Editor’s Choice Award March 2023, 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 Charm-Smith by Bronwyn Venter

To answer the main question in the author’s note: Oh yes. This works. I really want to know what happens next.

As to why, the first thing that strikes me about the chapter is its voice. The first line is sharp, short, and speaks volumes about the world, the characters, and what’s going to happen in the story. The lines that follow keep the momentum going.

There’s plenty of wit here, and some memorable images. I especially felt the line about the villager most likely to leave one boot stuck in the mud, having suffered exactly that last night while feeding horses.

Voice is important in writing for younger readers. The choice of words, the images, the way things are described, how characters act and talk, all come together to immerse the reader in the story. In this one, we immediately get a sense of who Aiden is, what he’s like, what he wants out of life. Through his eyes, we see the same things about Sorrel. And better yet, for me at least, we get to know Hester the pig.

Writers always pay attention to their human characters—it’s part of the job. Not every writer thinks to do the same for nonhumans. Even fewer of those manage to convey a clear sense of knowing what they’re talking about.

Hester is her own person. Aiden sees her as such, and therefore so do we. She’s at least as much of a fellow sentient to him as Sorrel is, and in some ways she’s more, because he’s the pig boy and she’s his favorite sow.

I have a couple of questions about this draft. I think it could be clearer at the beginning that Aiden has a whole herd of pigs, and that they’re elsewhere. The first half of the chapter refers only to Hester; there’s no mention of pigs, plural, until that point.

Which leads to me ask, why isn’t Hester with the others, and why does she need an enclosure but they don’t? Why isn’t she in the valley marshes, too? Does he plan to leave her in her pen for a month while he’s off with the herd? If he’s worried about her and a wandering boar, what about the other pigs? Why is he comfortable leaving them to do their thing, but Hester needs his personal attention?

There seems to be a contradiction, too. In the morning of the day he spends with Sorrel, he figures he’s got a few days before the herd moves on from the valley swamp. But a few hours later, he tells Sorrel he needs to be done with this expedition today, because he needs to get to the crooked swamp before nightfall. Is he just saying that to get out of having to come back to the truffle spot? If so, it could be clearer.

At the end, Hester gets left behind, and Aiden seems to forget about her. He’s been so focused on her through the rest of the chapter that it seems odd he doesn’t think about her once he’s in the sinkhole. I think he’d be anxious to get back to her, if only because she’s loose out there and he’s spent a good chunk of time repairing her pen to keep her safe from wandering boars. Plus of course she’s his favorite, and she’s all by herself; what will she do without him?

This should be an easy fix in revision, as is the tendency I noted as I read, toward comma splices and run-on sentences. The chapter as a whole works. It’s a great start, and there’s a lot to love about it. I want more!

–Judith Tarr

Leave a Reply