Friday, November 6, 2015

On the Block #16: THE BOOK OF ROGUES 11:30 AM

TITLE: The Book of Rogues
GENRE: Historical Fiction

In Georgian London, a Scotswoman with literary ambitions and radical sentiments plies secrets from true and false suitors to help her clan unseat the Prime Minister. But when an amorous, vengeful lowland baron discovers her complicity, she must decide whether to break with her family and join him in an even more dangerous conspiracy.

1733. Cambridge, England

What did a man wear when he might die before sunrise?

Thomas Caldwell, Baron of Bonjedburgh, crossed to the clothes press and thrust his head into a crisp linen shirt. It smelled of bran starch and the hedgerow where it had dried, sun-bleached after laundering. He pulled on his indigo waistcoat with silk-embroidered buttons, sewn in Spitalfields. Not his finest but well-fitted. Dark enough to blend into the early morning shadows, loose enough to raise his pistol-arm swiftly.

Handsome enough to meet his Maker—but No! Blood wouldn’t mar his dashing swoop of cravat today, nor any another, God willing.

Knife, slipped in his boot. Dagger, sheathed in his belt. Hands—clenched and unclenched, awakening reluctantly, readying themselves. He shrugged into his favorite wool coat, thick-napped, dark brown like his hair. His fingers combed through stubborn curls and tied them back in an efficient queue. Candlelight flickered in the mirror. He cut a fine figure.

Fine, fine. Two French pistols in their case. Alexander’s.

He slung his brother’s satchel on his shoulder and cantered down the dark stairs. A desultory lantern lit the mews. The horses shied but Robin steadied them. Tom mounted and nodded for the young servant to follow.

They rode hard, past the Cock-and-Bull Tavern, past the Colleges. The morning star gleamed above a church spire. A sign? Tom prayed it so.

Eight hoofs on cobblestones beat a tattoo in his head. Their horses careened between carts headed to market on the bridge arching over the Cam. Farmers, too, up before the sun in market-day rituals. This Saturday of nearly-spring was dawning fair.

They dismounted at the fields outside town, their footfalls quiet from sinking in soft mud. Withered grass stretched across the meadow and rustled in the March wind.

A good day for a duel.


  1. I really loved this opening. The dramatic first line, the description of the outfit and the mounting tension. And I’m always excited to read about a duel. And I was also intrigued by the logline. Nothing more constructive to say about this one I’m disappointed/pleased to say.

    I'd be interested in reading more if you'd be happy to share. Georgiana (Checks and Balances, No. 22)

  2. Great opening. Just the right amount of setting description woven into the action. the writing is top notch, and I enjoyed reading these scenes.

    A few pickies: First, your logline is about a Scots woman who doesn't appear in the first scene at all. Is it her story or Thomas's? Her POV is missing.
    Second, I had to reread several times to find out who was riding with your MC. You might make it clear from the start.
    Third, in the 'Eight hoofs' paragraph, it seemed that stopping to describe the day-to-day rituals of the carters and farmers slowed the action and goal of the MC.

    I especially liked the fourth paragraph where he's doing inventory. Super!

  3. Great logline and wonderful first page, but as was mentioned above, they sound like different stories at first glance. Also, you don't want to attenuate the tension by making it obvious your MC will survive the duel.

    I loved your descriptions, but this analogy didn't make sense to me:
    >Eight hoofs on cobblestones beat a tattoo in his head.

    Good luck

  4. Even though, from the start, it is obvious the protagonist is preparing for a duel, it's not boring. The elegance and the richness of the details made this entry interesting and made me want to read more. I am not sure who Alexander is and how the servant Robin looks like and what his duty is, but I guess I could overlook these. It's strange that your logline has a different protagonist, though. Something is just not right. Also, I want to know what makes him think he could die and build more on that. That would also amp the stakes. Nice entry. Well done!

  5. Hi, I'm a sucker for historical fiction, and love all your details about the protagonist getting dressed, but especially like how you've worked it in as action, not just an info dump. And I love how the opening line gives us tension and stakes right away, and the tone of the opening is so fun, lets me know the story will be full of action and isn't dry/serious sort of historical fiction.

    I don't have much to critique about your opening, but here's a couple things that stood out to me: The reiteration of "fine, fine" - I wasn't sure if it was referring to the previous "fine figure" that the protagonist cut, or if he was commenting on resigning himself to taking alexander's pistols? I guess that whole line there sort of threw me off, it's a bit cryptic.

    Also, maybe it's just a pet peeve, but "beating a tattoo" is something I've read in other places and never liked as a descriptive.

    Also, since you talk in the logline about some amorous guy, but call it historical fiction, I am left wondering if this is going to be a romance or not.

    But overall, well done! would love to read more.

  6. I have to admit when I read, "Thomas Caldwell, Baron of Bonjedburgh, crossed to the clothes press and thrust his head into..." I automatically assumed he was about to commit suicide via head in a clothing press. Maybe that's just me being weird.
    I agree with the above comments in regards to the log line being about a woman only to find the book opens with, instead, a man. I'm guessing he's the same baron mentioned in the log line. Maybe mention his actual name in the log line so the two are better connected?
    Other than that, it was engaging to read and set the scene well. Lastly, I do think by your log line (which obviously isn't the whole MS, so I could be dead wrong) that this MS might be bordering on a Historical Romantic Fiction.
    Good luck!

  7. Very nice opening. I loved the details in the first paragraph, especially the smell of bran starch and the hedgerow where his shirt had dried. Those little things establish the period and setting very effectively.

    By the third paragraph, I thought the physical description was running a bit long, and toward the end the description of farmers heading to market seemed like an extraneous detail. I would have liked to get to the duel just a tiny bit faster. Still, this is a great start and I would definitely read on.

  8. I agree that this is a very good opening, with what seems like good historical detail as Rebecca M says, and an interesting set-up.
    I am a bit confused as to whether the baron is English or lowland Scots. I also think you could explain who Robin is a bit more clearly (and that "Tom" is the baron; at first I thought he was another servant). Also, shouldn't he have a servant to help him dress?
    But very readable!

  9. Based on the logline, it sounds like a lot of secrets going on here. I would want to be dawn in closer in having a hint of what on of these secrets would be. A vague conspiracy or saying there are secrets doesn't do it for me. Any hint or clue and why that is important would be appealing for me as the reader. I am guessing that one secret is that her family is trying to unseat the Prime Minister? However, I really did like the writing style. It was strong and descriptive. Good luck!

  10. I'm confused by the disconnect between the logline and the opening page. According to the logline, the book will be all about the Scottish noblewoman (could we get a name? that would be very helpful), but on the first page, we meet Thomas Caldwell. Is it a prologue from a different point of view? I'm just a bit thrown.

    You do a great job showing Tom's character. He cares about his appearance, but he doesn't seem like a dandy. He's going to face possible death, maybe in a duel, but he is (almost) casual about it instead of being afraid. This tells me he's probably been in situations like this before. Overall, I get a kind of Rhett Butler feeling from him, which is not a bad thing at all.

    I'm not sure what the fine, fine in his internal dialogue means. Is he repeating that he cuts a fine figure, or is he saying "okay, okay," to encourage himself to move on? It's a tiny thing, but it tripped me up.

    I agree that you could cut the details about the farmers or other traffic on the bridge. Just mention them as he weaves in and out, and you'll keep the action driving forward.

    Nice ending line. I would keep reading to find out what the duel is about and who wins. (I hope it's Tom!)

    Good luck in the auction.

  11. I love historical fiction, and like fantasy, it needs more description than would be necessary in something contemporary. But I did feel this went on too long. It felt like it was there to get you to your 250 words so the line about the duel would come out at the end.

    Perhaps put the line about the duel at the beginning, then we're drawn in right away. That would have held me through all the stuff about his clothes.

    A few small things - would he 'canter' down the stairs?
    Might he have a valet to help him dress?
    Would his clothes, hung on the hedgerow to dry, (a nice detail) be sprayed with cologne afterward so they wouldn't smell like the hedgerow?
    ANd if this is told in multiple POV's, you might mention it in the log line. (hard to do, I know, when you have so few words)

    I'd read more.

  12. I was so keen to meet this Scotswoman and disappointed to read about a man! Ah, well, I'm sure she shows up soon.

    This was stunning writing - verbs, holy hell, you've got them covered! Good verbs make such a difference to writing! And crisp writing, well chosen adjectives, and variety of sentence lengths and structure. Too good. You gripped me.

    My only feedback is - why start here? Who is he? If I were to read a blurb on the back similar to your tagline, I'd be wanting me some bad-ass Scotswoman and fast!

  13. Terrific beginning. Enough back story to keep you reading and interested without bogging down the story, great details to invite you into your historical setting, and an intriguing opening character, You made the most out of 250 words!
    The logline and opening where quite different, but really, I'd read both!
    Great job! Good luck!

  14. I feel like I had some trouble getting through the first part of the logline. I think I kept getting hung up on "literary ambitions" because that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the rest of it.

    There's a lot of nice detail here. I don't mind so much because it really helps set atmosphere in an historical.

    I found the "but No!" distracting... mostly because I don't know why you've capitalized No, but also because that line about blood not marring his cravat seems out of place in the middle of the litany of how he's dressed/equipped. Maybe move it after "He cut a fine figure" and put the line about the pistols with the other checklist items?

    The short fragments made the scene feel tense and ominous to me. The only other thing I might like is a hint of why he's dueling. The only thing I could pull from the text is that it might have something to do with Alexander..?

    (I have to say I also had an odd, immediate image when he thrust his head...)

    I'm assuming John is the lowland baron.

  15. Nicely done! It captured my interest right away. I have to agree on the clothes press line - it doesn't work for me. Perhaps he pulled the shirt from the clothes press first? I would like to know more about the conflict in the first page - why is he going to a duel? with whom? And where is the Scotswoman? If she is truly your protagonist, we need to meet her first. Great writing though - I'm sure you can write her just as well as you have done with the Baron. Good luck!

  16. The title dragged me in! I've read this before, and I like the changes you've made. Nitpicks--I'm not too happy with him cantering down the stairs immediately before mounting a horse. I also experience some name confusion, and had to re-read to identify Thomas (Tom), Alexander, and Robin. Good luck!

  17. Very good historical detail.
    I thought the description of him dressing went on a little long. Like others, I wonder who is the MC is because of the logline.
    Sounds like an exciting plot. Well done and good luck.

  18. I love this! You have a gift for description. One of my favorite lines: "footfalls quiet from sinking in soft mud." I can't find anything to critique--I think you've done a great job.