Happy Monday! Today’s first page critique is a fantasy entitled A Turin Mercenary. My comments follow.
A TURIN MERCENARY
I sat silhouetted on my warhorse on the top of the hill. I wanted them to see me. A band of brigands had noticed me when I left the town of Ashton this morning. I knew they would follow me. I decided to make a stand.
It was midmorning. The sky was clear, but it was cold. It was the beginning of winter in the Realm. I had taken off my warm cloak and gloves and let the cold invigorate me. I took a deep calming breath and prepared myself for battle.
I could see the four of them riding on the road toward me now. All too often, there were brigands that made their living by robbing people. A lone female mercenary against the four of them. They probably thought I would be an easy target. I think not. Because I made my living by stopping them. I allowed myself a little smile. I made sure they would never harm anyone again.
The lead brigand whooped out loud when he saw me. He drew his broadsword and held it high in the air. The three brigands behind him drew their swords raised them as well. They turned off the road and sent their horses at a gallop up the hill toward me.
I had given Talon the order to stand still and placed him with his left side parallel to the road. A tactical maneuver. In my left hand, was my longbow with an arrow notched. I held the black bow vertically so it was hidden with my black horse, tack and clothes. The brigands would not see the bow until it was too late.
I waited patiently for them to come closer within range. I calmly took in their expressions as they got closer, their faces tense with sneers of rage. It was time. I quickly lifted my bow up and drew back the bowstring. I aimed and released the arrow at the lead brigand. The arrow hit him square in the chest. I immediately pulled another arrow from my back quiver, drew and fired. The arrow hit the second brigand in the chest. I saw the disbelief on the two remaining brigands’ faces when they saw their companions fall.
I dropped the bow and gave Talon the command to charge. My warhorse responded with quick acceleration. I drew my rapier and rode straight at the third brigand…
It’s always tricky with fantasy as a writers needs time for world building – so a first page critique can be hard to do, as we really only get a glimpse of this. Nonetheless, I think this first page demonstrates that, even in fantasy, it is critical to draw a reader in right from the starts with specifics, firmly rooted in whatever world (be in real or fantastical) the author has created. With this first page, we have some tension, a little character development and action, but I think what we most miss is the specifics to add color and texture to the scene. My comments therefore center on world building, characterization and POV.
In this first page we get a sense of the world but little in the way of specifics. For example, the world is called ‘the Realm’ but we know nothing about it, except that the character is a lone female mercenary who is waiting for a groups of brigands to attack. We don’t really get a sense of her role, motivations, or place in the ‘big picture’ of the novel beyond this (I admit, thought, with a first page only, that is often a hard task). I would have liked more detail that enabled me to see, hear, and smell this world, and enough to enable me to distinguish this story from many other medieval/fantasy novels. One of the key issues I had in this regard was the use of the word ‘brigands’ – which is used eight times on just the first page. This kind of repetition drains the scene of color and specificity – likewise the use of ‘lead brigand’, ‘second brigand’ and ‘third brigand’. Apart from their faces being ‘tense with sneers of rage’ I can’t picture or distinguish one from the other. Such an action scene as a first page would definitely benefit from richer descriptions.
I like how the lead character is a kick-ass lone female mercenary, but I needed a little more to truly believe and root for her as a character. It seemed strained to me that she would merely wait in the open and the brigands would oblige by attacking – what was their motivation for doing so? Does she look rich enough to be worth robbing? Why is she a mercenary (even just a hint on this would make her more intriguing)? At the moment she seems a little generic – and again, it’s really a question of giving us more specifics and making her seem more human (is she nervous at all? If she’s so confident – why? Have her experiences in the past hardened her?). This also leads to the question of voice, which I found wasn’t quite fully formed as yet.
The ‘voice’ in this first page is clearly the mercenary and yet I didn’t get a sense of her voice strongly enough as yet. Perhaps it was the vague drifting into third person/omniscience (e.g.. ‘A band of brigands noticed me’) or the odd change in tenses (‘I think not’) or the short staccato style sentences (which can work, but here, felt a little bland). For a fantasy novel to grab me, I need to be fully invested in the main character from the get-go. Although I liked the action in the scene, I feel that a bit more attention to the lead character’s voice would go a long way to upping the tension and stakes.
Overall, I think this page has good action but lacks some ‘color’ in terms of world-building details, POV and characterization. If the writer spent a bit of time enhancing these elements this page would be all the stronger for it.
TKZers, what do you think?