst also portraying time and setting. I'm assuming you couldn't insert italics in the comment box... and that the dad's letter would ordinarily be denoted in italics.

    I like.

  8. I'm getting a fairy tale vibe from the writing here. Quite nice! I do feel like the story is moving a bit too quickly here. Right now, I'm left wondering why the father didn't take his boy with him--if he knows he's not coming back, if he knows they must flee, why does he leave this child to fend for himself, and leave the note in something like the cooking pot, where the boy won't find it for a while? I'm sure all these questions are addressed later in the story, but they're what I'm left wondering after this first page. Love the Russian setting, however!

  9. I love the mood the setting sets. It makes me want to immediately grab a cup of hot chocolate and curl up with this book. I am instantly transported to this world with your gorgeous details. The part that tripped me up was the note. Why in the cooking pot where he couldn't find it until dinner? Why not put it by his bed so he could read the whole thing before he went out? It just feels too convenient that he doesn't have time to read the second letter, yet it feels like he's been in the house for awhile, maybe all day, or at least long enough to be contemplating when to make dinner, and his dad would have known he would look in the pot before dinner. I want to feel there is a reason for him not to read the letter now rather than just that the author doesn't want him to. Of course, this may be answered in the next few pages, and I would definitely read those because I loved this opening!

  10. You've done an excellent job of setting the scene up--I can really picture the home, the hearth, the poverty. Nicely done. I loved the "red dots trailing" and the suspense of seeing the envelope. I would also like to see this moment slowed down. Plus, if he's supposed to flee before reading the letter--there's a sense of urgency that doesn't match hiding the letter in the pot. What if he wasn't hungry? What if he hadn't opened the lid immediately? Maybe you can hide the letter in a favorite book (or even the Bible) that's been left on the table for him to find? I would definitely read on to see what he's going to be fleeing from.

  11. This, unfortunately, doesn’t feel like MG to me, but rather skews older. The mentions of him cooking, hunting, etc, feel like activities of someone older than the usual 8-12(it) bracket. Go through your descriptions and make sure everything matches, the one I’m seeing primarily is the warm hearth and dancing flames. Plus, if there was a letter with a wax seal in the pot, the seal would have already melted from the heat.

    Even looking at this as a MG, seeing a line “before you read it you must flee” — I feel like no kid would pay attention to that. It’s like telling a child not to touch the hot stove… and yet they do it anyway.

    I’d read on a bit to see what the urgency is for him to leave and why his father left with no warning.

  12. Hooked. I would definitely keep reading; really pretty writing and it did not feel generic to me. Observations: as others have already said, it didn't come off as MG to me, though I realize it's possible that might have corrected itself with a larger excerpt. Still, there might be a way to get it across faster. Perhaps the window is high up, and he has to stand on a little stool to be able to open it. (Younger characters tend to be shorter.) You could add voice to it, too. "He was shorter than the other village boys his age -- something they liked to bully him about. The only good thing about winter was not having to suffer their teasing." <-- Put into your voice, obviously, but my main point is, you can hide the fact that he's younger in relevant story details. I think user Ikmar's comments should be considered and perhaps applied and that would strengthen this opening. Again -- I would have kept reading.

  13. Parg 1 - Why does he look out the window? Tell us who or what he’s looking for.

    Parg 2 doesn’t work. How can he delay, or not delay, supper for someone who is late? His father hasn’t arrived home at the usual time, but he has no idea how late he’ll be, so there’s no way he can know when to have supper ready. And if supper is usually ready when Dad returns home at his normal time, then it would already be ready.

    Parg 6 – It’s 1722. Would he say “It had to be a joke?” Something like “It couldn’t be true,” might work better.

    You might also put the letter’s contents in italics to differentiate it from the regular text.

    And again, it’s 1722. I’m assuming they’re peasants because they live in a village instead of a town, and all they have to eat is turnips. Where would his father go off to work? He would most likely be a farmer, working his own land or someone else’s. Perhaps have him go to town for something, or to visit a friend, or maybe he just leaves without saying where he’s going, which would add some mystery, especially when coupled with finding the note in the pot. But basically, remember you’re in 1722.