Thursday, May 5, 2011

Query 82

Erhistaut

Dear Agent,

ERHISTAUT is a 95,000-word high fantasy novel for young adults.

Claws bathed in rotting flesh; lips dripping honeysuckle. Heiren Delaire fears bears more than spiders, sorcery, and lightning storms.

She never knew the bears were her guardians.

The noble House of Ursa, whose protector is the bear, vanished eighteen years prior, its line of kings slain in a murderous plot kept secret from the common people. With no knowledge of her heritage or why her mother died, seventeen-year-old Heiren hungers for importance and adventure in the world.

Fleeing her shoddy home, Heiren lands in the middle of a treacherous noble captain’s plot to murder the ruler of the land. Barely escaping the turmoil, she stumbles into the path of a wise man and unwittingly revives a legend—a legend of a flaming sword forged by the demons and more destructive than any man-made treasure.

When the captain takes over and her country falls into chaos, the weapon may be the only thing capable of defeating him and his army. If the sword can be found. If it even exists. And if Heiren is desperate and fearless enough to seek it.

For the sword was made for use in human days of despair, but whether for repair or annihilation is uncertain.

ERHISTAUT is the first in a planned trilogy. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

ERHISTAUT is a 95,000-word high fantasy novel for young adults.

Claws bathed in rotting flesh; lips dripping honeysuckle.

I sort of get where you're going with this, but I don't think it's coming across the way you intend. The first sentence doesn't paint the picture of a bear to me. "bathed" seems an odd choice, then it's followed by "rotting flesh," which is not what I equate with a bear's diet. Likewise "honeysuckle" -- although I do think it's more likely to find a bear eating honeysuckle plants than rotting flesh. This sentence frag could work OK in another context where the reader is set up for it. As it is, starting out the query and with no context, it feels like a mistake rather than a stylistic frag.

Heiren Delaire fears bears more than spiders, sorcery, and lightning storms.

I do like how you've just slipped "sorcery" in, pointing out it's run-of-the-mill without being blatant about it. Except it isn't, is it? Nobody seems to wield magic in this world. The only supernatural thing mentioned is a sword forged by demons, not sorcerers. So why tease with sorcery if it isn't part of the story?

She never knew the bears were her guardians.

This sentence should be in present / present perfect tense: She doesn't know / has never known bears are her guardians.

The noble House of Ursa, whose protector is the bear,

A world-building pet peeve is using Latin or Greek to name common things on worlds that aren't Earth to make those things sound exotic. Just a personal observation and nothing to do with the use of Ursa in the query per se.

vanished eighteen years prior, its line of kings slain in a murderous plot kept secret from the common people.

Change "prior" to "ago". You don't need to tell us the plot is kept secret from commoners. The reader will infer that, as well as infer it was kept secret from any nobility not in on the plot. Of course, I'm assuming you mean the commoners are in the dark when it happens, not afterwards, right?

With no knowledge of her heritage or why her mother died, seventeen-year-old Heiren hungers for importance and adventure in the world.

The reader doesn't find out why or when her mom died either. Is it important? Is the fact that Heiren is from a deposed House in a patriarchal society important? If her heritage is important, let us know how. Otherwise, if she doesn't know, then what difference does it make in her life?

Fleeing her shoddy home, Heiren lands in the middle of a treacherous noble captain’s plot to murder the ruler of the land.

So the current ruler, who was put on the throne through murder and treachery, is doing a pretty good job of holding the country together. Another power-hungry noble comes along and he's defined as "treacherous" to distinguish him from the other treacherous guy on the throne. (And I think you can call him either a noble or a captain - both is kind of confusing, especially when you juxtapose "treacherous" and "noble" when the reader is trying to figure things out.)

Barely escaping the turmoil, she stumbles into the path of a wise man and unwittingly revives a legend—a legend of a flaming sword forged by the demons and more destructive than any man-made treasure.

I'm not clear how one revives a legend. If this wise man knows it, it isn't dead. If he helps her find it etched in stone in a cave somewhere, then we should probably know that in the query. But I'm wondering if the wise man needs to be mentioned at all.

When the captain takes over and her country falls into chaos,

Looking at the world-building and logistics here: There was a bloody coup 18 years ago, but the country seems to be doing OK. What did the captain do wrong and why is the country falling into chaos? Also, how long does it take? Maybe the country isn't very big. Does the current government not have its own army? Most standing armies can function without a figurehead leader.

the weapon may be the only thing capable of defeating him and his army. If the sword can be found. If it even exists. And if Heiren is desperate and fearless enough to seek it.

We haven't really been given a clear picture of Heiren. She wants importance and adventure is all we know. Why would she even think to go after it? This is where using "back cover copy" doesn't work for your query. Think a little more specifically.

For the sword was made for use in human days of despair, but whether for repair or annihilation is uncertain.

I like that the sword might be made for peace or destruction. But would demons really forge something for "repair"? Why? Why would there be any question about its intent? Who would trust a demon-forged weapon knowing it was forged by, you know, demons? This is important, of course, because the reader wants to be assured the world-building hangs together logically.

What happened to the bears?

ERHISTAUT is the first in a planned trilogy. Thank you for your time and consideration.

I would assure the reader this is a stand-alone book. In order to do that, we need to be sure what the goal of THIS book is. To find the sword? Is that a satisfying enough ending? Does she find the sword and defeat the army in volume 1 then have to rebuild and hold the country together in the other two volumes? Given the story arc as presented here, I'm not convinced the story is big enough for three books.

You have a very familiar trope here. And that's OK, IF you can convince an agent that you have intriguing characters, a cool plot twist, and/or exceptional world-building. Unless you bring the bears back into the query, I think that can all be cut in favor of more quality time spent helping us understand why we should care about the MC, understand that there's some plot twist here that helps distinguish this story from all the other sword-quest stories out there, or understand how your world works. My biggest concern is that this world feels "convenient" and not "real."

3 comments:

AA said...

"Heiren lands in the middle of a treacherous noble captain’s plot to murder the ruler of the land." It's amazing how often this happens to otherwise ordinary teens in fantasy novels. Just sayin'.

"Barely escaping the turmoil"- because it's much more exciting if she "barely" escapes than if she just escapes.

"she stumbles into the path of a wise man and unwittingly revives a legend"- This is gettin' awful coincidental.

"When the captain takes over and her country falls into chaos, the weapon may be the only thing capable of defeating him and his army. If the sword can be found. If it even exists."

This sounds like material for the next two books. It's gonna take a while for the entire country to fall into chaos, for the MC to find out if the sword exists (it does), go to find it, be put in mortal danger several times ("barely" escaping each time, of course), then find out how to use it. (There is no doubt she will be able to use it because she is the Chosen One.)

And where, exactly, ARE the bears? You mention them and then drop them.

Problems:
Vagueness. General talk about swords, plots, demons, guardians, teen heroes who rise up from obscurity, quests to find magical artifacts. Without specifics, it's every other YA fantasy on the market.

Cliches.
Kings slain in a murderous plot
Protag has no knowledge of her heritage
Seventeen-year-old protag hungers for adventure
Protag lands in the middle of a treacherous plot
A legend of a (magical) sword forged by (magical creatures)
Country falls into chaos
The sword (is) the only thing capable of (defeating bad guy)
Sword (must) be found
(Protag goes on a quest) to seek it.

At this point, the query reads like a fantasy cliche checklist.

Logic problems.
Swords aren't made for repair. Awls are.
You can't be treacherous and noble, but you can be a treacherous nobleman.
If the line of kings is slain, meaning "lineage," how is the protag still alive? If it means just the kings, how did that include her mother?
How does an orphan and presumed commoner get anywhere close enough to a captain /nobleman to overhear a plot to murder the current ruler? Wouldn't this plot be kept in total secrecy even from other noblemen?

This probably makes sense to you, but you've read the book. This needs a rewrite. Put in everything that makes it sounds like an original, fresh idea. Leave out at least some of the stuff that doesn't.

Anonymous said...

"... kings slain in a murderous plot" is pretty redundant to me. I mean, if it were a comedic plot, or embarrassing or something, but I think slain implies that the plot was murderous, and we would only need clarification if that wasn't the case.

I liked the bear hook, and I think it could help this query stand out, but it disappears.

Rose

batgirl said...

What strikes me, and I know I'm kind of a geek about this, is the odd word uses. Shoddy suggests poorly-manufactured cheap goods, like shoes that fall apart within a year. It could refer to a kit-built house, but since 'home' carries a sense of family more than the physical structure, I don't get a clear image from this. Is it a tumbledown shack (structure) or is it a loveless mansion (family)?
'turmoil' is vague - it makes me think of a popular uprising, but here it seems to mean a targetted assassination. Then it looks more like an invasion, since the 'treacherous noble' (don't need either of those words!) captain has an army with him.

I think there's potential here, but I get the feeling the author is trying to hard for drama and portentousness, and not letting the story speak for itself.