Opening 3K words - Science Fiction - Please comment :-)

Mon, Oct 9 2017 06:48pm IST 1
125 Posts


Below are the opening 3,000 words of my manuscript, entitled HOUSE OMEGA. This consists of the short prologue then the introductions of the first two (of five) POV characters.

Like the Dragonriders of Pern, it's sci-fi-disguised-as-fantasy (i.e. traditional medieval setting with high-tech elements), so apologies if you’re not into ‘knights riding mech suits fighting giant robotic monsters,’ ;-)

A brief description of the story is as follows:

"The nobles of the Great Houses gather to go forth into the wastelands upon their mechanical steeds, to hunt the savages and beasts that dwell there. But after a number of mysterious and terrible events occur, it is up to our five protagonists, representing each of the Great Houses, to investigate the connection between these events and the implications for their techno-feudal society."

All comments welcome, but what I'm particularly interested in is whether it's gripping/interesting enough. Like everyone else, a problem I have is making the opening exciting enough (rather than saying “but it gets really good in chapter 3!” which of course isn’t good enough).

It's gone through about one million edits, the latest of which is ongoing, since I came back from the Festival of Writing this year.

If you don’t want to read the full thing, comments on just the prologue or first section only is very welcome.

Thanks in advance!

Mon, Oct 9 2017 06:50pm IST 2
125 Posts

Part I

“I was there, the day the House Wars ended. In the final battle I saw my own Master strike down Mistress Gretta of House Rho, and with her, any hope of her faction’s victory. Her charger crippled, her forces in disarray, Gretta had no choice but to retreat, abandoning all gains made in her presumptuous occupation of our territory. However, the wider campaign yielded no clear victor, and a fragile truce was established between the remaining Great Houses; our armies, resources and will to fight were just too depleted to continue the conflict. Yet trust was in short supply after so much betrayal and bloodshed, despite the pacts, vows and intermarriages intended to strengthen the bonds between us.

“In the cycles that followed, as one of their frequent displays of kinship and unity, the Masters and Mistresses of each House would undertake the Hunt along with their followers: an expedition out into the wasteland to combat the beasts and savages that lurked beyond the stronghold walls. They would return full of boasts and bravado, telling tales of the adventures they had had and the trophies they had taken, and any animosity would be put aside for the moment…”

Extract from The Great Houses Versus the Wastes: A History, penned by Seneschal Hooke of House Epsilon


Xanthe hurried through the sweltering kitchen, a host of assistants following in her wake. She hefted a large copper pot full to the brim with raw vegetables and slammed it down before young Euart, the force of the impact making the contents leap into the air. He recoiled in alarm.

‘Get these washed and chopped,’ Xanthe said, not giving him a chance to recover, ‘then go and help Kym with the ovens. Quickly now.’

Euart swallowed nervously and gave a short bow before taking hold of the pot. For a moment Xanthe wondered if it was too heavy for his slight figure to lift, but he managed and began to stagger away.

Confident that her orders were being carried out, she spun to face the three girls behind her. Despite Xanthe’s superior position in the hierarchy of stronghold servants, she wore an identical uniform to theirs: pale grey trousers and matching tunic emblazoned with the Ω symbol of House Omega. A cook’s skullcap covered her black hair, bound into a tight bun.

Amongst the nobility, the cut of one’s doublet or the arrangement of one’s headgear might indicate status, yet there was nothing in Xanthe’s attire to mark her out as ruler of this humble domain. Rather, she liked to believe that her dedication, determination and unfailing ability to get things done did the job just as effectively. Her impressive height and girth also helped cement her authority, ensuring that few souls could ignore her presence. She towered over the girls, petrifying them with her gaze like rabbits caught in a charger’s lantern beam.

‘You three, start on the bread. Not just the main-course loaves, mind, but the rolls for the starter, too.’ She wagged a thick finger at them to emphasise the point.

As her minions scurried off to do her bidding, Xanthe took a deep breath, crossed her arms and paused to survey the scene. She was pleased to see everyone fully occupied, either at the long worktables or the five large ovens built into the far wall, each radiating waves of heat into the room. Xanthe considered the two at the end, newly installed by the Armourers and controlled by empathy. All brushed steel, bright copper and sharp edges, they stood out next to the coarse black iron of the three older models. Xanthe didn’t fully understand empathy beyond the basics, but Armourer Temis had assured her of their superior performance. Unlike the soothing, smoky smell of the wood-fire ovens, they gave off a strange, almost metallic odour, which made Xanthe’s head ache. Or perhaps it was just the stress of the situation finally getting to her.

As head cook in the kitchens of House Omega, it was Xanthe’s responsibility to ensure all meals arrived for the Mistress and her guests at the correct time, place and temperature. However, her resources were already stretched to their limits thanks to the scale of this evening’s festivities and the sheer number of guests arriving. Although several hours remained until even the first course began, there was so much to do that she had to get everything started early. Nevertheless, she would not let a challenge such as this get the better of her, and would make every effort for the glory and reputation of the House. Tonight, she and her charges would create the finest feast any of the visiting nobility had ever tasted. She was sure of it.

This was only the third occasion in Xanthe’s lifetime that the Hunt had come to House Omega’s stronghold, and she knew how important it was for her Mistress to make a good impression. Mistress Gelica had ruled House Omega for nineteen cycles, and as far as Xanthe could tell, was held in high regard by the Masters and Mistresses of the other Great Houses (except of course for Lady Leonor, the haughty Mistress of House Lambda, but she didn’t hold anyone but herself in high regard).

Xanthe heard a thump above her head, and glanced upwards as mortar dust trickled from between the bricks of the vaulted ceiling. No doubt the guests were beginning to arrive, unloading their immense chargers (as well as the rest of their luggage) onto the floor of the stable above. She noticed that silence had descended upon the kitchen, many of her assistants frozen in mid-action as they too glanced nervously upwards. Xanthe clapped her hands together, snapping their attention back to the task at hand.

‘No need to stop working, everyone,’ she said, with just a hint of reproach. ‘I need you all to concentrate—don’t you worry about what’s going on up there.’ She smiled reassuringly and patted one of­ the stout girders which held up the ceiling, positioned at intervals throughout the large kitchen. She wondered, though, how much extra weight the ceiling could take. If the latest guest list was anything to go by, there could be as many as three dozen chargers arriving (not to mention House Omega’s own), all heavy steel, densely-packed machinery and thick ceramic. Xanthe tried not to think about it.

A wall-mounted bell chimed near her ear: a summons from her superior, Mister Bolt. Just another distraction she didn’t want right now. But the quicker saw him, the quicker she could return and get on with more important things. With that in mind, Xanthe turned and paced towards the door.

‘Keep up the good work, everyone!’ she called over her shoulder as she left the kitchen. ‘I know tonight will be a success.’

Most of her charges were too caught up in their work to answer, but a few raised their heads and smiled at her encouragement.

Now to see what old Bolt wants, she thought. He doesn’t like to be kept waiting.

She stepped out into the corridor, which ran the length of the stronghold’s basement floor. Hewn from grey wasteland stone, it was pleasantly cool compared to the oppressive heat of the kitchen, and Xanthe took a moment to savour the atmosphere before striding down the torchlight passage. She soon reached Bolt’s study and rapped her knuckles against the door.

‘Enter!’ came a muffled voice from within. She opened the door and stepped inside.

A mere cupboard of a room, not much bigger than Xanthe’s larder, she had to squeeze her bulk against one wall in order to close the door behind her. Having done so, she turned to face its sole occupant.

Mister Bolt sat on a wooden stool before a small table piled high with ledgers, inventories and lists of all kinds. His pale, gaunt face was framed by greasy strands of black hair, which rested upon the collar of his threadbare grey coat. Narrow black trousers lined his legs, which were a few inches too short and displayed his bony ankles. His thick black moustache, impeccably washed and combed, was the only aspect of his appearance in which he seemed to take pride.

‘You wanted me?’ Xanthe asked.

Bolt was the House Omega Seneschal, the official interface between the nobility and the servants. All formal instruction and information was supposed to flow down from Mistress Gelica, through Bolt, to Xanthe and her peers. Yet despite this, the Mistress would often circumvent custom by summoning Xanthe in person to make a specific culinary request or to congratulate her on a particular dish. This annoyed Bolt no end, but Xanthe took pride in the respect and familiarity with which Gelica treated her (not to mention the mischievous thrill of taking Bolt down a peg or two).

‘Indeed I did,’ he said, his smooth, powerful voice at odds with his shabby appearance. He lifted a sheet of paper from his desk and waved it in her direction. She took it gingerly.

‘What’s this?’ she asked, examining the page.

‘Dietary requirements,’ Bolt said, ‘meal preferences for all guests, plus a rough calculation of how much this evening’s revelry will deplete our cellar of wine and brandy.’ He sounded particularly distressed at this last point.

‘Dietary requirements?’ asked Xanthe, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘If these Masters and Mistresses have such delicate constitutions and appetites, it’s a wonder they can stomach the horrors of the Hunt at all.’

‘That’s as may be, but nonetheless,’ Bolt said, nodding slowly. He didn’t complete the sentence, leaving the implicit order unsaid. ‘However, I’m sure these few demands will case you no bother.’ He smirked at Xanthe, clearly amused by the bother it would indeed cause her.

‘I’m sure I’ll manage,’ Xanthe countered, grinning right back. She patted her chest to emphasise her fortitude. ‘Was there anything else I can do for you? A nice cup of tea, perhaps?’

‘No thank you, Xanthe,’ Bolt said curtly, evidently oblivious to her sarcasm. ‘But if there is, I’ll let you know at once.’ He returned his gaze to the papers before him, which Xanthe took as her cue to depart. She left the study and headed back towards the kitchen, gripping the list in her hand.

She forgave Bolt his idiosyncrasies; he was far from the only occupant of this stronghold Xanthe found less-than-straightforward to work with. But she did her best. The Mistress demanded no less.

As she re-entered the kitchen, at least three or four voices urgently called out for her attention. Xanthe sighed. It seemed that her minions couldn’t go more than a few minutes without her steady hand to guide them. She swiftly identified those most deserving of her attention and strode over to help (apparently a dispute over the most effective way to dice onions).

She wondered how they would ever get by without her.

Biella gazed out of her private carriage, watching the procession wind its way through the rocky terrain of the wasteland. Sable pennants adorning the other carriages fluttered in the light breeze, each bearing the X symbol of House Chi. In the distance she could see their destination, the House Omega stronghold rearing up out of the flat wasteland like a giant stone anthill. Dusk was falling, but a few stray beams of orange sunlight still peeked above the horizon, bathing the highest towers in a fiery glow. She might have thought it beautiful if she weren’t so unbelievably bored.

Despite the fact that the journey was nearly over, Biella sighed with frustration. She had been alone in this beastly box for over eight hours, while she and her family travelled across the wastelands accompanied by their Armourers, guards and the assorted hangers-on that such an expedition invariably attracted. Her own guard plodded alongside the carriage, mounted in his sable charger. The monotonous rhythm of his hoofbeats and the disagreeable squeak of dust-caked joints only added to Biella’s tedium. She willed the procession to hurry—

‘Mistress, beware!’ cried the guard without warning, his voice amplified by his chargers vocal systems.

‘Of what?’ she called, just before something huge smashed into the carriage. Biella gasped as it lurched to the side, suspension springs screeching in protest as she was thrown against the padded door.

Biella head a deep snarl, the one from her nightmares, and felt terror clawing at her mind. A wasteland beast was right outside her carriage, trying to get in! How had the guards not seen it approach? Why were they not protecting her now? Useless.

The carriage righted itself as the ferocious mass withdrew, still growling. She attempted to shuffle back to the centre of the seat, her tight black dress severely impeding her manoeuvrability. Her hair caught on something and came loose, tumbling down her back in an auburn cascade.

She heard the clamour of combat coming from outside: the thrum of the charger’s generator, the rasp of claw against shield and the crunch of a spiked mace impacting on the foe’s hide. Finally, her guard was earning his keep.

She tried to peer out and see what was happening. Her vision of the outside world was limited, with only a single slotted window built into each wall of the boxy carriage. She saw a flash of sable armour, and her view was blocked as the guard interposed his charger between beast and carriage. The charger shifted position, and she briefly caught a glimpse of a scaled metallic hide and spiked mane, before it disappeared out of sight, beyond the edge of the narrow window.

Biella heard another crunch as the guard’s mace found its target once again, and the beast let out a squeal. Claws scrabbled on stone, then nothing. Silence fell for several seconds.

She waited breathlessly, listening.

She was about to call out to her guard, when his charger appeared before the window once again.

‘Mistress,’ came the guard’s voice, breathy from exertion. ‘I’m pleased to report that the danger is now over; the beast has fled.’

Biella sighed (partially in relief, partially in annoyance) and ran her hands through her long hair in an attempt to compose herself.

‘Are you well?’ asked the guard anxiously.

‘Perfectly well,’ she replied sharply. ‘Please be more observant next time. You allowed that thing to sneak up on us undetected!’

‘Apologies, Mistress, it won’t happen again.’

It had better not, Biella thought, or you might find yourself undertaking a somewhat less prestigious duty than protecting my person. Perhaps there were some vacancies in the stronghold’s laundry room?

The carriage stuttered into motion once more and Biella’s initial shock began to recede. However, without the haze of adrenaline to protect her, the true horror of the attack was finally able to sink in. What if the guard had been less competent, she wondered, or the beast more persistent? Heart pounding, she tightly gripped the edge of her seat, squashing the smooth leather beneath her fingers. Not for the first time, she wondered how there could be no safer method of traversing the treacherous wasteland, inhabited as it was by savages, monsters and who knew what else. However, Biella knew as well as anyone that there was no alternative; it was time for the Hunt, the social event of the cycle which more than justified any dangers to attend. This was all about the Hunt.

She attempted to put the incident from her mind and to focus instead on the delights ahead. On this occasion, the festivities were being hosted by that bore in charge of House Omega, Mistress Gelica. The previous Hunt had been presided over by Lady Leonor of House Lambda, who in Biella’s opinion, always threw the best parties. She smiled as the pleasant memories resurfaced: there had been dancing, laughter, late-night trysts and more delicious food than one could possibly eat! The only sustenance one could expect from House Omega was the dreary stodge cooked up by that chubby cook Gelica kept around. At least Lady Leonor would be there, Biella consoled herself, and had hopefully brought her three handsome sons with her. She had had such fun with them all last time.

Biella’s thoughts turned to the prospect of commanding her very own charger in open combat for the first time, fighting alongside the other Houses’ nobility and competing against them for glory and conquest!

Anticipation for the Hunt (not to mention the prospect of seeing the young Lambda men again) began to override Biella’s anxiety. As the carriage bumped its way over the last rocky outcrop and entered the final flat expanse before the stronghold, her heart began to slow to its normal pace and she managed to banish her frown. She stretched out in her seat in an attempt to ease her muscles, still tense from shock. She succeeded somewhat, and let out a purr of satisfaction as she rolled her neck.

Biella ran a hand down her spine, tracing the outlines of the newly-implanted plugs beneath the fabric. They still itched. She had initially resisted the prospect of undergoing the procedure (primarily concerned about its effect on her appearance), yet had finally acquiesced once her father, backed up by Armourer Moris, had explained how much it would enhance the empathic connection to her charger. Still, she was grateful to the surgeons and Armourers for making the procedure surprisingly swift and painless (though that hadn’t stopped her complaining the whole time and for hours afterwards). She made sure the plugs were fully concealed by her dress and hair, rendering herself presentable despite the absence of anyone present to admire her. Once she was settled in her rooms, however, she would have her maidservants change her into her real dress! Biella knew that she had admirers amongst the nobility of the Great Houses (many of whom were completely besotted with her beauty), so she had no choice but look her best and get ready with all haste. She didn’t want to disappoint her adoring fans…

Mon, Oct 9 2017 09:53pm IST 3
2389 Posts
I like it. It's well-written and engaging and the sci-fi/fantasy element appeals to me, however - and this is the bit you are free to ignore - I'm not sure if Xanthe's interaction with Bolt adds anything.

The carriage that Biella is in - she's gazing out the window watching the procession yet, when the beast attacks, her vision is limited. That tripped me up.

I think you could still increase the tension here. It's a little wordy. Take, for instance, 'Mistress, beware!' cried the guard without warning.' It's like saying he warned her without warning. (Sorry. Hopefully you'll see what I'm getting at...)
I'll try and come back to this.
Tue, Oct 10 2017 07:56am IST 4
2389 Posts

It's worth mentioning at this point that I am very much an under-writer which may colour my judgement...

You give us marvellous character portraits of Xanthe and Biella, but I think perhaps there's too much colouring-in. Does the reader need more than a few deft strokes in the beginning to create an outline of a character in his or her mind? After all, they have the rest of the book in which to anchor their first impressions and add the finer detail.

With regard to not enough happening at the start - and this is just a thought - Xanthe is in the kitchen and Biella is being attacked by a monster... is there any chance that Biella's intro might be in the wrong place?

There are a few filtering words in both sections - she thought, she heard, she saw, she wondered - which I noticed more in Biella's intro because they add that extra layer between her immediate thoughts and the action.

Can I ask how long your novel is?

Tue, Oct 10 2017 03:03pm IST 5
125 Posts
Thanks for your comments Seagreen, they're really helpful. I didn't even notice the thing about Biella's window size not being consistent! The MS is currently about 112K words. I'm about halfway through my 'post-Festival of Writing' edit and it's already grown by about 5K (as I transform telling into showing, and expand a bit on the characters' thoughts and observations) so it may be a grow a wee bit more by the time I get to the end.
Tue, Oct 10 2017 03:10pm IST 6
125 Posts
With regards to the character fleshing-out: In so many novels I read, there's a brief description of a character, and I imagine them a certain way, then they're described in more detail later on and it's not at all how I imagined, so I have to adjust my mental image of the character (usually not an easy thing to do). I tried to describe my characters in sufficient (physical) detail straight off, to avoid this happening. I've cut down on some scene descriptions but kept the character descriptions quite comprehensive. It's a difficult tightrope to walk though.
Tue, Oct 10 2017 05:59pm IST 7
57 Posts
Please take or leave my comments as you like. Just so you know where I am coming from, I am a fan of high fantasy (Guy Gavriel Kay, JRR Tolkein) and gritty fantasy (Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch). I do enjoy some "middle" fantasy (Lois McMaster Bujold) but not others (loved Pern as a teenager but got bored, plus I hated ASOIF, so turgidly written). I'm probably not the target audience for this

So, this is light, and the text zips along, it's not a chore to read, by which I mean that the writing is fine, not tripping me out of the world (I mentioned ASOIF above, didn't I!)
I sort of want to know more about the world, but there isn't enough tension for me to hook into and make me really care about the characters yet.
  1. Xanthe seems very laid back for a cook preparing her finest feast ever. I'm guessing this is part of her character, with friendly admonishments to the staff rather than Hells Kitchen type yelling (or the sadistic atmoshphere Gormenghast's Swelter creates, the only fantasy book I have read which starts in the kitchens). For me, there isn't much tension in this scene, yes there's a big banquet, the kitchen staff are a little slower than Xanthe would like, and there's some bothersome dietary requirements to worry about. But what is next for her? What's going to make me think "Aha, that's where her character shines through"?
  2. Biella loses my sympathy the moment she declares she is bored, I'm rooting for the beast straight away. Beautiful and (presumably) spoilt. And again, for me there isn't that much tension even when the beast is attacking her, the peril is too quickly despatched. That section only lasts about as long as the section where she's thinking about herself afterwards.
  3. Some world building points - I'm wondering why the guard is riding a charger, but Biella is in a carriage, presumably with her charger nearby since she is going hunting later? I'm also wondering why she is alone in the box when there are assorted family members and hangers on travelling with her? Did the beast attack them too?
Only my opinion, and I'm happy to discuss further if you think it helpful!
Tue, Oct 10 2017 09:29pm IST 8
57 Posts

I could probably form the target market for this - I've just finished Robin Hobb's "Ship of Magic" and and about to plough on through to the next one. I have no problem with knights riding mecha., etc. The notion of cookers powered by empathy is pretty cool. I mean, I don't understand it, but it's a hook. I want to. time measured in cycles - liking that, too.

I can't see any SPaG issues. Generally, your writing is technically bang on. I did feel though that the writing was a littel flat, and the characters' voices quite generic. I don't get much of a sense of Xanthe, other than a slightly tired-ish person, prone to rolling her eyes at the antics of her superiors. It isn't the real, fleshed out sort of person I need to identify with. I think the reason for this might be that you have a tendency to rely on careworn phrases to fill pu the space, where you could dig a little deeper into her personality; eg:

‘You three, start on the bread. Not just the main-course loaves, mind, but the rolls for the starter, too.’ She wagged a thick finger at them to emphasise the point.

could change. We know what a wagged finger means. So instead of saying, in effect, "she wagged a thick finger at them, to convey the sort of thing a wagged finger conveys", think of it more like "she wagged a thick finger at them, her grey eyes locked on their measly mouse faces." Or something. Something to make her real and voicey and not cookie-cutter. "She wagged a thick finger at them, and thought about hurling a loaf, though her hand paused on a squashy cube of wheat-rye; Bolt would throttle her, or dock her pay. " that way you get personality and world-buildy, and we all know how much fantasy types love that ;)

There is still some tell over show. Tell is not always bad; it's good to cover things that take a long time quickly (Years passed; the days trudged on) but if you are zoomed in with a main charater, make her exhibit her characteristics, rather than simply enumerating them; eg:

Rather, she liked to believe that her dedication, determination and unfailing ability to get things done did the job just as effectively. Her impressive height and girth also helped cement her authority, ensuring that few souls could ignore her presence.

I appreciate that you are putting us in her head there, but her head is probably filled up with more interesting stuff than how authoritarian she finds herself. Just have her be authoritative. Trust your readers to get it. Have people not ignore her presence. Have her squeeze her impressive girth in aosme cramped nook (and who, really, says "impressive girth" anyway? :) It's like "sturdy frame" or "cascading hair"; just a bit too well-used. Sorry, I just ha to say that... :) )

There's a lot of infodumping. On a number of occasions, midway through events, we get a history lesson. It's fine for early drafts and obviously informs your world, but try and do it a little more subtly and as part of an in-world action rather than just bumpf. Eg:

Mistress Gelica had ruled House Omega for nineteen cycles, and as far as Xanthe could tell, was held in high regard by the Masters and Mistresses of the other Great Houses (except of course for Lady Leonor, the haughty Mistress of House Lambda, but she didn’t hold anyone but herself in high regard).

This just whips us out of the moment. Deploy this info when we encounter Mistress Gelica (she sounds pretty exciting actually; I have a mental picture...). Have Mistress G stand up haughtily. "For nineteen cycles - nineteen! - have I ruled this House, and never have I ever...etc" but not now. It's just too irrelevant. I know that Xanthe might know it, but would she dump out that bit of mental nuggetry into her brain pan just then? When you are dealing with someone, do you always ruminate on their history, or do you get down to the business at hand? :)

Watch also for filtering: She saw X, she surveyed Y; it occurred to her that Z). Eg:

As her minions scurried off to do her bidding, Xanthe took a deep breath, crossed her arms and paused to survey the scene. She was pleased to see everyone fully occupied, either at the long worktables or the five large ovens built into the far wall, each radiating waves of heat into the room.

If you have put us in her POV, it will be a while before we bob up out of it, so you can state things as they are with just the occasional reminder of who we are, and even then, those reminders don't have to be "she noticed" types; establish and use voice, character, manner of speech, little actions here and there to help us "be" the person. Eg:

As her minions scurried off to do her bidding, Xanthe took a deep breath, crossed her arms and paused to survey the scene. Everyone was fully occupied, either scrubbing at the long worktables or bent over the five large ovens built into the far wall, each radiating waves of heat into the room. She nodded; everything as it ought to be.

Lastly, my final concern is ... not a huge amount happens. Xanthe is in the kitchens, so far so good. Biella (whose voice is quite similar to Xanthe's, despite some differences between them) gets attacked by a wolf or something and that event even then seems to be handled quite neatly. I'm not sure what the main event is. I would say it is the hunt. The social event of the season. Bring it to the fire. Don't leave us in the kitchen with the serfs. I want to be out in the glittering party with the ladies and the sweet barrouches.

Anyway I hope all this helps. You have a pretty solid writing style and some good ideas and images, so just make aure you do 'em justice.
Wed, Oct 11 2017 01:01am IST 9
173 Posts
Gus my man! Pleased to be able to read some of your work after hearing about it at the festival.

I am not a huge fantasy reader, I read Tolkien’s books over 10 years ago, and haven’t really read fantasy since then. So I think the comments you have received from others so far should be considered over mine. Nevertheless, I will give you a point of view from a lover of hard science fiction and dystopia!

Firstly, I really like the concept of your book. It’s certainly unique. And mechs are so cool - much cooler than bloody horses. So are these kind of steampunk mechs? This is what I am getting from the description you give so far. (Made of steel, kind of clunking, screeching...) And it’s the only way I can tie up the medieval feeling the rest of your world has with the inclusion of mechs. Random question, how are they powered? I like the world you are alluding too, I like the house names and the fact that women seem to have as much opportunity to be heroes as men. And your writerly voice seems perfect for fantasy.

So, here’s what I have suggestions for. Unfortunately I’m going to say the same as several others - I didn’t really get what the opening scene, starring Xanthe, was there for. I’m guessing you are introducing us to the main house the book follows, and setting the scene for the hunt, but not so much really happens in this scene. It seems far more like a chapter two, to me.

Which leads me on to your second scene, which I really think should be your first scene! Throw readers in with some exciting action. And... make it more exciting. Don’t downplay it – this attack is a thrilling event. I would love to be able to see the battle between the guard in his amazing machine and the beast more. So, instead of having us hear what is going on, let us see it too. How about the initial impact smashes the window to the carriage open, and Biella watches through it in horrified fascination as her guard battles to overcome the beast, both scared for her own life but thrilled too, that she will soon be learning to pilot a charger of her own. Were this a film, the impact with the carriage would be the point the music abruptly stops, and the thumping, screaming and smashing begins. Such a great technique on screen and it can be done on paper too. Does this make sense? Think about the battle scene in the two towers where they all get attacked by orcs riding big dog things, the one where Aragorn falls of the cliff and gets lost...

I like how she feels about her new implants, but maybe this should be done before the impact. The quick battle would then be a stark realisation of wat she is about to get herself into.

Anyway, some ideas from you. I really like your concept, Gus, excited to hear how it progresses.

Wed, Oct 11 2017 11:36am IST 10
125 Posts
Thanks for all the comments so far everyone!

Ben, don't apologise for giving the same criticism as everyone else - I'd rather that than everyone saying different things, as at least I know what to work on :-)

The only reason Xanthe's section is first, is that over the course of the novel, she becomes the de-facto main character. I'm sure there's something I can do to make her (and her section) more exciting. I also accept the fact that the Biella fight scene is a bit short, though I didn't want to give too much away (as the real beast fights are later on, during the Hunt).

Just for reference: after Biella's section we get Stephan the Armourer (of House Theta), Voss the bodyguard (of House Sigma) and Kane the manservant/spy/assassin (of House Lambda), as the other three POV characters.

More comments welcome!


Wed, Oct 11 2017 11:49am IST 11
238 Posts
Hi Gus,

I think other people already said most of what there is to say but two things that tripped me up. For the medieval/fantasy setting the expression "adoring fan" felt out of place more the use of fan than adoring. Maybe something like adoring suitors would work better. Same with "dietary requirements" this sounds very 21st century living - if they are high ranking people I think there would be more demands than requirements.

I don't know those two seem out of place but then I don't read fantasy so if I am completely wrong feel free to ignore me!
Wed, Oct 11 2017 12:30pm IST 12
125 Posts
Thanks L.

There were a few occasions throughout the MS where they use 'modern' terms, but given that it's not strictly a medieval fantasy world and they do use sci-fi technology, I've intentially allowed a few of these words and phrases to slip through. I'll bear it in mind though.
Wed, Oct 11 2017 09:56pm IST 13
63 Posts
Hi, Gus this is very good. Loads of good otherworldly stuff in here.
You are suffering with the same problem as me here. You action if very flat as mentioned above, this is because this is absolutely crammed with filtering language. I'm still learning how to think and write in a way that avoids that myself. If you look at the advice Kate gave me in my critique post she has given a couple of practical examples of how to correct it.
This is a very vivid and real feeling world, I would read on to find out more about empathy etc and medival sci fi is a nice touch too.
Good work.
Fri, Oct 13 2017 03:45pm IST 14
2292 Posts
I like it! It reads pretty smoothly on the whole. I do agree with pretty much everything that's been said so far, but can I ask something?
Does your first chapter consist of these little introductions for all the characters you mentioned?
Reason being, it's easier on the reader to invest in the story when they have one or two POV's initially...and the rest get introduced later on. To do that effectively, you really need to get into your character's headspace - that'll help take out the filtering words others have spoken of - and help you, as the writer, to treat each POV with a different voice.
If Xanthe is the MC for most of the book, I reckon we should be mostly in her head, and we need to know quite quickly what's at stake if this huge banquet goes wrong. Will it be just her reputation on the line, or is it her job? Or is it the only thing guaranteed to keep her mistress in HER position? Speaking from expereince, cooking for 12 got me stressed - Xanthe seems very laid back for a banquet! ;)

But yes, you have something really good here, and I enjoyed reading it. Look forward to reading more.

Fri, Oct 13 2017 03:45pm IST 15
2292 Posts
Oh - and ought to add, it didn't feel like 3K words. I wanted more...
Fri, Oct 13 2017 07:53pm IST 16
125 Posts
Thanks Squidge!

Each chapter (of which there are 20) consists of one section for each POV character. Xanthe only really becomes the de-facto main character towards the middle, but that's only as far as the story is concerned. Her POV sections don't get longer as a result.

Based on everyone's feedback so far, I'll think about how I can make Xanthe's opening section more exciting and tension-filled. I see now that it's a bit too laid-back. It might be a while before I re-post anything though - the rework might be quite extensive!
Fri, Oct 13 2017 08:27pm IST 17
2292 Posts
Goodness! So each chapter has 5 separate POVs? That's certainly a novel (hah!) approach.

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