Wednesday, June 5, 2013

QK Round 2: Not Odette vs. Damned

Entry Nickname: Not Odette
Title: Princess of Swans
Word count: 84,000
Genre: YA Fantasy


As the heir to her war-torn country's throne, teenage princess Feyana Belmaron should be the most powerful woman in Amgovar. Instead, she is a prisoner. After a traitor killed her mother and disfigured her, Feyana’s father confined her to an isolated castle to keep her safe. Ten years later, Feyana gives up hope that her father will ever let her go—and with a face like hers, no storybook prince is likely to come to her rescue.

But perhaps she can come to his.

When a gravely injured volkarei witch foretells Feyana’s marriage to a handsome enemy prince–a marriage that would not only end the war, but unite the feuding countries for good–the scarred princess seizes the chance to put her castle walls behind her. Eager to finally serve her people, Feyana disguises herself, scales the wall, and sets out to find the prince.

But the outside world is far more dangerous than she imagined, full of pirates, soldiers, and thieves angered by her father’s policies and eager to revenge themselves on his sheltered heir. Her only allies, a volkarei-cursed monster and a lowborn, gay thief, are both convicted criminals...and one has already betrayed her. When her prince, too, turns out to be far more alarming than charming, Feyana must face a bitter choice: turn back and abandon her country to an unwinnable war, or keep on and give up her hard-won freedom.


First 250 words:

Tavor Castle is beautiful, for a prison. The white stone castle is small but well-kept, and its fields and woods cover almost a square mile. Even the looming, twenty-foot walls enclosing the grounds have an odd charm to them. To protect you, Father says, but I know better. It’s to hide me. The only ugly thing in Tavor Castle is its princess.

I jam my foot into Lulari’s stirrup and glare up at the walls, wishing my hate could melt them. Only a little longer, until the war ends, and I’ll be free. Father promised that much, at least.

I turn away and cluck Lulari to a walk. The warm breeze ruffles my fascinator and fills my nose with the scent of horse. I smile. Outside, there may still be walls, but at least there’s no ceiling. I brush back a lock of hair—and an ashen, black-cloaked woman appears in my path.

Lulari rears.

I clutch at her mane but grasp nothing. The ground races up to slap me, and pain jars through my shoulder and back. Breathing hard, I stir my arms and legs, then probe my ribs for tenderness. Nothing broken, praise Dal. A stablehand races toward me, calling my name. I sit up and groan.

“I’m fine,” I say. “Is she all right?”


The mysterious woman lies crumpled beneath her cloak, her face unnaturally gray. I crawl toward her, my shoulder throbbing, but the stablehand pulls me back sharply.

The black mass I took for a cloak is a vast, dark wing.


Entry Nickname:
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy

On an isolated island, beneath a lush canopy of resurrection ferns and prickly palmettos, a Victorian colony festers. Monetary wealth carries little weight. Lineage is currency and nothing is of greater import than blood.

Orphans Haeden and Veanne are fifteen-years-old when their adoptive father, the sole doctor, mysteriously dies, leaving them without knowledge of their parentage and defenseless against rumor of a spreading illness threatening to divide the decaying hierarchy.

The unexpected return of the doctor’s biological son, vanished from the island for over a decade, presents a double-edged sword equally sharp as the one buckled at his waist. Even as he offers protection, and romances Veanne, he harbors devastating secrets.

Combating plague, pirates, and moral corruption, Haeden and Veanne must unearth both the truth behind the sickness and their birth in order to survive the systematic destruction of the only home they have ever known.

First 250 Words:

Inside the black oak coffin, Raymond Able lay carefully arranged with arms neatly folded across his cold body. Gold-rimmed spectacles lay tucked inside the left pocket of the doctor’s vest, the chain of his pocket watch dangled from the right.

Veanne imagined she could still hear it ticking.

The evening sun beat through the gaps of the forest canopy. Despite the heat, Veanne leaned closer to her brother’s familiar presence. Head bowed, her gaze caught a patch of uneven dye on the toe of her left slipper. She sighed. Ankle length skirts and asymmetrical shoes; she looked like a peasant child playing dress up and not a grieving fifteen-year-old girl.

Straggling mourners filled in around the open grave, dug so Raymond would forever rest with his head facing west. Their steps were in measure with the tolling bell rung from town, one strike for each year of the doctor’s life.

“At this time individuals may come forth, if they so wish, and share pleasant reminiscences,” said the high parson, Alister Wraeb, standing next to the mound of unearthed peat and sand.

Veanne felt her brother stir to speak, but she put a hand to his vest.

“Oh, stop shooshing me,” Haeden hissed, twisting away. “Raymond raised us.”

“We were his wards, Hae, not his children,” whispered Veanne. The tips of her ears turned red beneath her bonnet. She felt sick. She needed water, something to soothe the tension in her stomach. “Not blood.”


  1. This comment is reserved for judges' votes

    1. These are both really good queries, but I found the one for NOT ODETTE a bit easier to follow. Loved the first 250 in DAMNED. Sigh. Time for another purely subjective vote!

      VIctory to DAMNED

    2. Victory to Damned
      Not Odette - I really do love a LOT about your work, especially the actual writing. It was powerful, engaging, and lyrical. I can't find much fault with your entry, esp. not with the 250 which was great. It came down to personal genre choice for me.
      Damned - what can I say? I love dark, gothic tales with family secrets and evocative locales. You lured me with all that yummy bait and your writing was skillful enough to reel me in.

    3. This one was really close to me. Loved both queries and first 250. Came down to query clarification.

      Victory to Not Odette!

    4. Victory to Not Odette: The query and first 250 drew me in.

      Damned: Love the setting and gothic feel.

    5. This is agonizing. Why! Why did they have to be matched together?

      Victory to Not Odette! I love the concept of a disfigured princess.

    6. Victory to Not Odette

    7. Victory to Not Odette.

      I wish you could both move on :(

    8. Victory to Damned

      Again, loved both!

    9. Victory to Damned

      Fantastic new concept - I had a great visual from the query alone, and the opening 250 are pretty sweet.

      Odette - I enjoyed your concept and the voice but Damned edged you out with the sharper query.

    10. Victory to Not Odette

    11. Victory to Not Odette

      Both very strong entries!

  2. I agree that both have strong queries and excerpts but both could be tightened and more clear. Just reading them aloud would call attention to things like:

    After a traitor killed her mother and disfigured her (sounds like second her is also the mother)
    fills my nose with the scent of horse (good opportunity to describe the scent)

    How does a patch of uneven dye on the toe of her left slipper mean the shoes are asymmetrical? Did she wear two different shoes? WOuld mismatched work better?
    In the excerpt you use 'lay' in first two sentences. Change it up?
    Instead of: ,” said the high parson, Alister Wraeb, standing next to the mound of unearthed peat and sand. You could eliminate the dialogue tag and just say: Alister Wraeb, the high parson, stood next to the mound of unearthed peat and sand.
    Perhaps elminate 'hissed' as a dialogue tag and just put: Haeden twisted away.

    Good luck to you both!

  3. Not Odette
    Change “disfigured her” to “disfigured Feyana” to make the fact clearer. I love the twist in paragraph two. Awesome!
    I think “avenge” is a better word choice than “revenge themselves.” But I love your line “… her prince, too, turns out to be far more alarming than charming.” You have a gift with word choices. I particularly love your first 250. Gorgeous.

    The premise is interesting and the writing is vivid but I would work on making your sentences work harder and become clearer. I don’t get a true sense on what kind of plot or stakes I am going to get. I’d especially like to know why the son suddenly makes an appearance.
    The 250 are as rich as your query. You have a way with words and you nailed the supposed era. I’d read more.

  4. Odette: I know you're saying the MC was disfigured, but it's worded like the guy killed, and then disfigured her mother. Maybe if you just flip flopped the sentence it would sound better. Love the idea of her father keeping her prisoner for her own good and especially that she's disfigured. Not your usual perfect and pretty heroine. Why does it matter that the witch is injured? I love stories about royalty in disguise! I'm confused about how she escaped, though. You mean she's been staying in there of her own accord? Or did something happen to allow her to escape finally. Just clear up exactly what her situation is before (and why she goes along with her father's paranoia.) Mentioning pirates makes it seem a little hokey. Can you say bandits or something? I'm getting an MG vibe here. I like the Alarming/Charming wordplay, but before that the facts you're giving us seem to have little to do with her goal or the stakes. Why does it matter who is with her or whether the thief is gay? And learning that one has betrayed her just seems kind of out in left field. I think you just need to clarify the end. The dilemma doesn't make a lot of sense. So she can either go back or give up her freedom? That seems like the same thing? And if the war is unwinnable, why would she try to help? And I don't like the phrase "keep on" it seems too modern for the query. 250: I really liked the voice. Great opening paragraph. It feels like you're rushing into the inciting incident, though. Give us a little more of the setting and her normal life before throwing the witch at us.

    Darned: Victorian colony in the jungle? Awesomely original. Lose the hyphens on "fifteen-years-old" you only use them when you're using the phrase as an adjective. I'm not clear on how lineage is currency. Does that mean certain family's get whatever they want just because of who they are? It seems a strange way to put it. And the rumor of disease needs to be clearer. How are they defenseless? Do the people think they are carrying the disease? Why does it matter? Don't like the sword metaphor. It's distracting and a little melodramatic. Just tell us the situation and make it clear. Seriously? Pirates in this one too? Maybe it's the new thing. Just seems out of place. I need a little more to understand the stakes. All I get is that they don't know who they are, there's a mysterious guy who may be bad or good, and there are some old people that are corrupt. Why don't they just leave? I need to know! 250: Very professional and smooth. Makes me want to read more.

    If I had to pick (which I don't) I'd go with Odette, just because I got a clearer idea of what was going on and why.

    Great job to both of you and good luck!

  5. NOT ODETTE -- I really enjoyed your first page. You weave world-building and characterization pretty seamlessly with the action. The one tiny flaw I spotted was the ground reaching up to slap Feyana: if she's falling backward off the horse, how would she see it?

    The query was quite good, too, although you lost me a little with the last paragraph. When you bring in her allies and the betrayal, it becomes too many characters and plot points to absorb. I'd cut that whole sentence. Then the final choice seems like not much of a choice. She goes back to her old, lonely life and the war continues, or she marries the alarming prince and settles for a new form of captivity. I'd like to believe that at least one option could lead to a happy ending.

    DAMNED -- I commented on your first page in the last round. Regarding the query, I thought the first two paragraphs were fine, but I feel like you're hiding too much in the last two paragraphs. Can you give a stronger hint as to what "dangerous secrets" the returned son hides, and how those secrets might be harmful to Veanne and Haeden? How will uncovering their parentage help stop the disease?

    Both of these look like promising stories. If I had to choose, I'd give it to NOT ODETTE, because there's something about the scarred princess that really appeals to me.

    Best of luck to both of you.

  6. NOT ODETTE! Gotta' love a tale where the princess takes charge. Especially a disfigured princess. The reader's gonna' be rooting her on like there's no tomorrow. Awesome. I question if you've introduced new many brand-spankin' new fantasy concepts in your first 250. Ease that reader in gently into your admittedly wonderful world. Very nice.

    DAMNED! Dark and stellar writing. I like the hook on Odette's query better, but your first 250 is excellent. I hope there's a wee bit of humor in your tale to offset all the doom and gloom and sickness!

    Both are great.

  7. VERY hard to decide but, victory to NOT ODETTE


    Great query: Unique (to me) premise. Well-written! Plague, pirates, and moral corruption—what’s not to like?

    Story: I was hooked all the way through! The dark wing thing gave me chills! I was a little confused, though, by her riding a horse. Made me have to stop to think whether she was inside the walls or out. Is the square mile of fields and woods inside the castle walls??


    Another great query and premise. Also well-written!

    Story: A couple of nit-picky things: Going by the first paragraph, I did think the coffin was open and on view somewhere, only to realize it was at the gravesite about to go in. Also, Veanne, nor anyone else, could actually see the “tips of her ears turned red beneath her bonnet.” Maybe she could feel them heat up, or something.

  8. A tough choice here, for sure!

    Not Odette: I think the query loses a tad of focus at the end. I’d take out the part about her only allies (the two criminals) and be more specific about why her handsome prince is so alarming. Just seems a bit vague. Little stuff, ultimately, but I think it’d make the query a little stronger. Great 250! Could be totally just taste, but the first paragraph seems a bit telly to me, like you’re dumping the setting there rather than weaving it seamlessly into the action.

    Damned: Great query! The only thing I can think of for improvement is to weave the first paragraph more into the rest of the query. As is, it’s basically the setting just being dumped there. Regarding the 250, I’d like to see some more emotion from the teenage protagonists. I’m not getting a sense of what this man meant to them, and I think infusing that will help the reader connect with them and the situation here.