Today's post is a first-page critique of a YA fantasy entitled SHADOWS AND LIGHT by CherylAnne Ham. Please add your feedback to help!
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Shadows and Light
I neared the wooden chair set at the opposite end of the room. The council watched in silence. Their judgement burned hotter than the fires blazing in the twin hearths. Black shadows whirled and danced up the gray stone walls, and orange-yellow firelight battled the darkness invading through long narrow windows.
Sweat beaded on my brow.
I turned and sat, forcing myself to meet their stares. As I waited for something, anything, to happen, I became hyperaware of every movement. I blinked too often. My hand twitched once in my lap. Could they hear me breathing? No. They couldn't possibly.
The wet sound of chairman Beane clearing his throat broke the silence. "Please state your name and age."
His white council robe hung from thin shoulders, and his watery eyes bulged as if he'd been slapped hard on the back. Mother had described him as direct and rational. Stories of the punishments he'd dealt alluded to a deficiency in compassion.
I gathered my strength. I had broken no laws. There was nothing to fear.
"My name." My voice cracked and I took a deep breath. "My name is Jazzlyn, daughter of Fayette and many great-granddaughter of Alexandrina. I was born on this day seventeen years ago."
Another deep breath. No need to be afraid.
"Very good." The chairman nodded. "And do you know why we've called on you today?"
I had a pretty good idea, but was it appropriate to tell him so?
It could just be me, but the name Beane reminds me of the comedian Mr. Bean in the UK. (Whereas my daughter said it reminded her of Sean Bean from LOTR, ha.) Also, even without that connotation, since a bean is food, to me it sounds informal or comical--rather than the idea of the compassionless, severe council leader I think you're going for. It sorta depends on how his character plays out, and how much he's a force to be reckoned with.
Number of Adjectives
There are a fair number of adjectives in this piece. I love to sprinkle them around liberally myself, and always have to pare them down (if I notice they're there LOL). Only keep adjectives that truly add to the descriptions. For instance, shadows are usually black, and aren't stone walls usually gray? Ditto for the flames being orange-red--however, that sentence as a whole does have a rhythm that seems to compare the various colors, which might make the adjectives more acceptable. In the first sentence of the fifth paragraph, however, almost every noun is described. A white council robe, thin shoulders, watery eyes. Are all these needed?
Wording and Little Things
1. I thought "judgement" was misspelled. It's usually spelled without an "e." But apparently I guess it can be either way--although with an "e" is the British spelling.
2. Why "turned and sat" instead of just sat? The MC was facing and walking toward the chair and the council, so she shouldn't have to turn. Or…at least I assumed she was walking toward the council at the same time she approached the chair.
3. I'm not sure of the "wet" sound of clearing Beane's throat. Clearing a throat seems more a raspy, dry, or rough sound to me. Also, clearing his throat in general makes Beane sound like he's nervous for some reason. Is he?
4. Kind of an echo with "good." Beane says "very good" and then Jazzlyn thinks "pretty good." May want to change one of these.
I found mostly little picky things. There is a nice lyrical voice here, which lends itself well to the fantasy genre. I especially like the phrasing the "deficiency in compassion." Jazzlyn seems a character the reader would come to relate to, and there is a good sense of conflict in these first 250 words. We want to know WHY Jazzlyn has been summoned by the council on her birthday. Even though Jazzlyn tells herself she has nothing to fear, the reader suspects something more negative or sinister is going on, which creates good tension and interest.
Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Do you think clearing someone's throat could be a "wet" sound?
How do you feel about the number of adjectives in this piece?
What do you think of having an antagonist with the name Beane? Does it seem to fit for the chairman of the council?