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“The Duke of Snow and Apples,” Fantasy Romance (set in a...

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The twinkling orbs of fire in Charlotte's brownish blond hair blazed blue-white, and she hoped no one would notice. With every turn of her head, they flashed little azure tongues of flame. Blue, not pink. She had specifically ordered a charm carved with a spell for  pinkstars from the spell shop in Trinidon, to match her gown of sprigged rose muslin.

She sighed, and brushed her fingers against the lettering etched onto the mismatched charm — a glass bauble strung on a gold chain around her neck.  Serves me right for purchasing store-spelled charms instead of making one myself. However, given her weakness with Fire, she might have ended up with her head in flames —  actual flames — so she would have to be satisfied with a glamour of blue stars that glittered harmlessly against her hair.

Stiffening her spine, Charlotte shoved her worries to the back of her mind when she saw Harold Peever. Spotting her, he manoeuvred through the smothering crush of people in the ballroom, two glasses of star wine clutched in his hands.

She smiled at him. She simply had to convince herself if she was charming and graceful enough, no one would notice her face was plainer, squarer, and longer-nosed than the feminine ideal. Or that she was too clumsy with Fire to cast her own glamours onto jewellery, but had to purchase store-spelled charms like some woefully middle class debutante. Surely, in the entire nation of Allmarch, there had to be  one bachelor who wouldn't care.

Mr. Peever showed every sign of being that one bachelor, and that's what mattered. Proper but not stuffy, cheerful but not foolish, with eyes a neutral grey and hair an unassuming brown, Mr. Peever maintained a comfortable middle ground in nearly every aspect of life, society, and appearance. He drove his horses at a moderate speed, played cards poorly with good cheer, was most attuned to Earth magic, and held the position of Glenson's most fondly regarded and least memorable bachelor.

In short, he was perfect.

Mr. Peever arrived at Charlotte's side at last, his face ruddy and his cravat slightly wilted in the ballroom's oppressive heat. "I thought you might need some refreshment."

"Thank you." Charlotte took his proffered glass of star wine and sipped daintily at the lukewarm, bubbling drink, resisting the urge to guzzle. Ladies did not guzzle.

"You are incandescent tonight," said Mr. Peever, squinting appreciatively at the stars in her hair.

Charlotte's former good cheer cooled, although she maintained her facade of calm disinterest. So he did notice. Was he just being polite to the one girl in the room who had to purchase charms because she couldn't make any herself?

She schooled her mouth into a coy smile. "Only tonight?"

Mr. Peever brought a hand to his heart. "You've caught me in my own words, Miss Charlotte. I'm a hopeless tangle with compliments."

"You do yourself an injustice, sir."

"What I meant to say was…" Mr. Peever trailed off, and his lips pulled upward in a rueful smile. "As a boy, I dreamed of going on an adventure to see whether the stars were really blue, or white. Your charm reminded me of that. I should have said that at the start, instead of smothering it under a stale  bal opach." He stumbled a bit over the Selencian phrase. Charlotte opened her fan and fluttered it to hide her surprise. She would have preferred a  bal opach, a lovely bit of nonsense or a faded compliment that melted away with the slightest breeze. She could handle those. This sudden burst of romantic sensibility seemed entirely unlike the staid, amiable Mr. Peever she'd grown to appreciate over the last three months.

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

33 Comments

  1. Laura K Curtis
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 06:10:38

    I like this a lot! It might be a little over-adjectived, but that seems stylistically appropriate for a Regency, which–magic aside–is probably what you’re going for. (If you were trying to attract a high fantasy crowd, for example, you might want a different tone.)

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  3. RKB
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 08:27:05

    I seriously want to read more than this first page. I’m totally hooked. How do I get to read more?

  4. Kelly L.
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 08:27:06

    I really like this! Fun, cute, and doesn’t have any moments of awkward writing that I could see. Your description of Mr. Peever cracked me up.

    And the pink/blue foul-up reminds me of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty–just enough to make my inner five-year-old grin.

    The title is deliciously intriguing and I can’t wait till we meet this Duke. I’d buy a book with that title in a hot second.

  5. Jo
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 08:47:25

    The title hooked me. Terrific. The opening sentence immediately set me loose, but I hung out because I really liked that title. I was glad I stayed to read more. Hooked again and it didn’t hurt at all.

  6. Lori
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 09:23:38

    The title got me hooked. The beginning I started to waver but the minute Mr. Peever appeared you got me again.

    I would purchase this in a heartbeat.

    Critique wise: the first 4 paragraphs need to be a little tighter because it doesn’t pick up till paragraph 5. Maybe start with Mr. Peever and then add in Charlotte’s store-bought charm.

    Still, it’s a nit pick. Sell this please and tell us where to purchase it. It’s the best First Page I’ve read in ages.

  7. DS
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 10:01:21

    I don’t get the feeling that the author has thought her background through fully enough. I get that this is going to be based on earth/fire/water/air magic system, but I didn’t need to be told all the stuff about the star jewelry and the star wine and heaven knows whatever star stuff maybe coming.

    That the heroine is clumsy with this type of magic and the social significance of the purchased hair ornaments are probably the two important things about the magic that I need to know at this point.

    I think I might like Mr. Peever when I get to know him better though.

  8. Maili
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 10:56:11

    I quite like it, which is a surprise because I’m not at all keen on magic and fantasy. I’d read the rest. The first two paragraphs did have my attention wandering a bit, though.

  9. Janine
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 11:05:53

    I stumbled a little over the first paragraph, but otherwise I really like this. Hope it gets published because I want to read the rest.

  10. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 11:09:56

    I really enjoyed this and would read more! A few nit picks –

    If she’s going to have hair stars, does it have to be star wine as well?

    Paragraphs 4 & 5 are both descriptions – of her and of him. You don’t need the physical description of her right now, IMO. (His paragraph is perfect and natural.) Just say she’s not the most beautiful girl and be done with it. Heroines describing themselves on the first page is rather tired, I think.

    The first sentence is a mouthful (brain-ful? :)) consider saying the same thing less elaborately? We’ll get the idea.

    Good luck! I will totally buy this when you sell it!

  11. BH
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 11:50:14

    I liked it. Sold.

  12. blodeuedd
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 12:25:56

    I liked this one, I would certainly continue reading, I want to continue reading

  13. Pat
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 16:29:07

    I agree with everything Lori wrote.

  14. NatalieT
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 17:15:13

    I want to read more! Now!

  15. okbut
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 18:22:29

    Not my type of book, but does show promise IMO. Reminded me of Jane Austen on Mars.

    There was quite a bit of clumsy repetition about the heroine and her poor craftsmanship with spells: her hair, her stars etc. Some show and tell details about the place, smells, tastes, would help give a lot more substance and richness to your fantasy.

    Mr. Peever is intriguing, don’t really know which way he is going to go, a good hook.

    Thank you for subbmitting your page.

  16. Dishonor
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 18:53:05

    The moment I saw the title, I knew who’d written it. :P

    I agree with the other commenters about the slight clumsiness in the first paragraph, but once we hit Mr. Peever, you had me hooked too.

  17. Maura
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 19:35:37

    I’m another who was almost lost by the first paragraph, but found the rest rewarding. In particular I was thrown by the mention of Charlotte’s hair color, since the emphasis in the paragraph is on the color of the stars- throwing in another color to think about just muddles it.

    I also dislike heroines describing themselves in detail on the first page (and somewhat dislike them pointing out how they are attractive but not beautiful, as I find this just as painful as the flawless and ravishing beauty). You don’t describe Mr. Peever in as much detail physically, but I get a clear sense of what he’s *like*. You can do that with Charlotte, too.

    I’d love to read on.

  18. Kristi
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 21:17:57

    I liked it. Not my type of book, magic never does grab me because I’m always afraid it’ll be pulled off badly. I still find mylsef wondering what kind of life she’s got, why is the she so desperate to settle? Why does she want so little. There’s some spelling errors too, but nothingthat a good run through a spell check wouldn’t fix. And I’m like a lot of others in that the whole first paragraph lost me and I didn’t really want to even read the rest, but I was glad I forced myself too.

    Over all, it’s a good start, and leaves me wanting more. Not generally my cut of tea, I don’t like heroines who feel they’re not worth their own salt, but I want to know about her. Great job, and don’t stop writing.

  19. sao
    Jul 10, 2010 @ 23:06:35

    I thought the premise is good. However, I, too, dislike heroines who don’t think they’re worth much. She’s not pretty and she’s bad at magic — not a problem if she has something else going for her, which I haven’t seen on this page.

    However, Peever is described as forgettable and staid. Given Char’s assessment of herself, her attraction to Peever seems to be that’s he’s sufficiently mediocre and dumb he might settle for her. When he says something romantic, she seems dismayed rather than thrilled at Peever’s unexpected romantic sensibility. Not a romance I want to read about.

    Or a goal (other than manage to get married to the one man who might propose). Char’s having a goal might help a lot. For example, a goal and the stubbornness to carry it out, regardless of her dubious skills would make me root for her.

    Another point is Char hasn’t done anything. She’s hanging out, worried about her appearance, and waits for Peever to show up. She’s passive.

    Action is a big help on page one, because it is hard not to have a purpose (goal) for the action. And between the action and the purpose, tell us something about character.

    Even Charlotte sailing up to Peever with her store-spelled, wrong-color charms would be an improvement, as that tells us she has pride/self-respect and isn’t going let a little thing like the wrong charms get in her way.

    I suspect this book has more plot to it than Charlotte settling for Peever and discovering he’s not so staid and forgettable after all. Why not show us some of it?

  20. bettie
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 00:54:09

    I rarely read these first pages, but the title drew me in. The first paragraph almost made me stop, but I’m really glad I kept reading. Best wishes to the author. I look forward to reading the whole story once it’s published. :)

  21. dri
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 02:40:54

    Ah. That title is a leetle too derivative of Neil Gaiman’s Snow White short story, ‘Snow And Apples’… is that intentional? If it isn’t, I would rethink the title. If it is, well, I’d be interested to see how it plays out in the actual novel. :)

  22. Bianca
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 09:58:01

    I’m not usually big into magic, but you sold me on this. I did stumble over the first paragraph, but I kept at it and really enjoyed this.

    Would buy in a heartbeat! Good luck author-anon.

  23. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 10:49:17

    Great idea! I am presuming that Charlotte needs to enmesh a bland, totally respectable bachelor for some scheme—not that she’s “settling”—and hoping that Mr. Peever will prove to be more complicated than he seems on the surface.

    Agree, though, with everyone who thinks this needs some editing. Make it shine!

  24. JenM
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 12:35:31

    I’ll chime in – I too was pulled into the story, although I agree that the opening paragraph was awkward. I would definitely read on. In general, I’m not a fan of Regencies that try to mix in paranormal elements, but in this case, I’d make an exception because it is obviously a fantasy set in the Regency world as opposed to a Regency with fantasy elements. I also got just a hint that Mr. Peever is not exactly what he appears to be (a la The Scarlet Pimpernel?) and that intrigues me.

  25. Preeti
    Jul 11, 2010 @ 21:06:38

    I liked this a lot– other than the wince-inducing first paragraph. Too bad the excerpt is so short because I would have happily read lots more. I bet fans of SORCERY AND CECILIA would flock to this story.

  26. cate
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 04:17:40

    You had me with the title ! Other commentators have already remarked about the over-egging with the adjectives, & that first para really does need a little sorting. But- I’m loving the basic style, & Mr Peever – great going with the characterisation.
    I’d LOVE to see how this turns out

  27. Courtney Milan
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 11:12:19

    I really like it. It has voice and energy, and there’s a feel that something is about to happen.

    I agree with the others who think that the text can be stream-lined a bit–e.g., if you look at the first paragraph, every sentence essentially says the same things: The stars in her hair were blue, not pink, and that was embarrassing. You do that a couple of times throughout.

    It’s not hugely noticeable, but I’m catching it right now because I am in edit mode, and I do this a LOT, and have to try and ferret out every instance when I do.

    I have another comment, and that’s based on an if. That if is based on the fact that I know whose this is and I’ve read about this ms on twitter. So I am guessing that Mr. Peever is not the hero of the book. He may not even be the villain of the book. In fact, I think he might be here just to illustrate something about the heroine.

    So. IF I am right, I’m afraid this page, as effective as it is, is effectively setting up false expectations. You tell us so much about Mr. Peever to start with, that you’re sending an authorial signal: “Reader, you can tell this dude is important because I spent a full paragraph describing him, so remember him.”

    If Mr. Peever is a throwaway character, throw him away. You spend so much time telling us how unmemorable he is, that paradoxically, the reader will remember him.

    As it is, we learn almost as much about Peever as we do about the heroine on this page, and unless Peever is one of the main people who drives the engine of the plot, this sets up an expectation in the reader that we will get to know a great deal more about him.

    ‘Course, if Peever is far more important than I think, ignore what I’m saying.

  28. Julia Sullivan
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 11:15:20

    That title is a leetle too derivative of Neil Gaiman's Snow White short story, ‘Snow And Apples’

    I am presuming that both this author and Gaiman took the phrase from the same English-language version of “Snow White and Rose Red” that I have also read, but can’t recall which version it is (one of the Andrew Lang $COLOR Fairy Books, perhaps?)

    “Snow and apples” also appears in other recent pre-Gaiman retellings of the story.

  29. Susan/DC
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 17:16:58

    Agree with those who think this needs work but find this premise intriguing. Magic + rigid social structure = lots of opportunity for fascinating character and plot.

    I’m not fond of the word “orbs”; it just doesn’t sound like the kind of word someone uses when thinking to herself unless the topic is planets or sceptres. I’d simply say “The ornaments in Charlotte’s hair blazed blue-white . . .” This eliminates Charlotte describing her own hair color in her thoughts, as people generally don’t describe something already known to them. In addition, it’s hopeless to think that people won’t notice a color. What she needs to do is hope they think she chose blue to complement her rose muslin gown somehow rather than match it (or match her eyes?). If she’s thinking about how to present a mistake as a conscious choice, she appears less passive.

    As for Mr. Peever, I’m sure he’s not the hero, but after he relates his boyish dream I hope he’s not the villain — that comment was charming and Charlotte appears churlish not to have warmed to him at least slightly, even if as a friend rather than a romantic interest. It shows that he is not quite the bland brown character he appears.

  30. Anonymous Who Wrote This Page
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 19:24:23

    Wow! Thank you so much for the feedback! I’m so glad you like it. Doing a little happy dance about the people who want to read more. I’m even gladder in fact, because when this post was first posted, I was worried – because that’s not my first page anymore.

    I submitted the first page about two months back and in the interim discovered that while writing the prologue gave me a great insight into my heroine’s character and backstory, it really, REALLY wasn’t necessary to the story itself.

    So I cut it – my entire prologue. The story starts when the actual hero (not Peever) meets the heroine, and her backstory (where Peever humiliates her) is woven into the story.

    Yup, Peever went from being a very minor character, to being completely removed from the story at all (and is only mentioned secondhand). All the early critiques also assumed Peever was the hero, for Courtney Milan’s reason – because I went to such lengths to describe him. So now he’s just a mention. :P

    The manuscript’s finished though, except for some final polishes, and I’ll be pitching it at RWA Nationals so hopefully it will get published so that you can all read it!

    Thanks again!

    Anonymoous

  31. sao
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 13:36:53

    Anon Writer:
    Yep, that’s what you should do with prologues — delete them. A prologue is, by definition, what happened before the story begins. You should never start your book before the story begins.

  32. Daz
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 00:21:23

    Me want more … :-) I suppose I could be more literate in my response, but I think those 3 words suffice. Thank you for the submission.

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