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First Page: Urban Fantasy Paranormal Suspense

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Stakkholtsgja, Iceland

1705

Alarr gazed down the precipice. He, an assassin's assassin, hunted among the sharp shadows cast by a three-quarter moon. Wind whipped at the long, woolen cloak and hood that concealed his blond hair as he surveyed the valley. He stood, a shadow within a shadow, the midnight world around him alive-‘crickets, rich loam, even the living rock of the cliff beneath his feet. A fine salt, along with faint whale songs, floated on the breeze from the North Atlantic more than a league away. Life forces sliced through him, resonating with every nerve.

A lone rider, dressed in leather britches and jerkin, appeared around a bend in the canyon below. Freyja: his quarry. She rode relaxed in the saddle, hands loose on the reins, allowing her stallion to choose his way across the rocky terrain that bordered the river.

Alarr snorted softly. How quaint. Only Valkyrie assassins such as she preferred equine transport above the superior swiftness of her own limbs. As they had their entire history, these females preserved their energy so they didn't have to feed on human blood.

He focused on her face, on the long golden hair that blew about high cheekbones and a strong mouth. He could almost feel her smooth skin, her firm breasts. His tongue throbbed in anticipation. Despite the century that had passed since the Gothi high priest had forced her to become a Valkyrie assassin through the bite of her gythia, high priestess, her blood would still have the tang of youth.

His kind, the legendary Aptrgangr, walkers of death, had borne the blame of mortal sin across the centuries. Alarr bared his fangs. Mortal and immortal alike were fools. Mortals for holding the Aptrgangr accountable for man's wrongdoings, and the Aptrgangr for accepting the role.

Freyja's master, the Gothi, had grown weak, excessively romantic to have been so mesmerized by her beauty that he allowed her power and skill to grow beyond that of any high priestess before her. Fear finally prevailed, and he ordered her destruction. But when her would-be murderer came, Freyja did what no Valkyrie assassin had done before and killed him, an Aptrgangr of the clan cast from the heavens. Now, he, Alarr, Aptrgangr, sómaherji-‘honorable warrior-‘stood ready to send her to the gods she served. But how could he vanquish such beauty?

How he wished he had seen her in battle, testing the strength of her sword against those of mortal Norse warriors. He longed to watch her deliver the kiss of death. Desire pulsed through his veins. Their union would be slow, sweet and controlled.

 

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

18 Comments

  1. loreen
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 05:25:44

    I think you have to strike a balance between world-building and dumping a whole lot of back story and information in the first page. I struggle learning a lot of strange terms and names when they come so rapidly and without a lot of context. (Aptrgangr? Really? This is completely impossible to pronounce and readers have to stop a second to think about how to sound this term out. The only pronunciation I can come up with sounds like gargling. If you are going to be using this word a lot, do the reader a favor and stick a couple of vowels in there).

    I think it would be better to stay in the perspective of Alarr as he watches the woman, knowing that he has to kill her, but not wanting to. Save all the backstory about what she did for a little later – it is enough that we know that that she is an assassin and he has to kill her, but doesn’t want to.

    For me, fantasy only works if the world-building comes through the characters perspectives, rather than the narrator’s third person explanation. Think of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, for example. He throws the reader right into his world, trusting that they will figure out that all people have animal spirits.

    That being said, I think with some changes, this could work. The premise has a lot of promise – I like that the reader knows the main conflict from the very first page. Good luck.

  2. SAO
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 08:06:37

    While I’m not a big fan of fantasy, Iceland and Nordic myths would have intrigued me, but I for the point made by the other commenter: this was half wikipedia entry on your world, half actual story. As such, I wasn’t really into your characters.

    I also second the comment on the weird names and spellings. I presume Freyja was pronounced Frey-ya, not Frey-ja, since all those Scandanavians and Germanics can’t do Js, so why not just write Freya?

    Minor points:
    Crickets like to chirp in the daytime. I’ve never seen or heard them at night.

    When I read ‘Shadow within a shadow’ so shortly after ‘assassin’s assassin’ I thought, Purple Prose, but it might just have been an unfortunate coincidence, but you do want to change that.

    In many languages, i is a plural ending. I read ‘the Gothi’ as a group.

  3. Elle
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 08:16:33

    Hmm…I’m torn. I see what loreen and SAO are saying, but I also really liked it. I think the writing itself is beautiful and there is enough of the story here to keep me reading. I want to know more about Alarr and Freyja. I want to know more period. My suggestion is to back off a bit on the info and give us a little more of the here and now.

    A side note: I’m from the country and in the country crickets chirp at night. Sometimes all night.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Shirin Dubbin
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 08:20:13

    I’m intrigued. I want to know more about Alarr’s history with Freyja, but we're learning so much they get lost. I have a similar style in world-building, so the thoughts I’ll share are things I’m learning from both my editors and readers.

    The first thing is to take your time. Revealing the rules of your world in stages allows readers to become a part of it. Otherwise it's like they have to catch-up to the story. That's no fun. We’re always excited to share the new universes we’ve created but too much information upfront pushes the reader away rather than drawing them in. Tension in the set-up makes a stronger hook, the world-building provides a stage. You've got an intriguing world. Allow us to explore it as the story unfolds and, like Loreen said, through the characters' journey.

    There are great descriptive lines here, “He stood, a shadow within a shadow, the midnight world around him alive-‘crickets, rich loam, even the living rock of the cliff beneath his feet.” This sets the scene well but all the adjectives overload the imagination: sharp shadows, woolen cloak, blond hair, fine salt, and faint whale songs. I recently took Angela James' seminar on self-editing and one of the lessons I took away is adjectives can sometimes be shorthand for things we need to write out. The woolen cloak works but perhaps “a trace of salt and whale song floated on the breeze…”

    Going back to tension, if you delved straight into Alarr's turmoil over having to kill a woman he's obviously a little in love with you'd have a stronger hook. Here's a rough example with just a few lines added:
    Alarr gazed down the precipice. He would kill her, quick and honorably, as he'd slain many before. Lust made no difference. He stood, a shadow within a shadow, the midnight world around him alive-‘crickets, rich loam, even the living rock of the cliff beneath his feet. A trace of salt, along with whale song, floated on the breeze from the North Atlantic more than a league away. Life forces sliced through him, resonating with every nerve. No one felt the flow of life with the acuity of an Assassin.

    Freyja appeared around a bend in the canyon below. She rode alone, dressed in leather britches and jerkin, her body relaxed in the saddle, hands loose on the reins, allowing her stallion to choose his way across the rocky terrain that bordered the river.

    Alarr snorted softly as wind whipped at the woolen cloak and hood concealing his blond hair. How quaint. Only Valkyrie assassins would choose equine transport above the superior swiftness of their own limbs…

    I hope this is helpful in some way and I look forward to seeing more of this story and world.

  5. Brandi
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 09:00:58

    First, I’d ignore the suggestions to change the spellings, since Aptrgang and Freyja are not your own words that you’ve made up. You could, subtly, define an Aptrgang, in the text so people know what it is, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

    My only complaint about this is the very first paragraph. I had to force myself to read it. Once I got past it though, I got drawn in to the rest. I love Norse Mythology, and would love to see more of this.

    I think that once you get a good balance of info vs story, you’re going to have a gem of a book here. Right now it just needs a little polishing.

    Best of luck.

  6. Maddie
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 10:21:01

    I am wondering if he knows her already. I assume he might have, but only because I was a little disgusted that he was lusting over someone he was about to kill. If he has a history with her but now is forced to kill her, I think he would be feeling a bit more conflicted.
    the motion of the story is clouded by the lines of exposition here and there, mostly they just confused me and made me lose track of what was actually happening right then.
    The important thing right now is to build a rapport between your MC and your readers, and to tell the story. good stuff needs to happen. We accept that there will be stuff that forms questions, but that’s okay because we trust they will be explained later.
    So then, focus on telling us what is happening on this night. skip all the stuff that isn’t really necessary to further the action/emotion, it will be explained later on.
    also, I have no idea what an aptrgang is, and since that’s important I’m sure it’ll need to be brought to light later on, but right now, does that even matter? Do we need to know that right now? We sympathize with them as people, we want to know what they are going through and what they are doing, being an Aptrgang doesn’t add anything to that. I think it was to show that both Alarr and Freja are not human, and that they have expanded lifespans, but that could be noted in a different way, and then just get on with the story.
    Other than that, I think it has a lot of promise and the writing was fairly polished. Keep up the good work!!

  7. LisaCharlotte
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 10:35:42

    I like the idea of the Norse mythology. I like the assassin aspect. I did not like the mc Alarr in this small sample. I didn’t get the sense that he knew Freyja, just knew OF her or her kind. The mental lusting (I got the impression it was mostly bloodlust) just hit the wrong note for me. If he is supposed to be the hero, you’ve lost me already.

  8. theo
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 11:16:27

    @sao, I have crickets chirping in my dark garage all night long. They drive me insane!

    I questioned if there even are crickets in Iceland.

    Beyond that, I’m sorry, but I was totally lost. Between the backstory dump and the unpronounceable words, I just didn’t want to have to work that hard to find the interesting parts.

    Since this isn’t a setting one reads often, I’d love to read a story set here, but I will have to know the characters before I can get into the surrounding area. At this point, I don’t know either character and I have no desire to muddle through everything to get to it.

    Forget the assassin with an assassin things and get to the characters thoughts and actions. You can tell me about the other stuff later.

  9. FiaQ
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 12:50:39

    There are some minute details I want to point out (canyon/valley, etc), but they are not that important. I do want to say this, though:

    Also not important, but I’m quite impressed with Alarr’s ability to see the details and colours of the lone rider’s clothes, hair and face that far down on such a moonlit night. :D

    I grew up up in a similar environment and conditions and believe me, we ate enough carrots as a desperate attempt to improve our “night sight” in order to improve our war game skills at night. This game was pretty much chasing and beating the crap out of each other in a mountainous area including cliffs; a physically rough variation of ‘Capture the Flag’… yeah, we weren’t bright. Anyway. I did learn one thing: you can’t see colours at night, not even when there’s a moon. So, unless he had already seen her before, there was no way he could see her hair was “golden blonde”. Also, the distance between him and her? He couldn’t possibly see the details of her clothes that far away with so many shadows.

    In fairness, he’s a vampire (or something like it), but this isn’t revealed until further down. So up to that revelation, I was hugely amused with his ability to see. Or rather, envious. :D

    None of this is that important. Just an observation or two.

    Some info here on the first page could be shifted to a later scene, though, because it did seem like a wade through the mud at times.

    Other than these, I quite enjoyed it. Good luck!

  10. FiaQ
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 12:56:18

    P.S. Crickets usually make a din on a summer warm night, but I don’t think we have ever heard them that far up nor near the sea. Sea winds tend to drown them out, I think? But this is Wester Ross, so it may be different in Iceland if there were any. I wasn’t that bothered by this detail of the story, to be honest.

  11. Berinn Rae
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 13:14:56

    I’m a big fan of UF, and your writing style has an epic fantasy feel to it. Not a bad thing at all. I think it’s part of your unique voice. I was fine with the spelling of the words. I felt there was a touch too much story dumping for the first page, but I still wanted to read more. The premise had a ton of promise. You won me at “assassin’s assassin.”

  12. Author
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 13:28:58

    Thanks, all. We’re reading through all the comments and look forward to what everyone has to say.

  13. Sao
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 13:30:46

    I got why the crickets bothered me. Here, in the heat of summer, there’s not much night. I’m sure there’s less in Iceland, which is further north. Moonlight and woolen cloaks generally don’t go with hot summer nights.

  14. Author
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 13:50:17

    @Sao:

    Sao:

    The opening doesn’t specify summer. I think that was just an observation within the comments.

  15. Tasha
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 14:19:31

    “His tongue throbbed in anticipation. Despite the century that had passed since the Gothi high priest had forced her to become a Valkyrie assassin through the bite of her gythia, high priestess, her blood would still have the tang of youth.

    His kind, the legendary Aptrgangr, walkers of death, had borne the blame of mortal sin across the centuries.”

    This is where I stopped reading. There was already enough backstory going on, so when I got to the pronoun confusion (why does the subject of the paragraph suddenly change midstream, from him to her? his kind? does this mean the priest or the assassin? ), I just gave up.

    Find the right place to start your story. This excerpt just leaves me confused rather than intrigued. Sorry if this is too harsh!

  16. Heather
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 15:52:10

    I love Urban Fantasy. This isn’t UF. The begining is much too sexual for UF. This reads as stright fantasy or paranormal romance to me. Also, unless you are going to do a time jump you might want to mention historical in the description. I had a hard time reading after “He, an assassin's assassin”. I rolled my eyes and wondered if he was also a man’s man. If I had a physical copy it would have been tossed on the table at “a shadow within a shadow” Those are just word choices that can be changed though. So I’m sorry that I’m being bitchy I do wish you luck.

    Heather

  17. Author
    Mar 12, 2011 @ 17:05:07

    @Tasha:
    NP, Tasha.

  18. DS
    Mar 13, 2011 @ 12:12:57

    I skimmed this yesterday then came back and read it today.

    I could go for this as fantasy with a bit less emphasis on the beauty of the rider and the lusting. The throbbing tongue was a bit puzzling, but it was different from the usual throbbing cock. I also assumed if the POV character can hear whalesong then he can see pretty well in the dark.

    The Gothi/gythia/Aptrgangr didn’t bother me– lots of experience with reading sff, archaeology and mythology. I did wonder why Gothi was capitalzied and Gythia was not. I could see why other people might not like all of the strange terms. However, I recently read a mystery translated from the Icelandic and the proper names were all painful to to even think about pronouncing.

    Maybe the author needs to focus on the potential audience.

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