Editor’s Choice Award June 2021, 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.

The Space Between, Chapter 1 by M. Kung

There’s some intriguing worldbuilding in this submission, and indications of a complex and intricate plot. It seems to me that Anora is going to respond to her father’s execution in dramatic and life-changing fashion, probably by escaping from the palace and getting to the bottom of what happened to him. Vespa will be part of it; her sense of adventure and her greater rebelliousness may be key to Anora’s evolution from passive to active.

A couple of things stood out for me, that I think might bear some rethinking and further polish. One is the fact that Anora and Vespa have been immured in the palace for ten years. That becomes clearer later in the chapter, but in the earlier scenes, I couldn’t tell whether they had just arrived or whether they’d been there for a while.

Either way, it does not seem to me like ten years. More like a few weeks or months. The sense of a lot of time passing, of their having grown from children to young women, needs to be stronger and clearer. I don’t think it needs a lot of exposition; it’s more a case of finding the right line or two in the right place, to establish the length of their effective imprisonment.

The fact that they see the Emperor for the first time in this chapter is part of the reason why it seems they haven’t been there very long. It seems more logical that they might have glimpsed him before. If they haven’t, I think we need a stronger sense of how truly unusual it is for him to show up in the kitchen. What compelling reason does he have for doing it? What is unique about this particular day? How have the two concubines so completely missed seeing him at all?

Maybe we need more of a sense that they’ve been held prisoner, that they’ve been shut up in their house and not allowed out. Now suddenly they’re no longer being locked up, but also no longer having food brought to them. They have to start begging in the kitchens. That’s new and requires action they haven’t had to take before. And there’s the Emperor, and a driver for the plot, a chance at last to escape.

Is the arrest of Anora’s father a part of this change? Are there currents within the court that might be using the two women, and subtly facilitating their escape? Could they have been guided in some way to find the Imperial Hall of Waters on this of all days, when it will matter most?

I get the impression Vespa has escaped before and gone exploring, but Anora has not. What changes today? Anora is so protective of her, but has never gone with her before, in ten years. Why not then, and why now? What causes this “madness,” that hasn’t done so in all the years before? How can the narrative resolve this apparent contradiction?

The other element that might benefit from a little more work is the character of Vespa. I’d have liked to know more about why Anora is so concerned about her well-being. She doesn’t seem to be terribly fragile, but Anora acts as if she needs to be pampered and protected. Is it because she won’t submit as completely as Anora has? Is Anora afraid for her life? What are the undercurrents there?

Anora herself turns out to be the less proactive of the two. Vespa seems to take the initiative in rebelling against her situation. Why has Anora remained so submissive? Is she naturally passive or is this a decision she’s made in order to keep herself and Vespa safe? In that case, her father’s execution works as a breaking point. It proves that there is no safety, and that if she wants to live, she has to act. But I think she needs a stronger initial reason for running off with Vespa before she sees her father. What is the impetus there? How has she built up to it?

Again, I don’t think this needs a lot of word count. It’s more a case of the right line or two at the right point. Revision is magic that way.

Best of luck with it, and I’ll be interested to see where the story goes from here.

–Judith Tarr


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