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First Page: Los Defensores: The Beginning a Paranormal Romance

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City of Lundun, province of Brittania, United Empire.
27 Janvier, 3.021 AGD
In Silas Marrack’s opinion—which concurred with the prejudices of his fellow mages—scientists were idiots. Scientists had long ago decreed the lethal Lundun fogs extinct, yet here he was bumbling around in one. When he’d departed Whitehall, tired but satisfied with the day’s events, the night had been clear. He’d been so immersed in his thoughts he hadn’t noticed the weather change, admittedly a bad habit but one he couldn’t seem to change.
The crowning of a king was a long and tedious affair. It required ceremony and diplomacy and the ability to ignore self-important officials jostling for position in the Grande Promenade. Not to mention a complete lack of facial expression—as well as appetite—at the banquet table, where he’d been seated between High Priestess Gwendolyn and the Duchess of Versailles. They’d hated each other for decades and had continued their quarrel across his increasingly anxious self, each remark so sweetly deadly he’d fully expected them to push back their chairs and have at it with forks and knives. Of course, that couldn’t be allowed, not on such an auspicious day. He’d handled them with his usual tact and humor, but his nerves might never recover from the ordeal.
His duties finally done, he’d breathed a sigh of relief and escaped into the quiet of the now deserted streets. He’d elected to walk, to stretch his muscles and allow himself time to think.
Richard V’s death had raised a minor stumbling block to his plans. Richard had been his strategist, privy to every bit of information Silas himself knew. Robby was so young, so untried. It was difficult to know just where his strengths lay. But Robby was now Robert III, King of the United Empire, and his liege. He would have to bring him up-to-date. Robby didn’t lack brains and his courage had never been faulted. It was his lack of experience that worried Silas.
The damnable fog made it difficult to think. He’d walk into a brick wall, if he weren’t careful. He paused, trying to pinpoint his location. Where the hell was he? The Collegium was a stone’s throw away from Whitehall, depending on who was throwing the stone, of course. The road was relatively smooth and straight, except for that sharp turn to the left. Had he missed it and wandered into Old Towne? Surely he’d have noticed the lack of pavement. He scuffled a booted foot and felt the curve of cobblestones. Blast. He’d wandered into Old Towne.
Slowly he realized something was amiss. Perhaps he ought to cut the scientists some slack, because this wasn’t a natural fog. There was the faintest taint of rot, so faint it had escaped his notice until he’d cleared his mind of quarreling dignitaries and begun to concentrate.
The skitter of claws on cobblestones. Head cocked, he listened intently. A high pitched mutter grew into a shrill chittering, invoking visions of madness and pain. The insane chorus completely surrounded him. Interesting…the Other Side, always capitalized in his mind, had never offered such blatant opposition, not for years, perhaps centuries. They tended to be sneaky; he couldn’t remember one occasion when they’d directly confronted him.
This was an annoyance indeed, and perhaps an indication he was on the right track. He muttered a Word of Power. The wall of fog surged back as if shocked, clearing a sizable circle around him. His formal red robe took on a silvery sheen as his shields manifested. He widened his stance and waited.
Whatever was out there was not friendly.
He had only himself to blame. He’d become complacent and, it seemed, dangerously lax. Could it have been deliberate? Had his enemies hoped to lull him into carelessness by ignoring him?  Had they figured out his plan? He’d been so careful, but he was only human despite his power. He could have messed up somehow. He thought of his chess pieces and the game about to start. This confrontation suggested the enemy knew or suspected something was afoot. Cut off the head and the body would die. Cut down Silas Marrack and the whole world would die.

 

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

16 Comments

  1. vanessa jaye
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 08:43:41

    Went to bed with a migrain last night, so not up to snuff this morning. I didn’t read with a critical eye, more just to see if you would engage my interest, and boy did you ever. I would’ve absolutely read on. There was a lot of worldbuilding & character building here, but it was done smoothly and the story progressed at a nice pace. Hope if the author sells, s/he comes back to let us know.

  2. Gwynnyd
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 09:01:45

    Well! I’m intrigued.

    There were a couple of idioms – “cut some slack” and “messed up somehow” – that were faintly jarring for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint. Perhaps they are too modern and/or colloquial for the formality of the rest of the thoughts? Though it’s not clear if your world is analogous to our modern era, the “lethal Lundun fogs” make it feel post-Industrial-era anyway.

    Back to “I’m intrigued” and I’d certainly read on.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 09:17:17

    This is so not my market, but I’ll give it a try. Understand that I’m a romance reader and writer, and that’s what I know best, but since this is a romance blog, I’ll look at it in that light.
    Why the mix of Latin, modern French and old English in the names? and a bit of Olde Worlde? There doesn’t seem to be any sense in that and it comes across as bizarre. They’d probably be on to Franglais by now. If you look at the history of linguistics, that’s not how language works. For instance, why replace the perfectly functional “London” with one that’s pronounced the same way, just to add a “u”? And then you throw in ‘Olde Towne.’ Ick. Like the Olde Worlde Sweete Shoppe? (or is this the Rhage effect?) I get that you’re blending France and Britain, but it wouldn’t happen like that. Ever. So I’d ask for some linguistic consistency, to give a sense of reality to the piece.
    There’s not a scintilla of romance, but that’s okay, as far as I’m concerned. But I need to be hooked.
    I don’t get a sense of place from this excerpt. Read the first page of “Bleak House” for a description of fog that takes you right into London and gives you a gritty, visceral sense of place and time.
    http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/bleakhouse/2/
    Go and read it.
    There are specifics in that piece, and a metaphor so audacious and so apt it takes your breath away. You can taste that fog, breathe it. And it’s not there just to show off, it’s there for a reason, it’s a metaphor for the whole book, the fog of the law.
    I don’t know much about your protagonist, how old he is, what he looks like, or why I should be interested in him. I get the feeling, from words like “bumbling,” that he’s getting on a bit and he might not be the hero. Also, the two women he describes, he shows not one bit of interest in their appearance or sex appeal.
    The chunk of backstory about the coronation is clunky and obvious. And why was it happening at Whitehall? Cut it to a couple of sentences, or leave it until you’ve hooked the reader.
    But even the menace is vague.

  4. theo
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 10:10:36

    This is not necessarily my type of story either, but there were some things I wanted to comment on.

    First, I don’t need romance on the first page. What I do need is something that doesn’t make me glaze over and the paragraphs of backstory did just that. I think all of that can be worked in over the next couple of pages without losing effect.

    I agree with Lynne as well on the variety of titles and such. I too wondered while reading it why there was Lundun and then Whitehall. If you’re going to change one title, you need to be consistent with them all. I do understand that often people writing fantasy or semi fantasy create their own world but it either needs to be a complete world or stay in this one. I find it hard to straddle both.

    Other than that, like I said, all the backstory was too much for me personally. I’d have started here:

    The skitter of claws on cobblestones. Head cocked, [Silas] listened intently.

    The last line of that section would definitely have me reading on, but it almost took me too long to get to it.

  5. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 12:54:27

    I started skimming at the repeat of “change” in first paragraph. I’m sure that sounds harsh, but many editors would stop reading here, because it indicates that you didn’t edit carefully before submitting.

    We all make repetition mistakes, and sometimes we’re so focused on other things that it slips right by. But you have to be very careful in a first paragraph because this is where you hook–or lose–the reader.

    Is Silas a main character? If he’s about to die, I’d recommend a different opening entirely.

    Kudos for submitting, and good luck.

  6. DM
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 13:20:08

    Scene and sequel. You haven’t mastered them. You start with a sequel to a scene (coronation) that we have no stake in and that contained no drama (drama and spectacle are not the same thing). The real scene takes place when the conflict starts, when he notices that the fog isn’t natural. Everything that comes before it is the kind of back story you need to learn to slice and dice and pepper into your action. Start here:

    Slowly he realized something was amiss. Perhaps he ought to cut the scientists some slack, because this wasn’t a natural fog. There was the faintest taint of rot, so faint it had escaped his notice until he’d cleared his mind of quarreling dignitaries and begun to concentrate.

    Only clean it up:

    This wasn’t a natural fog. There was the faintest taste of rot, so slight it had escaped his notice until he cleared his mind of quarreling dignitaries and begun to concentrate.

    Notice I’ve removed the business about scientists. Will a scientist play a role in this scene? If not, save them for later, when they have something to do. The bit about slowly realizing distances us from the narrator and the scene. Deeper point of view draws the reader in faster. I’ve replaced taint with taste to make the description more visceral. Like wise I’ve changed “he’d cleared,” past perfect, to “he cleared,” simple past to put it in the story present. You also had word repetition with no purpose–faintest and faint–in the same paragraph, on your first page, a pretty good indicator your editing skills aren’t up to par yet. Polish them before you show to this someone else–or you’ll risk wearing out your would-be editors.

  7. Loreen
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 17:41:03

    The story is intriguing but, like others, I find this to be a slow start with lots of background. I would like to know more about this character (personality, age etc). Also, I would like more of a sense of place…is this old London like we see it today? (a mix of architecture from the Renaissance to the modern day – cobblestones, pavement, cathedrals and kabob shops) Or is it different? It seems like he is moving from a modern street to an older street…has part of London been deliberately kept in the past?
    I have been to London several times, but I was a little lost as to where your character is. Give us more intriguing details about the setting, the fog, the scientists…assume that the majority of your readers will not know anything about Whitehall and will be familiar with just the picture postcard images of the city.
    leave the political machinations for later.
    best of luck!!

  8. SAO
    Nov 27, 2011 @ 01:12:47

    This struck me as all telling. Nothing irritates me more than hearing about witty quips or sweetly deadly remarks and not getting the pleasure of enjoying them. He mutters a Word of Power (capped so we know it’s important). What is it?

    More importantly, Silas comes off as a wimp and a bureaucrat. He gets nervous being stuck between two bickering women. He worries about the event coming off well.

    So when you tell us the world will end without him, I get the idea that he’s a typical self-important bureaucrat and that without him, the next banquet might have some louder bickering. Oh the horror!

    There’s a lot that’s intriguing here, but you need to drop us into some action and make Silas a bit more heroic seeming.

  9. Patricia
    Nov 27, 2011 @ 09:13:40

    This is the first First Page I have felt moved to respond to, and that is a mark of how intriguing I find this piece. I would definitely like to know more about this world and what happens next. That said, there is room to improve.

    In addition to the modern wording and repetition others have mentioned, I would like to see fewer contractions. I take it Silas is a person of very great importance in a highly formal, ritualized society. I would think he would show a great degree of care and precision in his own thinking, but the heavy use of contractions gives his thoughts a more casual air.

    The paragraph that begins with the skittering claws is very Lovecraftian. I love Lovecraft, but stopping to notice the similarities took me out of the flow of the piece. The tone is not in keeping with the beginning of your page. It also reminded me of the things that drive me nuts about Lovecraft’s writing. “Visions of madness and pain” are invoked; well, what is he seeing? There is an “insane chorus;” why is it insane? What does it even mean for a chorus to be insane? And in all my years of reading Lovecraft, I still haven’t quite figured out what “chittering” sounds like.

    “Lundun” for London was jarring to me. The other alternate terminology did not bother me, though.

    Since this appears to be an alternate version of London, more scene-setting would be very helpful. Readers can’t simply rely on their pre-existing images of London. We need to know what is as we expect and what is different.

    The details about the coronation should be saved for later in the book. If you mean to convey that Silas is distracted and caught off-guard because he has been through this tedious and exhausting event, you can do so with far fewer words.

    There seems to be a contradiction between Silas’s reaction to facing the Other Side (“an annoyance indeed”) and the possible consequences of the confrontation (“the whole world would die”). Either he is rather cavalier about the world’s fate or this conflict is not as serious as all that, at least not right at this moment.

    Silas’s thought that the Other Side had not offered this kind of opposition for “perhaps centuries” left me slightly confused about his age. Is he referring to historical records or does he personally know how long it has been? If so, he must far exceed a typical human lifespan. Given that this is paranormal fiction I couldn’t rule out that possibility.

    Good luck with this piece! You are off to an intriguing start. I hope we get to read the finished product at some point.

  10. Patricia
    Nov 27, 2011 @ 11:19:19

    I had one more thought about this page: If Silas is such an important person in the realm and striking him down would endanger all humanity, why is he wandering around London at night without any kind of guard?

  11. Carole
    Nov 27, 2011 @ 12:37:09

    Like another reader this is the first time I’ve commmented one way or the other on any of the First Pages – I love this. I get it. I’d read it. I’d buy it. As to the various rewrites offered -they don’t do a thing for me. I do agree with the comparison to Lovecraft and that’s exaclty what popped into my head while reading – that atmosphere and future post-industrial turmoil. Glad to see magick has a place in it.

  12. Carolyn
    Nov 27, 2011 @ 19:25:30

    Author here. I wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to critique; you’ve given me several things to think about.

    I also wanted to say that Silas is not the hero, but rather the glue that holds them all together. Perhaps I should retitle this a prologue.

    I admit to being a philistine; I don’t think I’ve ever read Lovecraft, not that I can remember.

    Thank you again.

  13. SAO
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 01:31:06

    Jennifer Crusie once pointed out that prologues are, by definition, something that happens before the story starts. You want to start your story at the beginning, not before the beginning.

    If Silas isn’t the main char, people who like him might be disappointed and those who don’t will put the book down before meeting the MC, whom they might like.

  14. Unbiased Observer
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 11:49:53

    Why is it, in fantasy worlds, that magicians and scientists are always in opposition? The reason scientists are against magical powers in the real world is because they cannot be proven to exist. But in a theoretical reality in which magic is widespread, scientists would be first in line to master and understand its nature. Every scientist would be a mage.

  15. Jane
    Nov 28, 2011 @ 12:14:02

    @Unbiased Observer That reminds me of the comment that Neil de Grassse Tyson made on an IAMA Reddit thread a few weeks ago. He was asked what he thought was his greatest achievement scientifically and his response was

    “Made a prediction some years ago that there were 10x as many galaxies in the universe than had then been catalogued. based on a careful review of observation bias in how people obtained data on the universe. The actual number turned out to be about 5x as many galaxies. I got the wrong answer but for the right reasons, and it stimulated much further work on the subject.”

    The prediction was a “mad” one.

    Commenter: “Mad predictions are often the best. Especially Grade A ones.”

    Tyson: “Agreed.”

  16. Unbiased Observer
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 12:44:33

    @Jane: NDT is awesome. One of the smartest people alive today.

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