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First Page: The Companion, Alternate World romance

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Golden light streamed through the glass dome that covered the Hall of Lunatium, the capital of Lunatia, the Empire of the Silver Crescent. Granite pillars lined the walls of the oval Hall, and its marble floor gleamed with the rays of the morning sun. A pair of Imperial Guards stood at each of the doors positioned at the four points of the compass, their red uniforms stark against the white walls.

At the northern end of the hall, a shrouded dais protected the future Empress, Syndra-Kai, from curious eyes. The law forbade any but personal maids, tutors, or family to look upon the face or form of the young Princess, until after her Initiation. The fabric of her shelter had been designed so that the Princess might view the Hall with little obstruction, yet was completely shielded from view. Only a dim outline of the Princess was visible through its folds.

Syndra-Kai sighed with impatience, twirling a strand of her gleaming black hair, pulled back into the Royal style. A silver circlet adorned the mass of hair piled high on her head. The mass of curls was interspersed with braids, their ends capped by silver beads.

“What a farce,” she thought to herself. “In a week’s time, things will be different. I will be Empress, and those that come after me will praise my name for the changes I will make.” Her mind churned with all the plans she had for her Empire.

Interrupting her thoughts, the Royal Chancellor, Xan-Rul, bowed before her, saying, “With your permission, Your Highness, we can proceed.”

Xan-Rul was also her tutor, and before that, he had been her mother’s faithful servant, Chosen by her mother, just as Syndra-Kai would Choose for herself today. Syndra-Kai sometimes pitied Xan-Rul for losing his manhood. Xan-Rul was quick to dismiss her concern.

“The honor of becoming your mother’s Companion was greater than any temporary pleasure those parts could have given me. It is an ancient custom, but it was necessary, and as a daughter of the Royal Family, she was obliged to go through with it. If you disagree, and many do these days, when you become Empress, you may change it. Until then, you must abide.”

Syndra-Kai had laughed contemptuously. “But in order to become Empress, I must go through with a ceremony which is both antiquated and barbaric.”

Xan-Rul smiled. “That, my dear, is called irony.”


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Kimber An
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 07:31:58

    Hmm, this starts like an epic Fantasy novel, wide angle and then moves into the Empress’ Point of View. The premise intrigued me, but I think the other readers can give better writerly feedback. It’s my preference to start stories in Third Person Deep Point of View. I’d like to see everything and everyone around the Empress from behind her eyes and feel everything she feels about them. I want to smell what she smells. Again, that’s my preference as a reader and it may not be appropriate to this genre.

  2. Leah
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 07:50:24

    So…. Does the Empress choose a companion who gives her a child (daughter), and then is castrated? I’m guessing that Syndra-Kai is not going to want to make her own companion a eunuch. Are men subservient to women in this world? Not that I think this should all come out in the first page at all–I’m just curious. I thought that you repeated “Princess” too many times in the 2nd paragraph–which made it seem clunky–but other than that, I think this is a decent start. I haven’t read sf/f in years, though, so others will have better comments, I’m sure. Good Luck!

  3. JoB
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 08:00:25

    As Kimber An points out … this is ‘telling the story’.

    Nothing wrong with a narrative voice as an introduction, (think of those lines scrolling against space that begin Star Wars.)
    When you move up close and personal to your actors on the stage, Third Person POV is perhaps more effective than Omniscient Narrator.

    How do I know that we are in Omniscient Narrator instead of Third Person POV?

    Lines like, Xan-Rul was also her tutor, and before that, he had been her mother's faithful servant, have to come from someone other than the protagonist. As does, twirling a strand of her gleaming black hair, pulled back into the Royal style. A silver circlet adorned the mass of hair piled high on her head.

    This is O.N. Our gal obviously is not sitting there mulling over the history of her personal servants or how her hair is put up.

    The second area that might be worked with is the action that opens this story. I don’t mean gymnastics and gunshots. You don’t need action in the form of assassins running through the throne room tossing knives at that gauzy cloth.

    The conflict you’re building in this first scene is going to arise from the protagonist’s goals and character —
    that’s cool. That’s more than fine.

    But you’re showing us the goals and characters through a pair of talking heads who tell each other things they both are well aware of. This is an example of As You Know, Bob.

    Can you reveal your protagonist’s character through her actions? Dialog and internals work fine also, but actions are the pure quill.

    Finally … bit of an idiosyncratic take here …
    the Hall of Lunatium, the capital of Lunatia, the Empire of the Silver Crescent
    making me think of lunatics and Ming The Merciless and (in an unrelated Ka-ching,) Masonic organizations.

  4. joanne
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 08:05:53

    When I re-read this first page eliminating the first paragraph, the story worked much better for me. Descriptions of the guards and room could come a little later in my opinion.

    I had a hiccup in the reading with a heroine who is about to become Empress expressing her emotions with a sigh and playing with her hair. If she has been raised (I assume) to take the throne, I think her displeasure would be displayed in a stronger manner.

    Another bump was with the Royal Chancellor “loosing his manhood”….. if he is a Eunuch then he was castrated which has nothing to do with misplacing something.

    Small things all of these criticisms but the things that take a reader out of the story are the things that keep them from wanting to read more. I like the direction you’re going with this and I’d like to read more to see where it leads.

    Thank you and good luck!

  5. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 10:02:02

    You paint a vivid picture and I liked the description. The switch to princess POV in the third paragraph is a bit abrupt. And her internal dialogue is kind of awkward? Thoughts usually don’t take quotation marks, but you can use italics to set them apart.

    There is some repetition:

    gleaming black hair
    mass of hair
    mass of curls

    Hope this helps and best of luck!

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 11:18:07

    Too many capitalised words. Especially Choosing. So this ceremony starts, and she sees her great big alpha male and he’s totally ineligible, right? Either that, or they are ‘bound’ or soul-mates and she hates him.
    Anyway, this is too slow, and there’s too much backstory. I know it’s hard with fantasy, but try to eliminate some of the things, like her hair and her companion, just pare it down a bit.
    Try writing it in the first person. See how much you can slice.
    Fantasy isn’t my thing, because they tend to be idealised worlds, and I like a bit of depth, but I can’t really tell from the first read, just something to watch for.
    Definitely a Flash Gordon vibe going on here. Can’t help thinking of the magnificent sight of a winged Brian Blessed.

  7. Anion
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 11:29:52

    You’re a good writer, but this whole opening feels like an As-You-Know-Bob to me. “In a week’s time I shall become Empress and I will do great things etc. etc.”

    As has been pointed out, it’s telling not showing. You don’t need to give us all the rules and setup for the world right there at the beginning. It’s a well-written infodump but an infodump nonetheless.

    I’m not crazy about the opening paragraphs of description either. Start in Sandra-Kai’s POV and give her something to do aside from just sitting there thinking about her future. Let us see the hall and the veiling which hides her through her eyes; is it a prison to her? A symbol of her authority? How does she feel about it all?

    It sounds to me like we’re about to have a nice parade of men troop through, all hoping to be chosen. I could be wrong, of course, but if I’m not, start there. That’s action and conflict, and it gives us an immediate insight to the world.

    Just my opinion, and like I said, clearly you’re very capable. I just don’t think you’re giving us anything special in this opening.

  8. Keilexandra
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 13:49:16

    The beginning smacks of Cliche Epic Royal Fantasy. I agree with previous commenters about going deeper in narration and cutting the diction bloat. However, despite all this, I’m interested in the premise (perhaps because I like this sort of plot setup)–if you make it -different-, this could be very interesting.

  9. LindaR
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 14:29:23

    @Lynne Connolly

    Can't help thinking of the magnificent sight of a winged Brian Blessed.

    Comments to follow, but I couldn’t pass up saying tee-hee over this.

    [edit] I luvs me some brian blessed — his whacked-out father of Sophie in Tom Jones is to die for.

  10. Marianne McA
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 15:03:56

    This is the opposite of constructive critisism, but in a bookshop I’d have stopped browsing at ‘What a farce’.
    I think I see why it’s there: the writer is painting a very traditional backdrop with all the ‘forbade’ and ‘adorned’ words, and that phrase is meant to give the reader a jolt of suprise: this character isn’t the fairy tale princess, this is a real woman.

    And I don’t know (I’m a reader, not a writer) why I’d have stopped reading at that point, because it ought to be an interesting juxtaposition. But for whatever reason, you lose me there. It’s too abrupt, or too crude a thought – something like that.

  11. LindaR
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 15:08:08

    All my comments are going to be as if I’m talking to myself, because on reading this for a second time I realize that you and I have a few writerly traits in common.

    The most fatal and dangerous being: OMG could we be any more serious? Could we drip with any thicker meaning and symbolism? Could we be having any less fun? Ach, the load is heavy and the road is weary, and blah blah somebody’s got to do the lifting so why not us?

    Just a thought.

    From the general to the specific:

    Golden light streamed through the glass dome that covered the Hall of Lunatium, the capital of Lunatia, the Empire of the Silver Crescent.

    First, yes, the concatenation here provokes images. I liked the Ming the Merciless referent; but for me, I was transported to a poem by my favorite poet in the whole wild world (even more than Coleridge):

    Her Name was Dilliki Dolliki Dinah;
    Niece she was to the Empress of China;
    Fair she was as a morning in May, when Hy Kokolorum stole her away.

    Equally not what you wanted, I’m sure. Still, you must want the moon reference. I’m getting the idea that you’re going to have moon symbolism for your women and sun symbolism for your men? Which is why, dynasty of the moon-people notwithstanding, the “golden light” permeates all? Anyway, I like that kind of stuff. If you can figure out a way to do it so that it’s not blatant, it might work. Maybe use a different root than lunar for your moon words — selene or something?

    So is the “problem” going to be that the man she loves is the man she’s got to whack, so to speak? Why not start with that scene? Or one that forshadows it. Something other than a princess sitting on her shrouded throne, tossing about her piled-high curls as the granite pilars “line” the walls. (pilars hold things up, actually; they don’t line walls).

    I’ve come to believe that good story-telling is more important than good writing. But I still think bad writing can kill a story. And I have a new definition of bad writing:

    a. Writing which makes the reader work too hard. b. Writing which calls attention to itself.

    But cheer up! It looks like you’ve got a good story in here somewhere — and all the good writing in the world can’t go anywhere without that.

  12. Janine
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 15:22:16

    You have excellent writing chops, especially when it comes to description. Nontheless I share the preference of those who suggested starting in third person deep POV, and getting to the action sooner. Yes, that would entail cutting out some of the beautiful description in the opening. I think it was Oscar Wilde whose advice to writers was “Kill your darlings.”

    A point about this paragraph:

    “What a farce,” she thought to herself. “In a week's time, things will be different. I will be Empress, and those that come after me will praise my name for the changes I will make.” Her mind churned with all the plans she had for her Empire.

    Character thoughts, when presented in first person, are usually either italicized or simply identified by “she thought to herself.” Either way, I would advise getting rid of the quotation marks around Syndra-Kai’s thoughts because it can confuse readers since we associate quotation marks with dialogue.

    Also, when you went into the flashback to the conversation with Xan-Rul toward the end of this excerpt, I didn’t realize it was a flashback until I reached “Syndra-Kai had laughed contemptuously.” I think if you change the flashback intro to “Xan-Rul had been quick to dismiss her concern,” it would be clear from the beginning that this is a flashback.

    Once again, there’s some lovely writing here. I love the attention to detail in the desciptions, such as “its marble floor gleamed with the rays of the morning sun.” Yes, it probably needs to be cut since it slows down the opening, but I’m sure you can find other ways to utilize your gift for vivid description elsewhere in your manuscript.

  13. Karen Kennedy
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 16:17:50

    Some of the images in the first couple of paragraphs are lovely and the writing is well done, however, I have to agree with several others and say the story doesn’t start there. In fact, I’m not sure the story starts on this first page at all. First are the two paragraphs of description, then an entire paragraph describing her hairdo, then a brief bit about her thoughts, then a flashback.

    In my opinion it would be more effective to start the story with some action. If it’s a parade of men, great, or whatever the ceremony is, start with that. Then feed some of the lovely description in smaller bits.

    Thank you for sharing and much good luck!

  14. Kathleen MacIver
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 17:44:48

    Hmmm… personally, I LIKE an omniscient beginning that moves slowly into a person’s POV… so I liked that about this. I know this isn’t “the style” now-a-days… but still, I like it.

    There were a few minor hiccups in the reading… but others mentioned them, and they were minor. This beginning is, I think, one of those that interested me most, out of those I’ve read here lately. I guess the writing is more my style. :-)

    Good luck!

  15. Lorraine
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 18:26:27

    I like your writing and the story seems interesting. I like that the young Empress is ambitious and planning to make big changes upon her coronation.

    However, I didn’t care for the name of the place “…Lunatium, the capital of Lunatia, the Empire of the Silver Crescent.” It reminds me of the moon, but in an unsophisticated, obvious way.

    Also, I think mention of the Royal Chancellor being a eunuch is abrupt. Their whole conversation that it’s an honor for him to have done it and she can change the custom if she wants seems like an info dump to me.

    My curiousity is piqued as to why she’s so contemptuous of the ceremonies she needs to go through. Are they painful…humiliating…to her…to another?????

    Thanks for sharing…best of luck!

  16. K. Z. Snow
    Feb 14, 2009 @ 21:02:14

    Little more I can add except this: Do not use the phrase, she thought to herself. This is a huge pet-peeve for me. Of course she thought to herself. To whom else can she think unless she and the people around her are psychic? “She thought” is sufficient. And, yes, put thoughts in italics, not quotation marks. (Some do believe, though, that tagged thoughts should be in a regular font and only untagged thoughts should be italicized.)

    Good luck!

  17. Kestrel
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 11:51:37

    Oh man, my comment got marked as spam, I guess b/c I included my link to my blog for anyone who wanted to read more… :(

    So to try again and thank you all for the great comments, they will be very helpful in the editing process…

    In case my previous comment comes back, I will try to keep this short and sweet… I was trying to avoid too much infodump since world-building is so hard, but considering Syndra-Kai’s age (16) and the importance of this ceremony, I felt it important to start with this moment, the calm before the storm, if you will.

    The Choosing is an important ceremony in which a man from among the common people will be chosen as the Empress’ Companion, he will take her virginity and then be castrated to prevent him from being with any other woman… It is considered an honor traditionally, but the country is on the verge of a cultural shift in which the barbarism of this is acknowledged. Syndra-Kai wants to be that agent of change to bring her country forward into the modern world, but she can’t just yet. Until then, she is just doing what she has to in order to come into power. She is resigned to it, so she is bored with the details, she just wants to get it over with… (Now that’s real infodump, lol)

    I agree that the POV and some of the prose-like tendencies I have in my writing need work, I was just hoping I had enough of a strong start to intrigue a reader into wanting to know more about what was happening here and become involved with the characters later… I hope I have at least accomplished that…

    Again, thanks for the comments, and hopefully you will be hearing more from me later!

  18. rmv
    Mar 08, 2009 @ 19:29:27

    lunatia doesn’t work for me. sounds too much like “lunatic” and makes me think the place is full of lunatics. of all the creative things a writer has to do, making up a name should be one of the more necessary ones. i remember a writing teacher in college laughing at me because i wrote about the murderers hiding in the “blackwood forest.” he laughed and said, “is that really the best you can do? blackwood? i suppose the good guys hang out in the whitewood forest? do they each wear black or white hats too?”


    “I must go through with a ceremony which is both antiquated and barbaric.”

    using “which” means there is only one ceremony in life, and that one and only ceremony is both antiquated and barbaric.

    if you use “that,” it means there are many ceremonies in life, but this one is both antiquated and barbaric.” i think you need “that” instead of “which.”

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