Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January Secret Agent #14

TITLE: The Mercurial Way
GENRE: YA Dystopian

I leave my room at the stroke of Somber bell. Wearing just my nightdress, the cold stone hall brings a shiver as I hurry past my Sisters’ doors. But the Petrat are early, and I duck into an alcove, holding my breath with eyes shut tight and heart pounding. As the guards' steps fade I race for the spiraling stairway. By the time I reach the closet nestled in the base of Haven tower my lungs are rough with terror.

The closet door latches with a gentle click. With trembling fingers I pry two loose stones free of their placement in the back wall, my efforts noisy to my ears. I pause, listening for anything unusual, but no alarms sound. I squirm my way through the narrow opening and into the space beyond.

The darkness is perfect. I dare not use my solar flame behind such ancient mortar, and so from memory repair the stonework before feeling my way along a twisting staircase that ends in Abri’s forgotten cellar. The space is crammed with relics of Goddesses past, beautiful girls whose secrets will keep forever. I light my flame and shadows spring to life, but I do not fear. The relics are drenched in spider webbing—proof enough they’ve remained undisturbed since my last visit. I take care not to touch these forgotten Sisters as I move among them. Reaching Abri’s foundation, I slip through a wide crack.

My flame brightens. The curious tunnel I discovered as a child stretches before me.


  1. Is the solar flame coming out of her hand? Is it lit up on a torch?

  2. Oooh. I’m such a sucker for stories with darkly religious themes! Obviously I don’t have a lot to go off here, but I think you do yourself a disservice marketing this as “dystopian”. It feels more fantasy to me, or even dark fantasy.

    I’d like to know a little earlier on what the MC’s objective is. Giving me a hint at her goal somewhere in the first paragraph would help ground me deeper in her POV and world. Right now, I’m wondering what she’s doing, which isn’t quite as strong a hook as why she’s doing it. If I know the “what” I could focus more on the “why.”

    Also, while so many of the world building elements I found incredibly intriguing—the Somber bell, the Sisters’ doors, the forgotten cellar crammed with relics—I did think there were just a few details too many. I stumbled over the Petrat because I didn’t have enough context to figure out what that is. The second sentence of third paragraph I found a bit tough to parse with so many details.

    I definitely want to keep reading to find out more about this world and how it came to be!

  3. I liked this. It has a nice, eerie tone to it, and I only have a few, small suggestions.

    In the first sentence, maybe change 'leave' to creep from, or tiptoe from, to keep with the tone you've set.

    Parg 2 cut 'my efforts noisy to my ears.' Give us the noise instead. Maybe the stones rattle, or she drops one.

    I squirm my way - cut my way.

    Parg 3. What is a solar flame and where did she get it? She didn't have anything in hand when she left her room, and she's wearing a nightgown, so I'm guessing it doesn't have pockets.

    Cut from memory. There are only 2 stones so there's not much to remember.

    I light my flame. With what?

    You may also want to look at your verbs. Take things like 'is cramming, are early, are rough,' and replace them with stronger verbs. It'll give this a bit more oomph.

  4. It was a nice set up but nothing really hooky where I felt I had to keep reading. It didn't feel like it was going to surprise me. The writing is strong though

  5. Very intriguing! The language is very evocative of cold and spooky old castles and monasteries. My primary feedback is on clarification of terms:

    - are the Petrat and the guards the same people? If so, consider first introducing them as guards--even 'guard on rotation/patrol'--then more specific as Petrat. Because it's a new term, due to context, I imagined they were delegates of a powerful order come to take her away. (if this is the case, then holy moly :b)

    - the other new term introduced, solar flame, is in the context of not being used near ancient mortar, but it's not clear if that's because the light is powerful enough to damage the mortar, or if it could simply be seen through the tiny, crumbling cracks. Also not clear on what form this solar flame takes--if it's a special stone, a candle holder, innate ability, etc. Easily clarified, nonetheless!

    One last thing, the intense fear of the first paragraph doesn't carry through the rest of the passage, so by the third, the MC comes across as relaxed.

    Hope this helps. You have a lovely intro!

  6. It seems odd that a staircase leads to a closet. It took me a moment to realize the space of the loose stones were large enough for her to fit through. And once she’s on the other side of this wall, how is she able to repair the stonework if she left the loose stones inside the closet? Presumably some magic that lets her patch stone? Although if her intent is to avoid notice, why just patch the hole on one side and leave loose stones in a closet that someone would surely notice? She says she’d better not light her flame, then two seconds later she’s lighting her flame.
    All this to say, this probably isn’t the train of thought you’d like your reader to have. Perhaps consider tweaking this slightly.
    There’s a certain formality to her voice, and it feels a bit more fantasy in tone.

  7. There is a lot happening here. It definitely starts with action and keeps me reading. But there is maybe a bit too much quickly. I guess you are going for that rushed feeling but I had to read back a couple times to catch up. A couple things I wondered about: Would Goddesses be referred to as 'girls'? Maybe that is part of the story tho... And I do not know if Abri is a person or place/ I think place...
    I like the opening at "Somber" bell which made me think of Matins. Is it a convent of sorts, with the Sisters and all.
    I wonder how she is carrying a solar flare if she only has her nightdress on. And please say she has shoes with all that adventure ;)

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