Editor’s Choice Award July 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 Light Reveals by J. Rokusson

The second volume of a series is always a challenge, especially at the beginning. On the one hand, readers of the first volume will know who everybody is; they’ll welcome some reminders about what happened in the previous volume, especially if it’s been a while since they read it, but they won’t need a whole lot of summing-up. On the other hand, new readers will want some clarification as to characters and backstory, an on-ramp as it were, to ground them in the world and story, and set them up for what’s coming next.

The author’s note says the “intended reader” is the former—it’s expected that anyone who reads this novel has read volume one. I’m going to be just a little bit blunt and say that’s kind of a copout. It’s the writer’s job, and challenge, to make the opening clear enough and welcoming enough for the new reader as well as the established one.

Yes, we want to be as elegant and economical as possible. We don’t want to front-load the opening with summary and backstory. We do want to establish where we’re coming from, and open the door into the next installment of the saga.

This chapter does a pretty good job of getting the cold reader into the world and the story. Its solo character comes into the aftermath of the last volume’s denouement. There’s a mystery to solve and an investigation to be made. The summing-up of prior events is concise but fairly clear. It’s not hard to figure out what happened, and there are indications that we’ll find out more as we read further.

One thing I would suggest is a shift in how the speeches to the columns are presented. Part of it is that the prose will need a close line edit in the final stages of revision—words don’t always mean what they want to mean, and the figurative language gets tangled up in itself here and there. What if, rather than stressing how Settunonai is talking to stone columns, we actually go deeper into his head, and see them as real people? Let him slip away from reality into a more definite and committed hallucination.

He might even slip back and forth, now seeing the pitted stone, now seeing a living face. That way, we’ll get a clearer sense of the nature and extent of his madness, but we’ll also get the bits of worldbuilding and backstory that we need at this point in the saga.

Another thing I’d have liked to know, as a cold reader, is that Settunonai has wings. That came as a bit of a surprise. Could we see that earlier, along with a general sense of what he looks like? It doesn’t need to be a full-on Standard Reflection In Mirror Scene™, but as he moves and climbs and speaks, we could pick up a detail or two or three about his physical presence, wings included. If it’s done well, readers of volume one will get a quick reminder of who and what he is, and new readers will get a quick visual to take with them into the rest of the story.

It’s all about the details. Picking just the right ones, in just the right amount. That way, every reader will get what they need to know, as they need to know it, and the story will move along nicely and come through clearly.

— Judith Tarr

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