Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Critique of Spirit's End Excerpt

For those who don't know, I love Rachel Aaron. She's a brilliant new author who's about to release Spirit's End, the fifth and final book in her Eli Monpress series, on November 20th. I discovered her during NaNoWriMo last year, when she linked her famous How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day blog post. Since then I've read all the Legend of Eli Monpress novels and her novella Spirit's Oath. And just recently, the four-chapter preview of Spirit's End. So here is the first page of it, with my remarks in red:

At age thirteen, Eliton Banage was the most important thing in the world, and he knew it. Great hook. It shows Eli's character perfectly in one sentence, and the reader wants to know why he's so important.

Wherever he went, spirits bowed before him and the White Lady he stood beside, Benehime, beloved Shepherdess of all the world. In the four years since the Lady had found him in the woods, he had wanted for nothing. Anything he asked, no matter how extravagant, Benehime gave him, and he loved her for it. The highlighted commas are not completely necessary, but that's a matter of opinion. Loving someone for giving him things is not the most sympathetic of traits. What about how she treated him? We don't get any of this until when things change between them (starting right at the end of this excerpt).

She took him everywhere: to the wind courts, to the grottoes and trenches of the seafloor, even into the Shaper Mountain itself. All the places Eli had only dreamed about, she took him, and everywhere they went, the spirits paid them homage, kissing Benehime’s feet with an adoration that spilled over onto Eli as well, as it should. He was the favorite, after all. Great world-building here. I'm thinking someone who hasn't read the other four books could probably pick this one up and read it without any problem, without being so long-winded as to annoy your loyal readers.

For four happy years this was how Eli understood the world. And then, the day before his fourteenth birthday, everything changed.

It began innocently. He’d wanted to go to Zarin, and Benehime had obliged. It was market day and the city was packed, but the crowds passed through them like shadows, unseeing, for Eli and the Lady were on the other side of the veil, that silk-thin wall that separated the spirits’ world from Benehime’s. As usual, Eli was walking ahead, showing off by slipping his hand through the veil to snitch a trinket or a pie whenever the shadows of the merchants turned away. He was so fast he could have done it without the veil to hide him, but Benehime had ordered he was never to leave the veil without her explicit permission. It was one of her only rules. The third sentence in this paragraph is pretty long with lots of commas, try to see if you can break it in half. Had he ever asked her permission to cross the veil to try his luck? It seems like the thing he might have at least considered.

He’d just pulled a really good snatch, a gold-and-enamel necklace. Grinning, he turned to show it to Benehime, but for once she wasn’t behind him. Eli whirled around, necklace dangling from his fingers, and found the Lady several steps back. She was perfectly still, standing with her eyes closed and her head cocked to the side, like she was listening for something. He called her name twice before she answered. He ran to her, giving her the necklace, and she, laughing, admired it a moment before throwing it on the ground and going on her way. What color enamel? So much of your description lets me imagine scenes clearly, but this needs a little more detail. How did she answer? Did she look at him, say "Yes?", or something else?

This was how it usually went. Benehime hated everything humans made. She said they were like paintings done by a blind man, interesting for the novelty but never truly worth looking at. Eli had long since given up asking what she meant. Still, she liked when he gave her things, and making her happy was the most important thing in his life. Great way to ease the reader from "beloved Shepherdess of all the world" to seeing her true nature. She shows a disdain for humanity as a whole, and even though she likes Eli giving her things, she tosses them to the ground.

She stopped twice more before they made it to the main square. By the third time, Eli was getting annoyed. Fortunately, her last pause happened only a dozen feet from his goal—the Council bounty board. I'm confused about how many pauses she takes. Perhaps word it more like "By the last time she paused, Eli was getting annoyed. Fortunately, it happened only..."

“Look!” Eli shouted, running up to the wall of block-printed posters. “Milo Burch’s bounty is almost a hundred thousand now!” He stared at the enormous number, trying to imagine what that much gold would look like. “He’s like his own kingdom.” I can just imagine his eyes open wide and twinkling as he gazed on in admiration.

Final thoughts: there's really not a lot here to improve on. The voice here is strong and well-done, and the hook is planted. You're an incredibly impressive writer!

What do you guys think? Did I miss something, or do you disagree about anything?

Don't forget that I'm accepting submissions for my Tuesday critique!

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