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First Page: The Five Cities (Fantasy)

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The woman Kala owned a tavern in the City of the Bright Moon. On some days, when the sun had sunk below the horizon and she had served her last beer, she would dance for her patrons, hips swaying with the natural grace of someone who had been born within the two months when the Lady of Waters held sway over fate. The light from the fire fell upon her skin, dyeing it golden, sparks reflecting in her brown eyes. She laughed, and the sound was like water running over rocks, like the water in the sacred springs which brought relief from illness.

That was how she caught the eye of Duanna. Serious, contemplative Duanna, always immersed in scroll or book, she was a true child of the Dark Moon God, Eldest of Deities, whose spheres are memory and scholarship. Duanna had been blessed by him with a memory to rival the god’s own—one in which even the most minute detail was stored away for perusal at a later date. The image of Kala, laughing and dancing, had burned itself into her memory.

So began their courtship, which lasted three years, and after that, their marriage, solemnized before an ensi of the Order of the Dark Moon—who record all such rites—and one from the Order of the Waters, to represent the Lady who was closest to Kala’s heart. When they made the decision to bring a child into this world, it was to the Bright Moon God that they turned, he who is Lover of Kala’s Lady and Duanna’s Lord both. Soon after, when the Bright Moon was riding high in the sky, they stole into the temple, leaving behind the straw doll smeared with their blood and sexual fluids all know as a dollsire.

That was how I came to be.

My mothers—amaene in our tongue—named me Ashae, for the sea. I had Kala’s skin, the colour of unbaked clay, and Duanna’s verdant eyes. The ensi, when they had a chance to examine me the next morning, pronounced me hale and strong; that was enough for my mothers. They were content that the Powers had deigned to gift them with a child. Parents with greater means were sometimes not so fortunate.

As a young child, I spent my days in the Temple of the Dark Moon, where I and my peers impressed the stories of the deities onto clay tablets. It was said that the Dark Moon God was the First to emerge from the Deep Void. After him came the Bright Moon God, our city’s Patron, as well as Patron of artists and Protector of children. The two gods were drawn to each other, and their ecstatic coupling struck sparks in the Deep Void. From these sparks Sovereign Sun was given form, a being who was neither male nor female, but femali, the third sex. Hir arrival drove the Bright Moon God and Dark Moon God apart, which is why the Bright Moon and Dark Moon have their separate courses in the sky. Hir sphere is that of leadership, and hir City is the grandest of all. After Sovereign Sun came the Lady of Waters, whose sphere is healing and all bodies of water, but especially blood. Sun and Water mingled their essences, and the Lady of the Earth was the result. Her spheres are agriculture as well as commerce. Alone, the Lady of the Earth brought forth the Sovereign of the Wild, the femali deity who rules the untamed wilderness and cares for all animal life. Sie, of all the Powers, has no human-made temples, and Hir ensi tend to be wanderers and hunters (provided they do not engage in wanton slaughter).

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. kate sherwood
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 06:12:35

    There’s some great atmosphere here, and interesting world building, but I think you’ve given us too much at once. I started skimming after the first paragraph. You could probably get away with a page-long block of back story after you’ve introduced some characters and gotten me invested in the story, but it’s too much for a first page. For my taste, at least.

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  2. Ankaret Wells
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 08:56:55

    I liked this a lot. The strong worldbuilding and first-person narration reminded me of Jacqueline Carey, and I really liked the exploration of gender roles that it promised.

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  3. Avery Shy
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 09:30:46

    This is right up my alley. I really wanted to like it, and I mostly did, but like @Kate said, I started skimming pretty quickly. You lost me at the beginning of the second paragraph, caught my attention again in the third, then lost it completely in the last.

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  4. Patricia
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 10:14:41

    I really liked this. It reminded me of some of the older fantasy I’ve read, with the intense world building presented up front instead of jumping right into the storyline. The sexual dynamics particularly intrigued me. That said, I found myself jumping ahead to see if I could figure out where the story was going. I guess my attention span is not as long as it used to be. You may want to trim a bit so the reader feels like they are moving forward faster.

    Are Kala and Duanna important characters in the story? If not, you may want to skip the details of their courtship and baby-making efforts or at least save it for later. At this point, we know more about them than the first-person narrator and presumed protagonist. As a reader I would feel cheated if they disappeared from the story after I have come to feel attached to them. (And I have. I hope they don’t exist solely to birth the main character, then putter away invisibly in their dotage.)

    Good luck with this. It’s a lovely first page and I hope to read more of it if/when you publish.

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  5. sao
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 10:30:21

    Too much mythology for me to keep track of. I don’t care who the god of whatever is. The myths didn’t seem to be tied to the beginning of a story about Ashes who I took to be the protagonist.

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  6. Bren
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 12:52:05

    No one can fault you your rich world-building and intriguing setting. However, if you start your first page with thick blocks of paragraphs and long, drawn-out sentences, you will lose your reader very quickly.

    Here are some of the places where I tripped up and wanted to either start skimming or just give up altogether:

    On some days, when the sun had sunk below the horizon and she had served her last beer, she would dance for her patrons, hips swaying with the natural grace of someone who had been born within the two months when the Lady of Waters held sway over fate.

    This, your second sentence, is almost 50 words long!! This should be at least 3 sentences right here. I also count almost 10 prepositional phrases. WAYYYY too much. Delete, reword or something.

    Serious, contemplative Duanna, always immersed in scroll or book, she was a true child of the Dark Moon God, Eldest of Deities, whose spheres are memory and scholarship.

    Awkward phrasing. Don’t be afraid to use fragments in your writing. Put a period after “book” and capitalize She and you have broken this up into 2 chunks and made it much easier for the reader to digest.

    I can keep going with this, but I’ll end with this thought: SHORTEN your sentences, make them punchier and more succinct. Don’t be so in love with your words. Sacrifice everything for simplicity and ease of understanding for your reader.

    Everything on this first page, in my opinion, is Prologue material. It introduces the atmosphere of the world but does not give us anything to latch onto or care about. If I were you, I’d start the first page in the present with the inciting incident for the first person character. All of the mythology that you have put here is basically an info dump and will be forgotten quickly unless you slow it down and present it in a more organic fashion as the story unfolds.

    Best wishes with your rewrite. You do have some lovely bits here.

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  7. wikkidsexycool
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 13:19:00

    Loved it, and I wouldn’t cut it, but it depends on who you’re targeting with this. I’d read on and I love your turn of phrase. This character’s world seems lovely and real to me, and so I connected right away. Please do a followup if its published or you choose to self-publish, because I’d love to find out how the story continues. My best to you.

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  8. Suleikha Snyder
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 13:48:15

    Like others above, I think there is a lot of lovely world-building here and an intriguing concept, but paragraph six is where you lose the reader completely. Not only is it a giant wall of text that needs to be broken up (both in terms of its sentence length and its overall composition), but you’re inundating the reader with mythology about the gods and religious practices when you’ve led with the origin of Ashae. It’s her we need to learn more about in subsequent paragraphs. She spent her childhood at the Temple, and then what?

    You can describe this culture’s pantheon of gods and their religion in context later, through her experiences, but give us a clear picture of her specific place in this world first!

    Best of luck.

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  9. Lori
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 14:10:05

    This isn’t my kind of book at all but I loved your writing that I read and wanted to keep reading. You just have a completely captivating voice.

    That said, there were moments I skimmed, especially toward the end because there was just too much information and the story hadn’t yet started. So I agree with the others: level it down a little and let us know when it’s published because I’m buying a copy.

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  10. Helena Fairfax
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 15:42:51

    I liked this right from the beginning. I loved the idea of a tavern-owner/dancer catching the eye of someone serious and contemplative. I thought they were great characters, swiftly-drawn, and great images to start a book.
    I agree with the comments above, regarding too much at once. The line in the first paragraph about Duanna’s great recall is just one example. Do we need to know this right now? Will it even be relevant later?
    The author places us in an interesting new world , although there was a lot of information to take in at once. It would be better if the information was fed in gradually. I really want to find out more about this world, though, and to discover what happens to Ashae and her mothers. I hope this book finds a publisher.

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  11. Avery Shy
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 16:17:11

    Came back after work and read it again. You know, @wikkidsexycool has a point. The majority of fantasy novels are written like this. Bores me to death, but there’s probably a reason for it.

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  12. The Author
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 17:43:56

    Hello, this is the author of the piece.
    First of all, thank you for the kind comments/criticism. This is my first true attempt at writing something that isn’t for school or work. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting such a positive response from, well, anyone.
    I will definitely keep the point about losing the reader’s focus in mind. I’m trying to hold off on editing until the story is all done. It’s kind of funny, actually, because I usually write shorter paragraphs. My end goal is to break it up a bit. There’s a lot of world-building things that I want to get across to the reader, and sometimes I forget that they might not be as excited about the world as I am!
    Some of you are wondering about publishing, but at this stage, I think I’ll probably end up self-publishing it. I don’t see it being picked up by a “mainstream” publisher.
    I see some requests for MOAR WRITING, you might be interested in the novelette I wrote as a sort of prequel: http://adventuresinvanaheim.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/free-fiction-er-saturday/ It’s on my personal blog, which isn’t just a writing blog, but it’s where I dump a bunch of writing type stuff. (I hope I’m not breaking any rules by posting this, I just saw there were some requests for more.)

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  13. wikkidsexycool
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 18:28:37

    @The Author:

    Please do not sell yourself short. You’ve got talent! YOU’VE GOT TALENT. There are things in this piece that posters already pointed out, that could make it a winner. If I could reach across the internet and shake you, i would. OWN IT, okay? This is a promising start, and I’d like to think the middle and end don’t disappoint, so that’s also what you really have to work on. Plus you need to figure out your market. And there’s nothing saying you can’t send this out to agents at the same time. Again, my best to you and here’s hoping this book is a big success.

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  14. Shy
    Jan 12, 2013 @ 18:52:03

    ^Ditto.

    Being a good writer requires a powerful mix of pride and humility. Work on the “pride” bit.

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  15. Lynnette F
    Jan 13, 2013 @ 00:36:15

    I just read you novelette on your blog and quite enjoyed it. Hope you publish a complete novel. I would read it.

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  16. Beth
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 06:27:11

    The prose is nice enough, though it verges on the purple at times, and I did catch a number of repetitions. I came away with two strong negative reactions, however. 1) This is all a huge chunk of backstory to shove at the reader first thing, and 2) It’s backstory that reads like a Jacqueline Carey knock-off.

    Which is not to say you couldn’t get it published by a trade publisher. As I said, the writing is competent.

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