Editor’s Choice Award December 2022, 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 House Of Faegrim by Susan Curnow

This chapter has a great deal of promise. There’s an intriguing protagonist with a tragic backstory, a fish-out-of-water plot, a rescuer with a mystery of her own—and that’s just the beginning. I will add that when I chose this chapter for an Editor’s Choice, I read the author’s note plus the first screen. I didn’t realize it went straight into my wheelhouse and camped there. Horses! A Kelpie! Surprise and joy!

At this stage in the draft I don’t think there’s much need to worry about grammar and line edits. That will come later on, when the text is more solidly established. For now, I’d suggest keeping the focus on structure and plotting.

There is a lot of plot in this chapter. Enough in fact for at least two novels. What the chapter is, essentially, is a set of proposals for those novels.

The first novel begins with Aiellessen’s arrival on earth. We know he’s been exiled, and we soon find out why, with a hint of complexity: he did commit murder, but he had good reason for it. This sets up an expectation that, as the novel progresses, we’ll find out more. He’ll be trying to get home, and trying to clear his name. Meanwhile, he has to try to survive in this alien and hostile environment.

This brings us to the horse herd and the revelation that Aiellessen is a horse shifter—a Kelpie. He settles in there, with a swift reversal: the herd is rounded up and captured. As a result, he meets a key person in his new life, Josie.

Josie is far more than she seems. She knows how to bind a Kelpie, and she binds this one to her for seven years.

At that point the narrative jumps ahead seven years. Josie, who appears to be a Selkie, is swimming away, apparently abandoning her bondservant. And then there’s another jump to a completely new character and plot.

Snow Erwin has her own reasons and motivations for being where she is. While she’s reflecting on that, she’s stalked and bitten by a Barghest. Then she’s rescued and bound by the Kelpie.

There’s the second novel. The first one is the story of Aiellessen’s arrival on Earth, his life with the horse herd, his capture and binding. The seven years that the chapter skips are the bulk of the novel. How he deals with the binding; what he does about finding a portal and getting home, or how he’s prevented from doing so; how he discovers Josie’s secret, and the events that lead up to her swimming away and leaving him on the shore.

We might expect more development of his life as a horse. Does he breed any of the mares? Is any of them in foal when they’re captured? How does he feel, if so? Will the offspring be horses or Kelpies or some combination of both? What effect will that have on the fauna of Earth? Will more magic seep in, or will it be drained out? What’s the story there?

Even more, we’ll want to find out what happened during his life with Josie. What is their relationship? Does he hate her? Resent her? Try to seduce her? Try to get her to free him so he can go back home? Why does she keep him for the full seven years? What does she need that only he can provide? Is she solely his enslaver or is it more complex than that? Is there some bond of honor, above and beyond the bridle, that compels him to stay? Do they become lovers? Does she enlist him into whatever plan led her to bind him in in the first place?

There’s so much story here. So much that goes into a seven-year relationship—whether it’s consensual or not. So many questions about the why and how and what leads up to that final scene by the sea.

The ending of that novel would be her swimming away and him being freed. What he does next will depend on what’s happened during those seven years, why she’s kept him and what he’s done to either accept or resist his servitude. Does he try to escape? Are they adversaries or allies? As the scene by the sea is written, it appears they may have evolved into the latter.

The Snow story is a completely new situation. There are parallels with the Josie story. This time it’s Snow who is rescued and bound, and the Kelpie who binds her. Is this revenge? Does he have a plan? Is she crucial to some part of it? Is there something about shifters and bindings and some process they have to go through, some reason they have to do it? Is it connected with Aiellessen’s past and his presumable desire to return home?

A key part of the writer’s job is to figure out how much story an idea contains, and then to determine whether the idea fits into shorter or longer form. This draft has more than enough story for two novel-length works. It’s possible they might be condensed into two or more novellas, but the setup has enough character, motivation, and potential plot complications to go the full length.

I hope the draft does open up into two novels, or at least into a novel-within-a-novel, the story of his past and the story of his binding contained within the story of story of Snow and her own binding. The protagonist should be able to support it. His story on Earth, his story with his fellow shifter, and his backstory have plenty of scope. So does the teaser about Snow and the Barghest. Does the Barghest bite cause her to turn into a shifter? Or is she one already? What is her story? I’d love to know.

— Judith Tarr

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