Monday, September 8, 2014


97,000 words
YA Fantasy Romance


Keep your head down. Don't draw attention. Above all, don't make yourself a target. Those are the rules seventeen-year-old Ailsa lives by. It's just part of being the daughter of the disgraced ex-king and living too close to his more-than-slightly paranoid successor.

Ailsa isn’t the only one affected by the new king's insecurities. The mages backed her father. Now the new king's repressive policies drive the mages out of the kingdom--and with them the magic that her desert country desperately needs to survive. Ailsa sets out to study magic so she can help keep Far Terra green.

Her plans are nearly upset when her oldest friend, Crown Prince Savyon, proposes, but marrying him would mean giving up her magic. She’s still less prepared for her attraction to her cheerfully annoying study partner who could help her save Far Terra--except that he never wants to go near the desert.

First 5:

Ailsa pushed a low-hanging branch out of her way and emerged onto the wider trail. Even the sharp, clean scent of pine couldn't distract her from the dead tree directly across from her, a mature oak that had been green and healthy the last time she rode this way. Now it was bare and the bark was already turning black. Her stomach clenched at the sight. This was very nearly the heart of Far Terra. If the magic was failing even here, how much worse would it be on the fringes, nearer the surrounding desert? Without more mages--and soon--Far Terra would die.

She shook her head as if to clear it. There was nothing she could do about that yet. She couldn't really begin to plan until she knew what kind of magic she had and she couldn't learn that until she got to the Institute of Magical Arts. Today was supposed to be a farewell ride with her friends. Ailsa should be enjoying that. They'd had to leave early to escape the gaggle of girls who always seemed to be around to flirt with the princes. This was the chance they'd have to ride like this for at least a year, maybe longer. She wanted to let Pearl have a good run and this seemed like the best place for it. Sav came out onto the trail, Cergio and Perion right behind him.

She grinned, deciding to throw out a challenge she knew they couldn't refuse. "There's an old oak farther on, about a quarter mile. Race you there!" She leaned forward and dug her heels into Pearl's sides.

Sav's big, leggy black caught up to her and then passed her. Ailsa's lips thinned. At the last moment, she jerked the reins to the side and guided Pearl onto the narrower track, which also cut off a sweeping bend in the main trail. It wasn't cheating. She'd only specified the destination, not the path.

Ailsa sat up in the saddle to look ahead. Three fallen logs lay across this less-used trail, with no room for a horse to take a full stride between them. The undergrowth was too dense to allow any chance of going around them. Pearl could jump any one of them easily, but three together with barely room for the mare to gather herself for the next jump was more challenging. Ailsa had faith that Pearl could do it.

She bent low over the withers of her horse and urged her forward. Pearl lifted off, easily clearing the first log, landing, and lifting off again. It felt like flying. Ailsa laughed as the wind of Pearl's speed whipped her hair into her face. They broke out onto the main trail again only a couple of lengths ahead of Sav.

This time they were going to do it. This time they were going to win. Ailsa turned her head to look over her shoulder. Sav's long-legged black was gaining on them, but the other two were lost in the dust, too far behind to have a prayer of catching up.

She wasn't going to come in second. Not this time. A tiny whirlwind of fallen leaves would distract his horse and slow Sav down. She was tempted, but using magic really would be cheating. And that would take the luster off the win. Instead she leaned forward to whisper encouragement into Pearl's ear. "Go, girl. You can do it." The mare put on a burst of speed. Ailsa whooped and raised her arms in triumph as they passed the oak tree that marked the finish line.

She jumped down and hugged Pearl's neck, then grabbed a cloth from her saddlebags and began wiping her down, even though that little run had barely raised a sweat. "You're wonderful. You're the best horse ever."

Sav pulled his black stallion up beside her and dismounted.

Ailsa paused her rub down of Pearl to turn to him. "I told you she could beat your black, didn't I? She's faster than she looks."

Sav patted Pearl's shoulder. "No. She just runs her heart out for you. It's not the same thing." His eyes glowed oddly as he met Ailsa's. "It's a gift. To be able to inspire that kind of loyalty. She runs beyond her abilities for you."

Ailsa blushed and concentrated on wiping the last traces of sweat off Pearl's gleaming coat. Pearl liked to run. And if Sav was about to accuse her of using magic to win the race--when she'd specifically restrained herself, too--she'd . . . she'd hit him, prince or not.

Sav looked back down the forest path to a narrow place where Cergio had somehow gotten his bay gelding turned sideways on the trail, blocking Perion. He swallowed and grabbed Ailsa's hand. "Ailsa, I . . . I . . ."

Why was Sav stammering? He'd never been shy with her before. They'd known each other practically since she could walk, after all. And even if she did occasionally get a little irritated with him, she would never really hit him. She looked up into his eyes.

"What is it, Sav?"

With a shout, Ailsa's cousin, Perion, slipped around Cergio's horse's flank and raced towards them. Cergio followed at a slower pace.

Sav grimaced and drew a deep breath. "You will be coming to the ball tonight, won't you?"

Ailsa smiled. "Yes, of course. It'll be my last chance before I go south to school. I doubt I'll get invited to very many parties there. Anyway, I'll be there to study, not socialize."

He squeezed her hand. "Promise me a dance?"

Ailsa smiled. "As many as you like, Sav. As always." She turned back to Pearl to hide her face. Who else am I going to dance with? Perion? Aunt Izbel will prod him to ask me once or twice, but I know he'd rather be dancing with Delea. And Cergio will be on his next romantic campaign. He won't have time for me.

"I'll see you there, then," Sav said and released her hand just as the others rode up.


Savyon patted his horse on the shoulder as he turned it over to the groom. Turning away, he kicked at pebbles in the gravel walk between the stable and the palace. Why did he have to get tongue-tied? Why couldn't he be as good at this as his younger brother? Cergio never seemed to have any trouble talking to girls. Quite the reverse.

Cergio fell into step beside him. "So? Did you ask her?"

Savyon scowled at his brother. "No. You let Perion through too soon. I didn't have time."

One of Cergio's eyebrows quirked up. "How much time does it take? It's a simple yes-or-no question, isn't it?"

"You can't just blurt out a question like that without a little . . . preparation," Savyon answered stiffly.

Cergio snorted. "No, you mean you can't. If you'd've been doing this right, the proposal shouldn't come as a complete surprise to her."

Savyon's ears turned pink. Cergio's idea of the right way to court a girl just wasn't something he could see himself doing. Still . . . he probably could have found some way to show his feelings--if he hadn't been so afraid of making things awkward between them and losing Ailsa as a friend.

Cergio choked back a laugh. "Oh, no. You've still been going on as if you're just childhood friends, haven't you? Have you even tried to kiss her?"

Savyon paused as they neared the side door of the sprawling palace. "Of course not. Not before we're formally betrothed."

Cergio rolled his eyes heavenward. "We're not living in the time before the Empire, Sav! You're going to give the poor girl a heart attack if you just spring a proposal on her out of the blue."

"That's what I said. I can't just blurt it out," Savyon said.

"If you'd been showing her how you feel these last few months--say, since she came of marriageable age at her last birthday--you wouldn't have been blurting it out." Cergio sighed, black hair bouncing as he shook his head. "Never mind. It's too late to do anything about that now. You planning to ask her at the ball tonight?"

"Yes. If I can get her alone long enough."

"Well, there's that patio down at the end of the garden. It's a good place to go look at the stars. For the rest, you're on your own." Cergio opened the door and stalked off down the corridor.

"But how do I get her to the end of the garden when the ball will be in the grand hall?" Savyon yelled after his brother. Cergio would likely know how to do it gracefully. He liked to have half the barons' daughters trying to flirt with him. That kind of attention only made Savyon want to turn and bolt into the library. Not that that was a viable alternative for a prince.

"You'll figure it out." Cergio called back cheerfully. "Or not. It'll be fun to watch, either way."


  1. There's clearly a lot going on in this book! I think it sounds interesting. One thing I might recommend is focusing a bit more on Alisa in the pitch. Really hammer in how badly she wants to save her land by learning magic. That will make her choice to do so vs marrying her friend more impactful.

  2. I like the interaction among the characters her, particularly Savyon and Cergio. I'd read on, just to see how the relationship plays out. I also like that we get Ailsa's character goal out early: she wants to save her country.

    The pitch itself started off strong, but the last paragraph sort of petered out. You've set up some strong stakes, but we lose sight of those stakes in favor of romance. I think I'd focus more on the need/conflict/stakes aspect of the pitch. What's stopping Ailsa from saving her country? And what happens if she fails to learn magic? What are the consequences?

    I think it's fine to mention the love interests, but maybe put them in context of the stakes. For instance, it's not clear to me why marrying the prince will mean she loses her magic (because she can't go south to school? Why?). And the last line about the study partner was just confusing--I don't know who he is or how he plays into all this.

    One thought about the first five pages: the pitch indicates some pretty high stakes for the story (keep your head down, don't drawn attention), but I don't see any of that tension in the first five pages, where, aside from the dying country, the only conflict seems to be romantic. I'd love to see more continuity between the pitch tone and the pages.

  3. Your pitch has a lot of interesting details, but I was confused by a lot of those things. First, who is the successor if your MC is the old king's daughter? Her brother? Cousin? Does this successor have it in for her/thinks she can get the throne somehow? Can someone learn magic without being born with it? Why would marrying mean giving up her magic?

    I feel like the pitch should be more focused on the mages leaving/her learning magic, because that seems like the main plot to me. Cutting some of the details, like the study partner and the paranoid successor, might help the reader understand the stakes better. Right now there's just too much: paranoid successor might want to off her (?), mages leaving and the country drying out, the MC potentially giving up magic. With the limited word count, you might want to only focus on one or two of those things.

    Good luck!


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