Editor’s Choice Award September 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.

Hell Kitchen Chapter 3 by Anneloup Roncin

This chapter has a lot of energy. It’s hectic, almost frenetic, even though Clay’s voice is tired and jaded and seen-it-all. It moves along briskly. There’s no slack in it; no dead air. It keeps the pages turning, and ends on a note that pulls the reader along toward the next chapter.

For me, the exposition works. It explains where it needs to, without stalling out the movement of the story. If it repeats information conveyed in the earlier chapters, then it might be worth deciding which iterations to keep, but on a cold read, straight into chapter 3, it does what it needs to do. There are some quietly startling bits, and I like those: the freezer full of human meat, for example. That sums up this world in a single gut-punch of information.

One thing I would suggest when the ms. gets to the line-edit phase is to pay really close attention to the meaning of words and the framing of idioms. I had to stop here and there and try to figure out what the words were trying to say:

watching Cleo take a Fang’s order with a crisped expression,

for example. I’m not sure what crisped wants to mean.

his back to a wall, his baskets that clash with his suit.  

The same with baskets. Maybe I’m missing a reference in an earlier chapter?

The one other thing I might ask is more of a structural question. Clay notes that the staff have been making a point of staying after hours, but he doesn’t seem to wonder why they’re doing it. It’s an inconvenience, but he isn’t making an effort to find out what it means. Nor does he seem perturbed by it, though it’s clearly a major departure from normal behavior. That needs a bit more clearing up, I think, and a bit more attention on his part. Or if he has a reason not to care, that could be clearer, as well.

As for the introduction of Mia Herrera, it is certainly dramatic. Clay doubles down on her being angry. Angry is her defining trait. She might show a few more layers of personality here, a little more complexity. Not a lot—it’s clearly the prelude to an action scene, and it needs to move along quickly. But she could show another trait or two that enhances the anger and hints at who and what she is apart from the fiery temper.

Overall I think it’s a pretty effective chapter. It builds on the situation established by the opening chapters, adds further complications to the plot, and moves on quickly toward the next stage of the story.

— Judith Tarr

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