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First Page: Unpublished manuscript – YA Fantasy

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Blind eyes gazed straight through me. I tipped my head against the old yew and stared at the pupils etched into the wall. The goddesses always watched.
A door slammed and footsteps scurried across the courtyard. Heavy skirts swept over the stones. The breeze darted through the branches, pulling them into its dance. It plucked at my skin but, try as it might, couldn’t drag me into its embrace.

“What do you think you’re doing? You should have been ready by now.” Nevina peered down her nose at me. Even seated, I was barely a head shorter than her. The dressmaker was too small to intimidate me, but she tried. Being sequestered from court for the weeks since the aphelion soured her disposition more than usual.

“I am.” I closed the book of prayer in my lap and stood. A single collared dove cooed above while insects whirred and clicked, hidden within the tree. “The servants transferred my trunks to the gatehouse before the morning bell.”

Nevina shot the book a look of contempt. “The King should never have sent you here. It makes a mockery of the Sisters. This is no place for a girl in your position.”

I rose from the stone, smoothing my thumb over the ring on my index finger. She didn’t have any idea what my position was. “Perhaps you would care to tell him so when we return to court.”

She ignored my suggestion and turned on her heel. “The escort has arrived, My Lady. It’s time to leave.”

I tucked the small book into the pouch hanging from my belt and followed, scanning the windows overlooking the courtyard. The sisters had already left to tend to their duties, but a solitary figure peered down from the banqueting hall. Even in the gloom, her unblinking analysis was hard to miss… and her scowl. She wore the blue of the sisters, but I’d never seen her before. A single blonde curl hung free from the veil concealing her hair. Who was she? My studies with the Order de Triúr Cailíní had introduced me to all of the sisters. If I didn’t know them personally, I could at least recognise them on sight. What had I done to cause this woman, no, girl—she couldn’t be any older than I—to dislike me?

I ignored the doors and staircases leading from the courtyard and followed Nevina through an old archway. Above it, yet another set of eyes stared at me. Sculpted from the stone, they were there to remind the sisters that no matter where they were in the world, the gaze of the goddesses followed them. They reminded me of the girl in the banqueting hall. I fought the urge to look back. I could still feel the prickle of her scrutiny between my shoulder blades.

Shadows crawled from the walls, shrouding the stairs leading to the entrance hall. A single candle flickered on either side, little use in the darkness. The doors stood open, but what light filtered through the low cloud couldn’t creep inside. I wrapped my cloak more snugly around myself and stepped over the threshold one last time.

The path wound below, tracing between the scattered trees and grazing sheep, down to the barbican. The slightest trace of fragrant smoke tickled my nose. Mist curled around my ankles. The snows would arrive soon.

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. SAO
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 05:12:23

    I’m not a big fan of either YA or fantasy. I thought the writing was smooth, a fair amount of conflict introduced. Elements were intriguing.

    However, I couldn’t picture the scene at all. She’s reading in the courtyard of what? A convent? Later, there’s gloom and the little light of the low cloud is mentioned. Um, how was she reading? And when was the morning bell? It must have been well before dawn, or has our unnamed lady been sitting in the courtyard unobserved all day until after sunset?

    I didn’t know there was a wall, until you told me. I didn’t know it was a courtyard. Given that she steps into the entrance hall, I wasn’t sure whether she was in our out of the unknown place. I’d have been happier with a few more words upfront, rather than having to alter my picture continually.
    All of this is easily fixed with a well-placed word or two.

    And what the heck is the Aphelion? If you’re going to namedrop, give us a hint as to what it is about.

    The Goddess watched thing is good, but it might help if the Lady had a reaction. Is she sitting where the Goddess can see her dutifully reading her prayer book? Can she not get away from the Goddess’s gaze?

    I’d also recommend a reaction to the footsteps, which she might have guessed were to tell her it was time to go.

  2. romsfuulynn
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 09:09:29

    I want more!

  3. BHG
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 12:05:29

    I liked it! A good job, IMO, of showing not telling. That’s hard to do at the beginning of a story, especially one that takes place in an unfamiliar setting for the reader.

  4. Kate Sherwood
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 15:48:28

    This really didn’t grab me. I read it this morning, had nothing to say, came back and read the other comments and didn’t really agree but didn’t disagree either, tried reading it again… I just have nothing.

    Which may just mean it’s well-written, but not for me? I don’t know.

    Stupidly vague critique, I know, but it’s the best I’ve got.

  5. Jamie Beck
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 17:14:02

    I’m not someone who reads YA or fantasy, either, but I do think you have a lot of really nice elements here. To me, the only thing that detracts from the opening is the fact that I have no true sense of your protag’s feelings about where she is and what she is doing there. As you’ve written it, she is sort of “reporting” the input to us, but giving us no emotion. Is she excited, afraid, wary, proud? I don’t know whether or not she wants to be where she is right now, or what she hopes/needs to accomplish. Without emotion, it is hard to “care” about what happens next, no matter how intriguing the setting or set-up.

    My only other issue is with some of the description. I suspect you are concerned with world-building, which is why you’ve included all of these sensory images one after another. Each one is prettily written (the breezes/branch dancing, cooing doves, crawling shadows, creeping light, tickling smoke, tracing paths, etc.). However, when coming one after another in such a short space, it can distract from the story rather than enhance it, especially when it isn’t tied to any emotion. Of course, that’s just one reader’s opinion.

    Otherwise, nicely done. There is a lot to like here. Good luck!

  6. Chris
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 12:34:47

    Seconding Jamie’s critique. Also, the very first sentence threw me, because “blind eyes gazed” is contradictory, and even before I could let the full sentence hook me, I was stopping to go, “Huh?”

  7. Carol McKenzie
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 17:45:24

    I would like this kind of story, I think. But there’s a muffled quality between the writer and the reader, or at least between the reader and your character, as written.

    I’m not getting a visceral feeling for her…and I really, really want to. But I’m left with lots of icing and not much cake. Give me more cake…in the form of a character I sink my teeth into.

  8. vuir
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 10:58:42

    She stood up twice.

    “I closed the book of prayer in my lap and stood.”

    “I rose from the stone, smoothing my thumb over the ring on my index finger.”

    I got distracted by the Order de Triúr Cailíní. Triúr Cailíní is an Irish Phrase that means “three girls” and it is weird to not have the order’s whole name in Irish. With the mention of goddesses, I assume that the “Three Girls” refer to some sort of Triple Goddess. Will there be more Irish phrases in the book, or is this the only mention?

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