Editor’s Choice Award May 2020, 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.

Forged By Death by Jennifer Dawson

This chapter features some of my favorite elements: books and magic, and portals (or rifts). There’s a bit of a sendup of the usual pattern, with the parents who live a life of adventure and the daughter who doesn’t want adventures. She just wants to go to university and immerse herself in All the Books. I can relate to that.

I do get the sense that Nacie is going to be forced into having adventures, and (in light of the title) that there is tragedy ahead. Her relationship with her parents is so sweet that it begs for a reversal. Her life is just about perfect. That’s always a bad sign.

While it’s important to establish that Nacie has had an idyllic if hard-working childhood, it might actually make the effect stronger to tone down the sweetness. Maybe give the parents a bit more of an edge and a bit less chuckling and smiling and teasing. Sharpen the hint of conflict with her father, let us see how life has taught him to be wary. Maybe he overprotects his daughter a little, as the mother pushes her studies just a bit too hard.

Maybe the daughter is a touch more rebellious, a touch less content. She might accept that she has to wait to go to university, but she might also chafe at it, wish she could be older now, could have it now. And maybe there’s a bit of a chill down her spine, a sense that this can’t last, that one of these trips, they won’t come back. If they’re the only ones who can cross the rift, if no one else can do it, who can find them if they’re lost? How will anyone be able to follow them? Which leads to another question that’s probably answered later on in the story: If it’s only the two of them, did Nacie inherit the ability? Does she know how it works, even if she hasn’t done it herself?

Nacie in fact feels younger than sixteen. Her study of arithmetic makes me think elementary or middle school. By sixteen, which is a year or two from college, students in the US are studying more advanced mathematics, algebra and even calculus. The way she interacts with her parents, and the reference to the long wait, makes me think she’s a younger teen or even a preteen. Still old enough to stay alone with her schoolwork in the heavily warded house, but not so old that she’s almost ready to take her studies to the next level.

My other thought was that her elven blood might mean she’s slower to mature than a full human, and that’s why she seems so young and is still so many years away from university. If that’s the case, a line or two would make it clear. Might she fuss a little bit about it, that humans her age are almost ready, but she has to wait?

There are plenty of reasons to read on, and plenty of questions to be answered. I’ll be interested to see how Nacie grows and changes in revision, and where her story takes her.

–Judith Tarr


Leave a Reply