Calling All Critiques: Entry #6

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Book Title: The Penumbrae Chronicles: From Ember and Ash
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Fantasy/Sci-Fi


His prison was everywhere and nowhere.

          Bound in inertia, he was blind, deaf, and mute but aware; immobilized yet vigorous in spirit; confined in sleep but lucid in dreams.

          This existence, the enforced stasis, was slow torture. His body was growing steadily feebler while his life force raged within…and therein was the punishment, the…sentencing.

          A great many things had been stolen from him.

          Caged by his own might, the sorcery containing him powered his prison walls; the more he fought to be free, the more unbreakable his shackles became. In essence, he was a prisoner in and of himself.

          Clever, his jailers were.

Meticulously planned, his torment bore insanity in its wake.

         Was derangement even now his for vowing to overcome this restraint? He had a great deal left undone; this would not be his end.

He had no freedom, no power in physicality, but he had Will…one with great strength, rooted in Being, rooted in Blood.

He was learning passivity the hard way; he couldn’t waste any more energy raging against himself. Vitality – it was critical he conserve it.

          Existence narrowed down to little more than torment…and dreams. 

Chapter 1: The Last Outpost

The landscape was a searing empty skillet and it was the sum total of the world around her: nothing but a crust of dead earth, blasted rock and a horizon that enjoyed the chase. As the transport chugged its way across the plain, little else moved but waves of heat shimmying off the scorched landscape.

Earth’s environment was a harsh one, a place of violent weather and no water. Distantly, a massive boiling cloud of soil, dust, and lightning churned through the atmosphere. It stretched over half the horizon, a wrathful paladin unleashed by Mother Nature.

Jade Blackheart turned her outward gaze from the cloudy portal window to the handful of other passengers.

They, too, were journeying across the empty basin once known regionally as the Mid-West, heading for the last outpost of civilization: Frontier Town.

No one among them had the clean-cut appearance of the hospital personnel Jade had familiarized herself with, but so far the trip had been entertaining with a unique array of characters to consider.

The first was an older man whose weary eyes and grandfatherly face didn’t match his crude vocabulary. His traveling companion was a wretched scrawny youth, face full of acne, a mouthful of inflamed gums and plaque-coated teeth. The pair of them wore filth like it was in fashion, rank with old sweat and body odor.

The adolescent caught her looking and waggled his tongue suggestively for her, grabbing at his crotch.

His elder cackled and nudged him with an elbow, then, like the flicking of a switch, cast Jade a baneful glare.

“Look away, bitch!”

The third traveler wasn’t sharing the same reality as the rest of them; with mutterings about a blowtorch and a severed limb, his eyes were shiny bright with mania. He was fully present when he caught her inspection, though, lunging partway out of his seat at her from across the aisle.


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8 Responses to Calling All Critiques: Entry #6

  1. Your language comes across as gritty, painting the ugliness of the dystopia your characters live in. The first character interaction is harsh, and shows the reader that this is not going to be a pretty place for us to live. I like it; it calls to be experienced.

    I do, however, have an issue with the prologue-like bit. I’m not particularly a fan of prologues, although I think this one could serve the story well. It—not the first chapter, but the prologue—seems a bit overwritten. Lots of semicolons and ellipses and abstractness. I’m not sure what’s going on, except that a guy with magical powers is stuck in a supernatural prison. With that purpose, I like the snippet. But I don’t know if you want to introduce your reader to the world with intimidating language.

    Several of your first chapter’s first sentences contain passive statements: “… it was …” and “Earth’s environment was …” I would rewrite them to be more action-oriented. You’re trying to paint us a picture of a blasted landscape, which is anything but inert. The sun beats down on our weary travelers, so make us feel the sun beating down and the ugliness of the landscape. Can you wind it throughout the first character interaction, even?

    I don’t know about the other readers, but I like how you ended your first 500 words. This is not a happy place for our main character. As a group, these are not welcoming people. As a place, this is not a welcoming environment. You’ve done a good job getting all that across. Tighten up the language and you’ve got a good hook.

  2. C. Angeles Wolf says:

    Thank you for the feedback! This is very helpful.

  3. MM Jaye says:

    When I read the excerpt, the first thing I did was scroll up to find the name of the writer and Google him or her. I was willing to at least check out (if not buy) any published work. Totally hooked by what I read. I won’t agree with Samantha, the event’s awesome coordinator, that the prologue was overwritten. The person is in inertia, but the one “muscle” that’s working is his mind. He needs to keep it going at a warping speed, pump his body with energy through sheer Will. That’s presumably his only way out of his current predicament. So I liked the “chunky” language (semi colons are inevitable there) and the rhythmic structure. It worked for me. However, I will agree with Samantha’s observations regarding the first chapter and some detectable passivity there. Again, though, I’m not sure if it was not intended by the writer; it’s a tie-in with “the transport chugging its way across the plain”.

    In my opinion, this is a dynamite opening!

  4. Reblogged this on CHRISTIE STRATOS and commented:

    You can still submit 500 words of your piece to be critiqued! In the meantime, critique someone else’s. 🙂

  5. raisingdaisy says:

    The prologue was so well written that I actually started feeling claustrophobic from the intense description. I find it relatively rare for an author use such targeted description as to actually make me physically or psychologically feel like I’m enmeshed in the same circumstance as the character. In the portion of chapter 1 that’s included here, again I found a rarity: character descriptions that didn’t drone on with too much that we don’t need to know so that it removes the reader from the story. At the same time, there wasn’t so little that I couldn’t picture exactly who these characters were, and their descriptions began giving me a feel for their surroundings as well. Normally, I start cringing when I see that a series of descriptions is coming, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. To me, this is a “perfect storm” (in a good way) in writing, and something I don’t find often from even well-known writers. It makes me want to read on and continue immersing myself in this writer’s world. My only suggestion would be to have the manuscript proofread or beta read for errors that can be distracting, such as “Mid-West” and the capitalization of “Will” which, when capitalized, automatically suggests a person’s name and not “strength of will”, which made me reread the sentence twice. Otherwise, beautifully done!

  6. I like the Chapter 1 part the most. The descriptions of what Earth has become are vivid and artistic – exactly what most writers try hard to do. Great job on that! I can really picture everything clearly, and you have some really clever ways of describing things. My favorite part was “The landscape was a searing empty skillet and it was the sum total of the world around her: nothing but a crust of dead earth, blasted rock and a horizon that enjoyed the chase. As the transport chugged its way across the plain, little else moved but waves of heat shimmying off the scorched landscape.” That was so well done! It’s practically poetry.

    In the Chapter 1 section, the only part that needed work in my opinion was the last sentence. It seemed very tame and unexciting whereas it should be a sudden shocking surprise. I would suggest changing it to something like ,”Suddenly his brain seemed to snap into reality as he noticed her inspection. A sneer took over his entire face and he shoved off his seat, lunging across the aisle at her with an animalistic severity.”

    Now back to the beginning. I liked the introduction and definitely got the whole ambiance of helplessness and hopelessness. The descriptions were good but could be pared down a bit, and in doing that, intensified. Pick what’s most important about that section, use your wonderful way of phrasing things, and cut the whole thing down by half. Having the general one-sentence paragraphs and short sentences is good for this section, so definitely keep that. More choppy sentences might add to the sense of desperation here, too. The more concentrated and intense, the better.

    What a great start to a book! Great job!

  7. dmcain84 says:

    Wow – I can’t believe you managed to get so much across in such a short passage. I loved the descriptions of Earth – vivid without getting dull and lengthy. The characters were similarly stark and strong. I was hooked into the story immediately and am desperate to find out more.

    I really like the prologue bit – the short, snappy sentences really drew me in and I think my heartbeat quickened as I was desperate to know what was going to happen! I love this entry – my favourite so far 🙂

  8. Stewart Bint says:

    An intriguing start to a story. I am always captivated (if you’ll forgive the pun) by new and different ways of keeping someone in prolonged captivity. This shows real writing skill — in a few short sentences we experience the prisoner’s helplessness at the hands of his “clever jailers, as the use of language took me straight into his predicament. Then a completely different style of evocative description transported me to a desolate landscape. In the prologue I am that prisoner, at the start of the chapter I am in that vehicle, looking out of the portal on to the hostile world beyond.

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