Monday, December 1, 2014

First Impressions - The Courage of Dragons

I don't know about you but it seems like November flew by and was a lot more like December weatherwise, much to my disappointment. Regardless, it is December and that means it's time for First Impressions, in which author Dianne Salerni and I critique someone's first page. Today we have THE COURAGE OF DRAGONS from Luanne (LG) Smith, whom many of you know. You can find her at her blog, Bards and Prophets.


Chapter One

I checked my pocket for the sea glass, (is the sea glass important? It should be if you’re mentioning it in the first line.) then unlatched the gate to the abandoned churchyard. I did not (do you want the more formal ‘did not’ or would you prefer the less formal ‘didn’t’? It’s something to think about with fantasy – imo) mind walking among the gravestones. They kept (what? And who are 'they'? This sentence is a little confusing to me) in my heart the day we first washed up on this Scottish shore, carried on the grief-wave of my mother’s death. Back then, Father and I had worked all of an afternoon to prop up the fallen headstones to feel a sense of order in our lives again. My mother did not get a marker with words on it in our hurry to escape Wales, so we had found a favorite among the ruins we pretended was hers. How many times had I watched my father in those early days as he knelt before the chosen stone, whispering vows of revenge? I was ten years old and did not yet understand what had caused our lives to fall so utterly into chaos, but my lips learned to move in time with my father's, echoing his violent promises. That was when they first put the longblade in my hand.

Six years we have kept our heads low in this village, reciting our vows.

Wind and rain kicked up, blown in from the ocean. I kissed the piece of green sea glass and placed it on my mother’s headstone, (okay; it was important) and then hurried inside the mausoleum where the dank scent of old paper wafted out, familiar and welcome. It was not a dark, morbid workspace where we hid the books. (wait, who said anything about hiding books?!) Marble pillars topped with crouching cherubs watched over an ancient couple in their stone coffins, and the oak-paneled ceiling bore the traces of a once colorful painting. When sunlight shone through the windows, it was more shrine than tomb.

But as the sky was its usual listless gray, I shut the door behind me and lit a pair of candles on the table. Father always worried I’d be careless with the flame and preferred I use an oil lamp with a glass guard when working near the books, but I feared knocking it over and having the seal-oil catch fire. To see our precious collection of books, already the survivors of war, and weather, and misguided laws, go up in flames would be a disaster of ironies I could not bear. (why? What makes the books so precious to her?) Better would be the electric lights that turned on with a switch. You could still see the exposed wires in the walls and ceilings of the buildings that had been eaten by water rot. I’ve read about such lights, but don’t yet understand how the electricity traveled through the wires. Of course, anything can be learned in a book. That’s why our enemies hate them so much. Like this.


My first thought is that there’s a lot of back story on this first page. In fantasy sometimes it’s necessary but I always like to start with character. Have the character do something that makes her think/remember/feel, something that can be tied into the past and thus prompt an explanation, not of everything, but maybe over the course of the first few pages. 

My second thought is, I want to know more about the books being hidden! How did this come to pass? Maybe this is where you want to start, with our mc bringing the sea glass to the tomb and then to the hidden books. This will immediately arouse the reader’s interest in why the books are being hidden and explaining could then be woven in with the back story. Would that work?

Finally, the last paragraph, while offering a smidgen of info into the past, definitely whets my appetite for more. I think what’s needed is a dose of doing sprinkled with glimpses into the past.

Luanne, I hope this helps and readers, I hope you’ll offer your comments and suggestions. Don't forget to pop over to see what Dianne thought of this first page.

We'll be back on Wednesday with another first page :)


  1. I agree a little less backstory right off the bat would work better. Fantasy does tend to come with a lot of backstory though. That vow of vengeance - maybe have the character recite it?
    Good stuff, LG!

  2. Thanks Marcy! The backstory is something I've been wondering about, so thanks for pointing it out. :)

  3. Dialogue is helpful. Also, I found this an intriguing start. Good luck!

    Hugs and chocolate!

  4. I like Alex's idea of having the character recite the vow of vengeance. I do want to know more about the books.. and why the sea-glass is so important. Why did it have to be sea-glass to mark the head-stone.
    And am intrigued...

  5. Love the hidden books idea. Agree the backstory needs to be reduced or repositioned.

  6. I wouldn't change a thing, Luanne did it meticulously and in a very detailed way, I know she's a perfectionist :)

  7. So exciting to read a bit of Luanne's work! Loved this start and like others I am really intrigued by the hidden books.

  8. The sea-glass really pulled me into the story. There's something magical/adventuresome/secretive about having sea-glass in one's pocket. I enjoyed the backstory (but did wonder how the sea-glass fit it). Think using 'did not' worked as they came from Wales and would perhaps have a more formal/textbook usage of English if Welsh were the language used in the home.

  9. I also left a comment on Dianne's and agree with Marcy too about the back story. I actually liked the sea glass and gravestone reference in the first two sentences. I had an instant visual and it intrigued me. Looking forward to reading more Luanne!

  10. What a great idea! Really fun to read the crit right next to the prose. Very helpful.

  11. She whetted mine as well.


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