Editor’s Choice Award August 2018, Fantasy

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Songs Of Transience And Permanence by Hannah Hulbert

I gravitated toward this submission because it pinged two of my Favorites buttons: magic based on music, and the Anglo-Saxon era. I am not an expert in music, but I agree with the Author’s Note that the story should get a beta read from someone who is. I can even offer Recommended Reading in the form of a historical fantasy series by an author whose knowledge of music is deep and wide: T. Frohock’s Los Nefilim novellas. There’s a novel coming in early 2019, but in the meantime the novellas are nice and short and might provide inspiration.

As for the story itself, there are some good things going on. Music has always been used to manipulate emotions; it’s a natural extension of this to create a magical system, and a set of magic users, who wield the power of music for political purposes. It’s a nice wrinkle to tell the story of a naive young musician who tries to foment revolution through a song–and discovers that he’s not only far from the first to do so, his attempt backfires. In a way he gets what he wanted, but it’s not at all what he expected.

That’s a nice twist. So is the setting, which isn’t a common one in fantasy these days. Anglo-Saxon culture was steeped in music and song. It’s believable that adepts might work powerful magic with it.

What I’d like to focus on here is one of the author’s questions, the one about names. Names have power. In fantasy, and especially in secondary-world fantasy, they’re an essential part of the worldbuilding.

Purely coincidentally, after I had chosen this submission for the music and the setting, one of my fellow writers on Twitter put up a thread about naming in fantasy: https://twitter.com/adribbleofink/status/1031969208576368640 . The thread is mostly about cultural appropriation, but it’s also about why names are important, and why it’s important to be fully conscious of what those names mean. Even with the best of intentions, if we don’t know exactly what we’re doing, we can run into trouble.

Let me be quick to add that I don’t see anything appropriative about the story I’m reading here. It respects the sources, and it wants to create a cultural ambience through the use of names and terms in Anglo-Saxon. The question is about whether those names are a distraction.

My direct answer is that some of them are. Those that use special characters are confusing to the modern eye, and if the reader doesn’t know how to pronounce them, they get in the way. For myself, I would normalize the cyning/king’s name to AElfraed, which is still more authentic than not, but less likely to throw the reader’s browser into paroxysms. Mine, for example, gave me ÆlfrÇ£d.

My less direct answer has to do with the names of the main characters. Regina is a Latin name, but we aren’t told why she’s called that. Is she descended from Roman Britons? Does she come from Italy or one of the Roman provinces across the Channel?

Even if she is, her name still needs some basis in the world and the story. It’s actually a title, and tends to be applied to the Virgin Mary as Regina Coeli, Queen of Heaven. It’s not uncommon in the modern world—it’s my mother’s name, in fact. But in the age of Alfred, it stands out.

The protagonist’s name presents a similar set of issues.The prose in general aims toward high fantasy, but Nicky’s name drops us down into a nickname with a modern flavor. It’s usually short for Nicholas, which is a form of the Greek name Nikolaos. As with Regina, it makes me ask if he comes from somewhere other than the land of the Angles and the Saxons. Or if he is a native Saxon, and he’s been given a saint’s name (as Regina has been given a title of the Virgin Mary), that points to a Christian presence. But we don’t see it in the story–and we should; it was a major influence on the whole culture, from top to bottom.

As a reader, I want to know why the author chose those particular names in a story that is so careful otherwise to describe the world and its people in Anglo-Saxon terms. Why not give these two characters Anglo-Saxon names? What is the reasoning behind the choice? How does the worldbuilding support it? What is its significance within the setting?

It’s perfectly possible to use those names in a story set in the age of Alfred, but as a reader, I want to understand why. The story is about these characters; they’re its focus. Their names should speak to the core of who and what they are–and tell us a great deal about the world in which they live.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award August 2018, Horror

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Waters of Life by Jim McDougall

Writers often tend to focus on figuring out what happens next.  Each sentence leaves them with that horrible question hanging before them.  But good writing often arises not from thinking about what happens next, but from focusing on making each moment, the now of the story, as intense and powerful as possible.

“Waters of Life” has several powerful and memorable moments.  At Cedar Lake Resort, Brian sees a very old photo of the nearby dock and realizes his wife, Julia, is in the picture.  I’ve read some other stories where things like this happen, so that in itself didn’t strike me as powerful.  The memorable moment, for me, occurs when the image of his wife becomes blurry:  “He couldn’t tell if Julia was actually there, or if he had mistaken her for a shadow, or even a smudge or wrinkle on the paper.”  This created a vivid image in my mind, created uncertainty that intellectually engaged me (as I tried to figure out what was happening) and gave me a chill.  Was that Julia in the photo?  How could she be there?  Why did she fade?

Another powerful moment occurs when Julia, who we know is hours away at work, appears in Brian’s cabin.  This build a strong atmosphere of dread.  And when Julia leads Brian to the end of the dock and Brian follows her off the edge, that’s a creepy, startling, and powerful moment.

The big picture of the story is not as successful as these individual moments.  Much of the power of the big picture of a story arises from two qualities:  unity and focus.  Unity means all the elements of the story (plot, character, setting, point of view, style, genre, symbols, themes, imagery, etc.) work together to creat a particular effect.  Focus means that the effect created is clear and limited.  While this story has some nice writing and some strong moments, it is not yet unified or focused.  A good test to see if your story is unified and focused is to try to summarize it (including the ending) in one sentence.  If you can’t, or if the sentence ends up being very long and having multiple parts to it that don’t strongly relate to each other, then you probably have a problem.  In this case, my summary would be something like “A husband follows an image of his wife into a lake and drowns, and his wife discovers a woman who looked just like her drowned in the lake the day before she was born, and the manager’s mother reveals, I think, that she has used her magic powers to kill Julia and possibly to kill the other woman years ago.”  This sentence, with three independent clauses connected by ands, describes what I’d call a stringy plot.  Each part feels pretty separate from the others rather than strongly interconnected.  So I don’t feel a lot of unity or focus.

Let’s look in more detail at various parts of the story to understand this “stringiness” better.  The setting is given some prominence through the amount of description it receives and the location of the description (at the opening of the story and at the opening of another scene–very prominent locations), suggesting the cabins are deceptive or threatening in some way.  Yet that isn’t true.  The reader is promised a story about a dangerous resort, but that is never delivered.

Quite a bit of emphais is put on Julia’s workaholic nature, suggesting the story will be about the marital troubles this causes, yet that turns out to be irrelevant to the story, beyond providing an excuse for Julia to arrive late.

The first chunk of the story, ending in Brian’s death, suggests the story will be about this ghostly Julia figure.  We later learn that this look-alike woman, Samantha, drowned the day before Julia was born, implying Julia may be the reincarnation of Samantha (which then makes me wonder how Samantha can also be a ghost).  But the ghost never appears again in the story, and Julia never makes any attempt to contact the ghost or fight the ghost to get Brian back, or destroy the ghost, and she never shows any sign of being a reincarnation of Samantha, beyond her birth date and her appearance.  So we seem to be promised a ghost story, and then a reincarnation story, but those promises are also not fulfilled.

Finally, we meet the resort manager’s mother, Cathy, who seems to have supernatural powers that can “alter the very fabric of time and space.”  While we don’t see her using this power, it seems that she has killed Julia in her sleep, and that she may have killed Samantha, though I’m not sure why she killed either of them.  The story then, ultimately, seems to be about a malicious woman who uses her power to kill people.  But it’s unclear whether she had anything to do with the appearance of Samantha’s ghost or the death of Brian–the things I care about most in the story.  And this story about a malicious, powerful woman hasn’t been set up.  We only have a small piece of this story.

So it feels like we have pieces of several different stories here rather than one unified story.  I think any of these stories could be involving and disturbing, but we need to get just one story.

One other point I’d like to mention is that Brian and Julia generally seem to be victims with no chance of success.  A story generally needs a protagonist who has some power, some ability to affect circumstances.  That creates suspense as we wonder whether the protagonist will be able to escape from some difficult situation, solve some problem, or achieve some goal.  The protagonist doesn’t need to have a lot of power, but he needs to have at least some, so he can struggle to succeed and we can have hope that he might.  Neither Brian nor Julia seem to have any power to escape their situations.

I hope this is helpful.  I was quite drawn in by the opening of the story, and I really enjoyed those powerful, memorable moments.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey

Editor’s Choice Award August 2018, Short Story

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Mark by Forrest Brazeal

I was impressed, this month, with the slow rush of atmosphere “The Mark” creates: a quiet simplicity that deepens into a gripping emotional choice, while avoiding the didactic. It’s a perfect example of the small engagements and sufficient narrative payoff Former Resident Editor—and editor of F&SF—C.C. Finlay described last month as essential elements of a slow-build story, and it uses multiple levels of craft to make that payoff work. So this month, I’d like to talk about reinforcing a character’s arc with our craft choices.

“The Mark” uses imagery well to foreshadow its core personalities. Joel’s boots “[making] imprints in the hard-baked ground” telegraph, exactly, his intent. Selah, suffering under the sun because her hat’s designed not to protect her, but to comply with Biblical readings and other people’s eyes, is summed up almost exactly in the first paragraph. Where Selah lands at the end is summed up just as perfectly in the last paragraph, with the shed skins of her ground cherries falling “unheeded” to the bus floor as she sheds the husk of her old life.

While there’s some room to trim in the first lines—a few too many images make for a visual tangle—they set the emotional scene appropriately in smart, small ways: the sun “assaults” the vegetable stand; does that with “mindless” intensity in a story that’ll prove to be about assault, and about the choice against obeying mindlessly. The tie between the small choices made here, on the line level, and how the story develops set thematic benchmarks for the rest of the piece to develop.

And from there, “The Mark” quickly starts to develop and complicate its characters. Joel’s constant boundary pushes and control attempts are recognizable to readers, even if Selah doesn’t catch the red flags: He telegraphs classic abuser grooming behaviour, which creates tension in scenes which would otherwise feel quite quiet, but his desire for bigger things feels sincere. Mrs. Miller’s iron rule complexifies into something more nuanced—she’s obviously working through some trauma about the outside world—and then dives right over the cliff into horror as that trauma makes her take a knife to her own daughter.

The characterization here is what makes “The Mark” work for me, and it’s particularly strong in the secondary characters. No one in “The Mark” has Selah’s best interests at heart; yet regardless, everyone in “The Mark” gifts her something precious that she needs. In a sense, Joel is right: Getting out of her comfort zone means she can do amazing things, and she can get good work in Richmond, and it’s the money he paid her that she uses to flee. In a sense, her mother is right: Mrs. Miller describes to the letter what Joel wants to do to Selah, and that arms her against what she overhears Joel say. It’s learning to metabolize those gifts as tools she can use in her own choices, and on her own terms, that makes for a powerful and relatable arc of growth.

This is where the metaphor of writing a character arc chorally comes in: Think about the difference between a single voice singing a line of melody and layered voices supporting that same line. There’s a resonance and impact to a multiple-voiced song, and that’s something we can achieve as prose writers when we line up all our elements of craft to mirror with our protagonist’s arc.

On the prose level, “The Mark” starts with largely short, simple declarative sentences, and moves to a more lyrical voice as it goes. Sentences get physically longer; punctuation becomes more complex. Dialogue is tagged more often. The physical form of the story gets more nuanced, more complicated, and bigger just as Selah’s world—and worldview—do.

The word choice shifts alongside it: in the first scene, where the outside world—passing cars—is an assaultive force, “each throwing its fine spray of dust and gravel against the faded wooden sign on the front of the vegetable stand.” By the end, the shadowy hills are sweeping past, and she “danced away the pain in the long grass behind the house”—this is bigger, more haunting, more joy-infused language.

On the worldbuilding level, Selah moves from very small and isolated spaces to progressively bigger, more populated ones—and the tone of those spaces changes. The first four scenes at the vegetable stand establish a small space, and then motion outward to the mall in Charlottesville—and ultimately, out to Richmond. That progression is another voice bolstering the movement from Selah’s small internal world of rules, black-and-white morality, and compliance to bigger and more nuanced choices.

I won’t go through each element of craft, but there’s a direction to the way they line up to resonate with Selah’s journey—and that’s what makes “The Mark” largely effective for me. Instead of Selah’s arc standing alone, in an inert setting of worldbuilding, prose, and style, the other elements of craft support it—they all move from stark and simple to complex—and create the feeling of momentum despite the narrative action being quite small and simple.

There are some characterization points I would suggest considering more closely: to a young woman who was raised to fear sexual violence, and who was just betrayed by a man she thought cared about her, wearing skimpier clothes outside her own room for the first time would likely not be “strangely exhilarating”. I’d recommend reading accounts of women who grew up wearing burqa being forced to go without them overnight, after national bans, for a primary-source perspective.

Selah’s disowning of her religion also seems abrupt. There’s a lot of territory between a first, tentative rebellion and “Well, maybe I’m not Anabaptist either,” especially for a girl who has few social ties outside her home, does love her family, and has even a basic understanding of her own mother. She has a lot at stake right now—an entire life, her whole social support network, safe housing—and I’d suggest considering how large a risk that statement holds for her.

I’d also suggest rethinking Joel’s appearance. There’s a trope being played to there—”short, pudgy, prematurely balding, with dirt-blond strands of hair growing long over the spot.” I’d ask why it seems important to connote badness through that specific physical description, and why it’s important that Joel not be good-looking, acceptably masculine, conventionally physically attractive. Like all the other decisions in “The Mark,” this one has a subtext—one rooted in certain social insecurities and shorthands about Good Men and Bad Men. It’s a subtext worth thinking about, especially in a story whose entire arc involves realizing that people—and things—are not as they look.

Overall, however, this is strongly rendered and lands its ending perfectly, a complex squiggle of freedom and fear and unease. Best of luck with it, and I look forward to seeing it in print!

–Leah Bobet, author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance Of Ashes (2015)

Editor’s Choice Award July 2018, Fantasy

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Deadfall–Chapter 3 by Elizabeth Underwood

There are quite a few cool elements in this chapter. Lots of supernatural species. Teleportation. Magical dangerblood a la Twilight and True Blood. And plenty of action and tension.

I agree with the author’s note that the ms. needs a good, thorough copyedit, not just for grammar and syntax (“off of” should delete the “of,” for example; comma splices and run-on sentences; and what I call revision artifacts, such as “would have normally of,” which looks like a correction from “would of” to “would have” that missed deleting “of”) but for verb tense (past or present? Choose one) and narrative mode (first person or third?). But the copyedit comes very late in the publishing process, and I think there are other things to address before applying that last coat of polish.

One thing to watch out for is Red’s tendency to synopsize through internal monologue. She sums up backstory and explains the situation past and present and to come, in between bits of dialogue and action—for example while Vampra is threatening her; she explains what’s happening, sketches out her plan, and figures out what Vampra’s plan is. Much of this could be dramatized, or shown in scenes—let Vampra reveal her own motivations, and let us see what Red does to get out of this predicament and get Charles to safety.

Internal monologue is a very tempting trap, especially in first-person narration. Most people of whatever species have one going anyway, and a writer looking for that extra bit of realism may want to provide a full record of what her character is thinking, extrapolating, musing, planning. However, just as real-world dialogue is full of filler and throat-clearing and small talk and irrelevancies, and fictional dialogue lets all this sink into the background and gives the reader the good-parts version, fictional character-musings can dispense with all but the most directly relevant bits.

Here, that means letting the reader see what happens as it happens, rather than being told about it as Red plans it. Likewise, rather than having Red tell us what Vampra wants to do, let us see her do it, and then maybe Red can have a brief moment of “I knew it” even while she does whatever needs doing at the moment.

Watch out too for the tendency to summarize when writing it out would be more effective and dramatic—the vampires’ argument in the hallway, for example. Let us hear their words as Red hears them; give us the direct experience of what they’re saying. It won’t take up much more space than the synopsis does, but it will read more vividly and move the story forward more quickly.

It might be a good idea to do some rethinking about the conversation with the not-vampire, as well. They come to an agreement very quickly, and Red doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of trouble with it. It’s a little too uncomplicated. She’s indenturing herself for a year to a creature whose species she’s not even sure of. She is in a tight spot and Charles needs help stat (though that could use some clarification at the beginning of the scene as well—it’s not immediately obvious that he’s under a spell; just that he’s a really deep sleeper), but she’s already let us know she has a plan for that. We need more sense of why her plan is no longer viable, and why she’s willing to pay such a high price with so little negotiation.

It needs to be messier. More sense that the stakes are high and the price is, too, but when she balances them out, she can’t make any choice but the one she makes. It’s visibly tough, but also inevitable. Let us feel that through her. Then we’ll read on, hoping she finds a way out, but expecting that it won’t be either fast or easy.

That’s how plot moves—through friction. Things being tough and complicated. Characters navigating the minefield, trying to stay in one piece, but sometimes they get lost, and sometimes bits get blown off. In Red’s case, possibly even literally.

Good luck with this, and happy revising!

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award July 2018, Science Fiction

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

For The Love Of An Enemy by Penelope Lee

Wouldn’t you know, although I’ve seen quite a few titles in the genre and snagged a fair number of those for my TBR pile, this is the first time I’ve actually read steampunk space opera. I am now intensely curious as to how railroad tracks work in space. I can’t quite envision it, and I keep wondering, but that’s just me being me, and it’s not what this excerpt is trying to do in any case. It has other priorities.

Beginnings are hard. We have to draw the reader in, provide just enough information to keep her reading, and still manage to keep the whole picture in mind—even for explorer-writers, who discover the territory as they go, there’s still the worldbuilding and the setting and the basic structure of the story to keep track of.

I like this one. There’s plenty of setting and background to establish where we are, what kind of universe this is, and who the characters are. Those characters carry enough interest to keep me reading, while the pacing moves along quickly and the story builds itself, element by element. The writing is deft and confident: this writer is in command of her prose.

A beginning like this, particularly when it’s followed by a scene set in the past, can go in several directions. It might be a framing device for the main story, which proceeds from the second scene and ends on the prison train. Or it might be the main story, and the second scene is a flashback, the beginning of an explanation as to how the protagonist ended up on the train. The whole story could be told through braided scenes, interweaving past and present, or it might settle in one timeline or the other and develop itself from there.

It does seem that the first scene is a frame; the second scene promises to be a story that the narrator tells within that frame. She calls it a love story, and the title backs it up. This could be straightforward, or it could be ironic. We don’t know yet: we don’t have enough proof of her reliability as a narrator.

There are a few intriguing twists. The idea that prisoners’ memories may have been removed, or that a prisoner might have had hers restored—voluntarily? Involuntarily, as a punishment?—promises to add to the complications of the story as it unfolds.

What I said above about narrative reliability comes into play here. If memories can be tampered with, can our protagonist be sure she’s remembering what really happened? Are her memories incomplete? Might they even be false?

All of that is still an open question, here in the first two scenes. The prose is strong, the imagery powerful and sometimes harrowing. It makes me, as a reader, want to keep going, to find out what happens. To get to know these characters better. To find out how this universe works. And, of course, how humans have managed to turn interstellar space into a steam-era railway.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award July 2018, Short Story

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

When Bereft Of One’s Counsellor (Part 1) by Richard Keelan

“When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” caught my eye this month with its casual melding of an Arab/Spanish setting and classic second-world fantasy—and the interesting intricacy of Noor, Salma, and Khalid’s political process as its focus, instead of battle and blood. It’s a more interesting perspective on how wars are won, it conveys that perspective—while firmly staying in the adventure fantasy genre—by using a variety of embedded worldbuilding assumptions. So this month, I’d like to discuss what we convey to readers by saying it explicitly, and what we convey by what our narratives endorse—and how to harness that to create more effective story work.

“When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” iterates the idea of adventure fantasy in a different—and yet tonally consistent—direction. Its Moorish Spain-flavoured world feels new and yet it’s got all the components of a Tolkienesque universe: castles, sieges, elves, dwarves, quests. Add some good splashes of sensory imagery—”softer than a pebble tumbling down a snowdrift” is quite evocative—and well-paced battle scenes, and immediate stakes in the opening paragraph, with “Anasalença was burning,” and it’s a story in a familiar genre vein, but with more.

What caught my attention is that “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” is classic second-world adventure fantasy with an ethic, and the ethic isn’t being communicated didactically, but woven into the very fabric of the piece. When we talk about what a story endorses, frequently what we’re talking about is which assumptions about the world are treated as a given by the story—not necessarily the characters, but the narrative voice. And “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” communicates most of its worldbuilding in an integrated fashion that takes full advantage of that effect.

Just a few (a pile!) of examples: Noor and their Orccen colleagues casually use sign language together—having idiom and dialect, which Noor can’t always understand because it’s a second language for them. Salma shows a Dwarven woman as a competent and trusted soldier, even though that’s not her main role; her main role is to propel Noor into the election. The fact that the Remnancy is democratic and not a hereditary monarchy—led by mayors and electors—and that means Noor, Salma, and Khalid must use different strategies to win their particular battle.

On the sentence level, lines like “his Dragonnen soldiers—men like us, loathe as we were to admit it—” and the description of the Elfren militia as Noor’s “friends and neighbours” are a direct refutation of the kind of black-and-white morality that’s one of the core tropes—and bluntly, one of the core failure points—of secondary-world fantasy.

All this sits against the backdrop of what we’re canonically used to in elves-and-dwarves fantasy—racial segregation and stereotyping with races as monocultures, strongly hierarchical government, Western European-derived and English-speaking worlds, and problems being solved by alternate applications of magic and genocide. But “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” refutes that not by replicating it or actively calling it out; it just exists differently, on different assumptions. The entire setup of “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” quietly believes in a world where morality isn’t a racial characteristic, and while it never says that outright, it doesn’t have to: every worldbuilding choice it makes conveys that message.

It also quietly believes in society—in interreliance, in collective action. That assumption is shown in Noor’s days of campaigning, their thinking ahead to Hasan’s credibility in case Noor loses the election, the idea that Elven fighting can do a job sometimes when Orccen can’t and vice versa; that Hasan can be good for one job, but not effective at another, and that doesn’t make him bad. People save Noor’s life with their own bodies. The highest office is Steward, which connotes responsibility, not power—and Noor and Hasan’s argument over it an argument about the proper fulfillment of responsibility. When Noor does go alone, they take Khalid’s arms with them.

All those assumptions tell me, as a reader, about the world “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” believes in. This is adventure fantasy with nuance—and it hasn’t sacrificed the adventure to get it, because the page space, the exposition, the time we spend with Noor, hasn’t had to be used to do that worldbuilding. The worldbuilding’s been done in the assumptions, freeing up page space for Noor, Salma, and Khalid to contest an election and rout a siege. Freeing up page space for, in short, the plot.

From a craft standpoint, having an ethic—and knowing what assumptions about the world our stories endorse—is good writing. It’s indicative that we, as authors, have thought about how our worlds work—and how the world we live in works, and it’s a crucial skill for writing works that are rooted in genre, but looking to grow. What’s more, using the same embedded assumptions that let a story show implicit bias to communicate important worldbuilding beliefs—to, in short, make choices instead of having accidents—is an incredibly powerful tool in the writer’s toolbox. It’s the kind of tool that lets one describe an entirely different vision of second-world Tolkienesque fantasy in the exact same space as a tense and rollicking story of breaking a siege, not compromising one for the other, and still do it in only about 8,000 words.

There are aspects of the piece that I think can use a little more attention. The magic system comes in late in the story: Noor doesn’t show a hint of having any magic until his foray to Santiago, at which point the entire story is dependent on it—and it makes the trip to Santiago’s camp a little too easy, and a little too anticlimactic. A little more telegraphing, early on, that it’s in Noor’s abilities would, I think, set that solution up better; alternately, a solution that’s more in keeping with the lower-magic, more physical resources Noor has already shown would also feel like a stronger fit.

Likewise, there are a few problems in plot logic. If Noor’s plan is to cripple Santiago by killing his counsellor, why go after Santiago first? The plan is going perfectly; there’s no reason to foul it up. And on a more pressing note: If Noor could rout Santiago single-handed, with the use of magic, then the entirety of Noor’s appeal to Hasan for more troops—and the entire election, and the entire plot of the story—has been for nothing. There is no reason to have not just done it this way the first time. That’s a major fault in plot logic, and it’s one that I think would bear some close examination.

On the prose level, there are also small places where scaffolding—bits of sentence that are a bit drafty—can be removed: “His scale-covered maw opened and spat burning venom over the front rank of Orccen spears” conveys the same information as “His scale-covered maw spat burning venom over the front rank of Orccen spears,” but it’s tighter and more streamlined.

But this piece feels well-integrated and interestingly ambitious, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it find a good home.

Best of luck!

–Leah Bobet, author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance of Ashes (2015)

Editor’s Choice Award June 2018, Science Fiction

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Thaumechanical Man, Part 2, Chapter 12: Jail Break by Robert Rapplean

I had a lot of fun with this chapter. “Fun and adventury,” indeed. Although I came to it without having read what went before, thanks to the intro and the incorporation of key information into context, I had no trouble following the action or keeping the characters straight.

I particularly enjoyed the breaking of the “rule” about not throwing in characters who haven’t been there before and will probably never show up again—it’s a nice way to show the action from the outside, builds a bit of mystery and tension, and gives us a slice-of-life view of a random citizen. The intro’s reference to him—“It doesn’t matter who Jedia Shunk is”—has a lovely little side effect of capturing the tone of the chapter as a whole.

That tone is a good part of the fun: fast, casual, sharp and to the point, with a good dose of offhand wit. The characters are distinct and their gifts are as unusual as their personalities.

As I said, it’s fun. What I would suggest in revision is to pay really close attention to details of narrative, all the way down to the words and phrases. Wit calls for precision. In draft of course the priority is to get the words down on the page or screen, but to really make it work, you have to really make the words work. Every action and every description has to be clear, and the choice of words should be spot on.

For the most part the prose works, but it has a tendency to run over itself when the action is moving along quickly. There’s awkward phrasing—a hexagonal lantern-shaped street light, for example, or she had to peek from under the black cloth that she covered her face with when she went on surreptitious activities. These images need to be clearer, more concise, more focused on what they’re trying to mean. Tightening the phrasing will help, as will smoothing out the rough edges of the sentence structure.

Much the same applies to what’s going on here: Clempson removed a metal dome from the toolbox’s lid and pulled a paint pot and brush from the box. A black circle, about seven feet in diameter and four inches wide, took shape on the wall of the facility. It’s a bit ambiguous as to whether he’s painting the circle or whether it’s forming on its own. It might be clearer to say Clemson paints it–to make the action more active. Also, point of syntax: it’s looked in her direction.

Sometimes there’s a pronoun pileup, too: Exhibiting none of his earlier finesse, Morgs hammered left and right with blows that made his wrench ring and his hands hurt, giving him no opportunity to counter-attack. It’s not immediately clear which his belongs to which character, who’s hammering or who’s hurting or who can’t fight back. Paying closer to attention to who is who will help the reader keep the action straight, and make that action move more smoothly.

It’s important to keep track of the larger details as well—to be sure that what’s happening takes into account where all the characters are and what they see and hear. I kept wondering during the pre-break-in scenes, why the guards couldn’t hear the sounds Bat and Clempson are making to signal one another. On the one hand we are told that they’re trying not to make so much noise that they’re spotted, but wouldn’t all the scraping and clicking arouse suspicion? If not, why not? Do the guards have less acute senses than Bat and company?

I had the same question about the glowsticks Bat drops inside. What if someone sees them? Are they somehow only visible to our protagonists? What prevents them from betraying what’s going on?

Even with these quibbles and questions, I enjoyed the caper immensely. It’s a great start, and with some tweaking and tightening will be even more fun to read than it is in this draft.

—Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award Fantasy, June 2018

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Amulet Chapter 1 by David Kernot

I was drawn to this submission by its lively energy and its carefully detailed Australian setting. Also, I like portal fantasies. There’s quite a bit of work to do with the prose, particularly the meanings and connotations of words and phrases, and readers of the ms. in its entirety will have specific and informed things to say about how this revision fits into the whole both structurally and thematically.

But that’s something other reviewers can do, and will do. I had thoughts in that direction myself—until I met Whitejay.

Disclosure: I write the twice-monthly SFF Equines column for Tor.com, and I’ve published an ebook from Book View Cafe, Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right. Also I have, at current count, seven horses on a farm in Arizona, and I’ve been a breeder and trainer for mumblemumble years.

So, when I meet a horse in a novel, I tend to fixate on it. I have expectations. Especially when the horse is given a name and the narrative implies that the characters (and by extension the author) care about it as an individual, I look for a more knowledgeable portrayal than if it’s just nameless transportation (though even there I have Thoughts).

My first thought here was, “A horse is not a motorcycle.” I had this thought even before we met Angus on his motorcycle and we learned that Ethan has deliberately chosen to ride a horse. Because Whitejay is treated exactly like a motorcycle or a bicycle. When Ethan is busy with plot-stuff, she’s stowed without moving, fidgeting, or interacting with her environment, and she shows no signs of needing to eat or drink.

It’s good that Ethan tells Elise to “keep an eye on the horses,” but she takes off, only pausing to tie Whitejay to a “small tree branch.” Ethan interacts with Whitejay, including a ferocious coughing fit, but Whitejay does not respond at all. Nor has she moved or shown signs of life.

What she would actually do is move around, especially if she can hear the booming voice, which might spook her or at the very least cause her to stand rigid, with ears pricked toward the sound—and here’s some proof for Ethan that there’s something there. Or if she doesn’t react, that’s a kind of proof, too.

In any case, whatever she does about the voice, while she’s tied she’ll try to graze or browse, maybe try to pull away when the other horse leaves (because herd animal sees herd member abandoning her), maybe paw impatiently if she can’t reach anything to eat. When Ethan pets her, she may push her nose into his hand, or she may nose his pockets for treats. She might stamp and switch her tail at flies. She’s a live animal with a mind of her own, and she will have her own ideas as to what should be happening.

Ethan’s fit of grief may get a reaction, too. She might move a little closer to him, and stand steady while he leans on her, supporting him with her greater weight and mass. She might curve her neck around him if she really relates to him, or she might shy away if she’s not into howling humans (though the relationship they have seems to be more or less reciprocal). His tears will wet her neck, and her smell will be sharper, in a way that’s pleasant to horse people though it may seem pungent to the rest of the world.

When the voice booms again, does Whitejay hear it? Or is she perfectly still? How does she participate in what’s happening to Ethan?

Hours later, when Ethan wakes up, Whitejay has been being a motorcycle all night. That means she hasn’t moved or reacted or been a living thing for all those hours.

If this is the actual case, then she’s been under a spell. Frozen, in stasis. Otherwise, once he falls off, she’s most probably run back home. The people there have seen her coming, realized she’s riderless, and gone to find Ethan.

If she has stayed with him (and horses who are bonded to their humans will do so), then she’s wandered at least somewhat in search of food and water. If she can’t find either, see above re. heading back home. Because horses need to eat pretty constantly, and they need water particularly in hot, dry conditions. Fifteen to twenty pounds of forage per day to maintain basic condition, and up to fifty gallons of water daily, though if it’s not too hot or dry, that amount goes down to five or ten gallons. Right now, with temperatures here running in the low 100s F during the day, my six who are turned out together are drinking down half of a 100-gallon tank and all of a 30-gallon barrel between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. That’s standing around, doing their thing.

Even without the mathematics of equine metabolism, when a human falls off a horse, the horse is likely to have a dangling rein, which she will probably step on and break. She may break the whole bridle, and it will either be on the ground or hanging from her in pieces. And if she’s been sweating, her saddle will itch, which means she may have rolled and tried to get it off—it will be dusty, dirty, and may be damaged when Ethan wakes up, and if he’s unlucky, she’s managed to break the girth and get rid of the whole rig. Probably not if she’s well trained and the saddle is well fitted and the girth is tight, but it is a possibility. Horses are geniuses at getting themselves into trouble. If they can, they will.

And then there’s what happens when Ethan gets on.

Horses do not talk like dogs. A whinny is a distress call. It’s ear-splittingly loud and it acts like a klaxon. ALERT ALERT HORSE ABANDONED WHERE IS HERD WHY AM I ALOOOOOONE! Also with stallions it can be the aria with which he greets his mares and challenges his rivals, and with mares it may be a call to the foal who has gone too far from her side. None of which applies to Whitejay.

When a horse greets a friend, she flutters her nostrils, a soft sound called a whicker or nicker. It’s the sound a mare makes to her newborn foal. It’s soft and gentle.

Or she won’t make a sound at all. She’ll turn her head to touch his knee, and that’s when he can tickle her whiskers. Though I don’t know why he would want to, because horse whiskers are sensory organs like those of a cat, and horses don’t generally respond well to having them messed with. He might more likely rub her neck or smooth her mane or, if she’s incredibly tolerant, tug oh so lightly on one of her ears. (Incredibly tolerant, be it noted. Horses can be tender about their ears.)

Once Ethan gets going, he would be really concerned to find water for the horse first of all, and feed soon after—supposing she hasn’t spent the night grazing. Dehydration in horses can be fatal, not just because of the usual effects in any animal, but because the equine digestive system is horribly easy to mess up. Everything goes only one way, there is no backup mechanism, and if there’s a blockage in the miles of intestine, that part can die and so can the horse. Colic is the number one killer of horses, and impaction colic is a frequent cause.

The motorcycle encounter shows Whitejay actually reacting, but if she’s that gentle and that well trained, I would propose that she doesn’t prance. All she does is stop, throw up her head, and look hard at the noisy thing. This I can tell you from experience is maddening to the asshole trying to make her blow up and ditch you.

After this episode, we discover that Ethan has a canteen of water. Which he has completely failed to share with the horse. Or even think of doing so. Bad Ethan. Bad horse person. Bad.

In reality, the canteen by now is empty, because he gave most of it to Whitejay, and he’s been taking tiny sips himself. As to how he gave it to her, most likely he used his hat as a bucket. Doesn’t have a hat? Give him one.

I am glad he reaches the trough right after this, but there are still many waterless hours. I also notice that she can hear the horn, and “prancing in place” seems to be her standard reaction to odd noises. Again, more likely she stops and focuses hard on it. Or she might shy away from it, and refuse to go forward when he tries to make her do so.

He won’t stroke her chest from the saddle to calm her. That involves leaning precariously out of the saddle and reaching down and around. Stroking neck possibly, speaking softly, relaxing his body and sitting as deep in the saddle as he can, doing his best to stay in the middle when she erupts.

Nor will her coat do what it does here. Horses unlike dogs or cats do not bristle when they’re alarmed. Their coats do fluff up when they’re cold, but their response to scary things is to prick their ears, tense their muscles, snort explosively (which is another form of alarm call) and, as you show here, to leap or bolt out of there. Then indeed he would go flying off, and Whitejay would head for home.

I appreciate the effort here to make the horse a character in the story, and to show Ethan’s relationship with her. With more knowledge and a better sense of how horses act and react, Whitejay will play much more believably, and may even offer some additional plot-stuff both in this chapter and in the rest of the story. She’s a very cool character, and Ethan’s connection with her has a lot of plot-potential.

–Judith Tarr

 

Editors Choice June 2018, Short Story

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

As Day Follows Night by Karen Kobylarz

The school of fantasy that contains “As Day Follows Night”—Sword and Sorceress, DAW Books, and rigorously systematized magic—isn’t normally my cup of tea as a reader. However, this month I found myself drawn to this piece’s stakes, clarity, and the way it renders messy relationships with compassion—without sacrificing its identity as an accessible piece of adventure fantasy.

“As Day Follows Night” takes care to immediately establish a universe that, while it has strict magical, hierarchical, and economic formalities, contains an ocean of nuance when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Idhon is a messy antagonist-mentor, looked down upon for his rumoured exploitation of the Initiates, but acting out of a backstory steeped in love, pain, and responsibility. Marha’s immediate impression of Kilha—someone she loves like a sister and yet has clearly spent enough time cleaning up after to react with “No, no, no. Kilha had given up her impetuous ways”—is juxtaposed with Kilha’s actual motives, which are satisfyingly complex. And Marha is asked to make a choice that has no clean resolution.

It’s nonetheless a cycle-breaking choice, and ends with a distinct note of hope. That resolution’s deeply satisfying, as are details like the gross-delightful weirdness of Sebhina as a cat, and how a magic force that privileges life over all else would deal with something like cancer.

There are some issues I’d suggest could be looked at to bring this piece up to fuller potential, though, and they mostly revolve around honing the story’s strong points to privilege internal consistency.

The first: the narrative’s treatment of Idhon. He’s initially described as strapping and stalking, a character full of barely leashed grabbiness and violence—which evaporates entirely once they start talking about the Crystal (although he’s incredibly handsy with Marha even after they’re cooperating, and he still blackmails her). There’s a point early on where, after “As Day Follows Night” establishes that Idhon isn’t an antagonist per se, Marha seems to just let these behaviours go—for example, Marha follows him alone into a room away from the rest of the Initiates without hesitation and doesn’t talk back when he threatens her—and those two things don’t add up. She has years of gossip, disapproval, and fear to draw upon, and its abrupt vanishing feels off to me.

I’d suggest looking for a little more consistency in his affect, or Marha’s reactions to him—or perhaps both. I’m not suggesting flattening Idhon, but looking through his reactions and emotional arc from an internal point of view to ensure they’re consistent, and establishing a consistent arc for how Marha thinks of him and reacts to his pressures on her.

I’d also suggest making sure the piece is putting enough trust in the readers. In Idhon and Marha’s first exchange, it’s clear from the dialogue how sarcastic Idhon is being; it may well be unnecessary to explicitly point it out instead of letting the tonality carry the impression. Likewise, in “Marha grimaced. His harsh tone turned the quivery sensation into a gut-punch,” I’d suggest cutting the first sentence and looking at the impact the second has, standing alone; in “Marha took another step back, her head shaking in denial,” it’s clear what a shake of the head means.

There’s more than economy of language in play here: Letting readers fill in those emotions means they’re mirroring, they’re using their empathy, they’re making a reach toward Marha, and it helps readers invest in the story and her to relate their own emotional content to hers.

I’d suggest that economy of language is a priority, though, mostly to tighten up the pacing in the middle acts of the piece. Once Marha fights off Sebhina and goes searching through the cave, I’m skimming somewhat until Kilha mentions their grandmother is ill; I’m skimming again once their grandmother tells them, in flashback, about the Crystal. It’s the second scene of exposition on the nature of the Crystal readers have, in a very short space, and I’d suggest that time backfilling is sometimes time spent not moving forward. While those are the main spaces I’d focus on, I’d suggest it’s plausible to get 1,000 words out of “As Day Follows Night” just by tightening, and that doing so would keep the pace lively.

I’d also look for a consistency in the invented terminology used: the sun is “the sun” sometimes, and “the day-star” others, for example—and a reason for each. Does anything in this story actually rely on knowing what the in-world name for creative power is? I’d suggest a read through the piece for when invented or metaphoric terminology is a major contributor to the plot or worldbuilding, and when it’s perhaps doing more to just fill space.

There are aspects of “As Day Follows Night” I’m going to withhold comment on: the way invented spellcraft-language operates in a universe that’s short story-sized, for example, or where winged cats and crystals and bad guys throwing lightning at good guys are as tropes in the wider conversation right now. They’re aspects of the piece that don’t connect with me as a reader, but I’m well aware that they’re also cornerstones of this particular subgenre. My slight dislike is going to be another reader’s absolute pleasure.

What I would recommend is finding someone with a keen eye who’s a fan of this flavour of fantasy to evaluate those elements; they’ll be much more effective at communicating whether they’re firing on all cylinders, and that dual feedback will prevent some aspects of “As Day Follows Night” from being more noticeably polished than others.

Overall, though, “As Day Follows Night” is cleanly written, engaging, and a piece that manages to work as light and accessible reading without being lightweight or unsatisfying.

Best of luck with it!

–Leah Bobet, author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance Of Ashes (2015)

 

Editor’s Choice Award May 2018, Fantasy

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

One Thousand And One Daybreaks (Part 1 Of 2) by Lo Kwa

First of all, apologies for the technical screwup. When I nominated this section of the story, the system bounced me to part 2. I had to re-nominate, but there was no way to cancel the original nomination. So this first half is my Editor’s Choice for this month, and I apologize for any confusion.

I was drawn to this submission by the title—I’ve always been fascinated by the Thousand and One Nights—and drawn into it by the exquisite writing and the pure meta of a story about a world that is a storyteller’s story. The nonlinear structure works for me; the shifts of tense from present to past help to clarify the distinction between story-past and story-present, and it’s clear from the beginning that the story will shuttle in and out through various levels of story-time.

What makes it work is the sharp clarity of the protagonist’s motivation. She wants out, and she is doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Her ferocious concentration could almost be monotonous, as could her continuous series of failures. But just as I started to think that the circle needed to break, the excerpt ended with exactly that: the women and the two children.

A story of this quality needs to be absolutely on point, and for the most part it is. Before it goes out on submission (as I believe it should), I would recommend a thorough copyedit, and in revision, close attention to the finer details of grammar and diction.

A few examples caught my eye.

the larger, more expensive institution: It’s not completely clear what this refers to. Almost immediately we’re told about the academy, but I’m still wondering: larger than what? More expensive than what? A little clarification might help.

the wood is a little too intensely itself, assembled of a few lovingly-rendered details that do not leave room for the rest, both more and less what what she thought a wood should be: This is not a quibble (except for the proofreading note on the reduplicated what) but a little swoon. Such a lovely evocation of the worldbuilder’s dilemma: to provide enough details for the sense of a complete world, but neither so many that the narrative drowns in them, nor so few that the reader is left with gaps and confusion.

Niya’s hair has hung to her waist like a thick, glossy pane: I’m not sure that pane works in this context. I presume it refers to a windowpane, but the metaphor stretches a bit thin.

A double-double here: kneeling beside and opening the chest, and then a few lines down, her chest is tight with dread. Are we meant to see the large box as somehow connected to or symbolic of her torso? Or is this a word-echo, an artifact of the drafting process?

The grass is spackled with legend blossoms: I love the legend blossoms; they’re a beautiful piece of worldbuilding. I wonder about the word “spackled,” however. Is this meant to be speckled as in “spotted,” or is the image that of spackle laid over a sheet of drywall to fill in the gaps and the nail-holes?

eyes averted just enough to ensure that her reflection is centered: This feels a bit inside-out, as if averted wants to mean its opposite. Looking sidewise, avoiding direct gaze, but glimpsing just enough of the mirror to be sure that she’s where she wants to be. She’s looking at the mirror, but just enough; rather than away from it, which is what averted means.

There is no more time to waste on wishing that she could change the past. Here too I feel as if the sentence wants to mean the opposite of what it says. She wants to change the past. That’s what she’s been doing, over and over. I see how this might imply she’s no longer wasting time wishing, she’s going ahead and doing it, but the structure of the idiom points in another direction.

bittering the hollow carved out by failure: I’m not sure the verbing of the adjective bitter works here. I like that it’s concise, but still.

the pleasantly guarded air of a man who has always known that he is too intelligent to be understood: I’m not sure how pleasant such a man is likely to be, though he’s certainly likely to be guarded. Perhaps it’s that he’s deliberately amiable, even while he’s walled in on himself?

Having relived this exchange many times, it is obvious to Niya that: The irony of this dangling participle is that it appears in a context of “exactitude in language.” “It” has not relived this exchange, but Niya has. “It is obvious to Niya, who has relived this exchange many times….”

The whisper sounded like she had dragged: Few writers use the word like correctly any more, and this excerpt has multiple examples. Like is a preposition. It takes an object, either word or clause, as in, “The whisper sounded like a shout,” or, “The whisper sounded like a roar in the silence of the cavern.” Here, the correct form is, “The whisper sounded as if she had dragged…”

A voice cracks open. The words are familiar for all the wrong reasons. I’m not sure what’s happening here. What exactly is the voice doing? And whose is it? It seems to be one of the sisters’, but then it appears to be Niya’s, and it seems to be Niya who next speaks. There’s a bit of clarification missing, as to who is doing what. Is the voice saying the words quoted below it, or other words, or wordless sounds, or…?

He looks enough like a breathing illustration: I’m not sure how enough fits in here. Enough of what? Relative to what? Can the sentence do without it?

silken black tendrils twisting about the pale knife of her face as if underwater: This is a lovely image, but it skirts the edge of mixing metaphors, between the tendrils, the knife, and the water.

The sun slides down towards the tree-line like a cooling stain. I’m not sure what the image is aiming for. Stain of what? Why cooling? It’s almost as if it’s lava, but lava isn’t usually referred to as a stain. And stains aren’t usually mobile in this way, unless they’re spreading—but cooling doesn’t connect particularly closely with that particular concept.

grove again…assault again…bored again: This looks like a set of word-echoes, and perhaps unintentional?

All of these are just questions and quibbles. Some may be meant to be there, others may want correction or revision. Either way, the story itself is lovely, and structurally I believe it works. I would definitely read on. Will Niya finally escape? Or will she trapped forever in the storyteller’s hell? Or is there a third fate, which we’ll see in the next installment? I’ll be interested to find out.

–Judith Tarr