Author Topic: Azhar: Chapter 1 (Feedback would be appreciated)  (Read 441 times)

Offline Kaira_Khadime

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Azhar: Chapter 1 (Feedback would be appreciated)
« on: July 05, 2020, 10:33:35 AM »
This is the first chapter of a historical fiction novel I'm working on.
It's actually my first attempt at a novel.
I'd appreciate some feedback on it.
It's 1013 words long.
It's set in medieval Africa and is based on Azhar, an agnostic woman, who struggles to come to terms with a destiny laid out for her by the Ancestors, who are the deities in this setting.

Chapter One:
Tuzvo was alight with chatter. Bottle-cap anklets jingled as the older women danced in a circle, their steps slow. Sisal skirts swayed as they swung their hips to the steady beat of drums.
In the humid air of the courtyard, she caught the aroma of plantains, cassava and spinach stew. She heaved an inward sigh, missing her father’s ambrosial roasted beef.
“Did you hear what happened to Ada?”
Azhar blinked out of her stupor. The beer maker had been rather generous with the sorghum he’d added to the brew.
“Are the rumours true? About Ada?”
“Which one?” she asked. “There are five of them in the chief’s homestead alone.”
“The basket weaver,” Shani, her co-wife, replied. “The Holy One fed poison to her husband’s cockerel, and it died. A sure sign she’s a witch.”
“She’s earned many heads of cattle from her trade. Why practise witchcraft?”
Shani shrugged. “What will they do to her?”
“Sentence her to death without a trial, no doubt. Where they suspect sorcery, the council is unforgiving.”
A horn sounded, breaking into the evening’s merriment. The chief had arrived. Villagers shuffled as they stood in single files: men on the right, women and children on the left. Chaka strode in, followed by his wives. He was remarkably spry for his age, and on his bald head sat a headdress of porcupine quills.
He put his hand up, imposing silence.
“People of Tuzvo,” he said, “the Ancestors are pleased with us. They have accepted our sacrifice and so, we can enjoy yet another season of peace. Tonight, we celebrate. Let the feast begin!”
Once he’d taken his seat, everyone else did, and the festivities resumed. Azhar served her food and settled beside Shani. Her eyes darted across the room, searching for their husband. Where was he?
“Walk with me, my dear,” Khari whispered in her ear, leaning over her shoulder. He held his hand out, inviting her to join him. She took it, and they walked arm-in-arm into the garden.
She breathed in the fresh wind that blew around them as they strolled. Above them shone the stars.
“What a pleasant evening!” He remarked, after a brief silence.
She snorted. “It sure is.”
He tittered nervously, scratching the back of his neck.
“Sorry for interrupting your meal.”
“I don’t consider this a feast anyway. There’s no meat.”
“You know it’s taboo.”
Oh, she did. She had been unaware of that rule when she first arrived in Tuzvo. She’d stood trial before the council and paid two goats as fine and offered libations for an entire moon cycle.
“What of the ox slaughtered for the ritual?”
“Burnt as a sacrifice.”
“That’s a waste. We could have eaten it.”
He hummed noncommittally. An uncomfortable silence followed before Khari took out a garland of agapanthus lilies.
“Forgive me. I meant to adorn you with this before the feast. I didn’t get to finish it in time.”
“Thank you. It’s lovely.”
“May I?”
She nodded, and he set it atop her frizzy ebony curls, the violet of the flowers contrasting her dark skin. He leaned back, his keen eyes observing his handiwork. Azhar felt a smile on her lips.
The sound of a leaf crunching broke the moment. Khari clenched his fists as he stood to look behind the bush.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know.” His stern voice dismissed her. “I should go back and keep Shani company.”
She nodded, an insincere smile on her face as he disappeared through the trees.
Later that night, Azhar was resting in her hut, having left the feast early when the Shaman and his guards stormed in.
“What now?”
“Orders from above to search your hut,” he answered, his lips curled into a sinister smile.
“On what grounds?”
She scoffed at that. That was the work of Ada’s blathering, she was sure. Or Shani’s, perhaps. The two women were incurable gossips. She sighed, resigned to her fate and permitted the guards to ransack her property.
One of them grabbed an unmarked vial, tossing it clumsily to the other.
“Careful with that!” she warned.
“Yes. Be careful,” mocked the Shaman. “It could have evidence of her sorcery.”
She gritted her teeth. “It has powdered lemongrass which is very rare to find.”
The door creaked as Khari walked in.
“Azhar?” He asked, his eyebrows raised.
“General, didn’t you hear? I’m a witch now. They’re searching for my pointed hat.”
His eyes narrowed.
“Leave! Now!” He ordered.
“I will not repeat myself.”
The Shaman stomped his foot in indignance then stormed off, the guards at his heel.
Once they were out of earshot, Khari said,
“I need you to be on your guard.”
She cocked an eyebrow.
“They only speak of this in hushed tones,” he continued. “There’s been talk of a diviner from Amerubh. He foretold of a High Priestess, a child of Isaura, who would unite the nations of the Realm and rule over them.”
“Did the mice tell him that?” She snorted, then pursed her lips when his eyes narrowed. “I apologise. Go on.”
“Isaura was a powerful tribe. Her children had special gifts.”
“What happened to them?”
“Chaka had them massacred on the grounds of witchcraft.”
“A bit extreme, isn’t it?”
“There are few known survivors born of Isaura. Ramla of Amerubh, of course, is one of them. The Holy One suspects you are too. As such, he’ll be watching you.”
“Am I to fear the sorcerer now?”
“No, but they say your remedies are… unusual.”
She wrinkled her nose.
“All I ask,” he said, intertwining their fingers, “is for you to be careful, dear. They’ll burn you alive if they even think you’re a witch.”
“I agree my methods are different, but I’m a healer. That’s all I am.”
Flashing her a soft smile, he bade her goodbye, impressing on her forehead a gentle kiss. The shed’s rickety door creaked as he shut it behind him.
She took out the crumpled parchment she had hidden in her bosom. On the white sheet, in crabbed penmanship, read:
To Azhar, Daughter of Isaura.

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Azhar: Chapter 1 (Feedback would be appreciated)
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2020, 02:22:52 PM »
For a first attempt at a novel, this isn't too bad. It's a little rough around the edges, and the flow isn't always as smooth as it could be, but it's certainly better than most I've read on here. It held my interest which is the main thing, and it won't need too much editing at the final draft.

My only advice as a reader not a fellow-writer would be to establish your main characters' identities as early as you can. You don't mention Azhar by name until the seventh sentence - but you have already referred to 'she' who caught the aroma and missed her father's roast beef. I had to double back to check I'd not missed her name - and since I hadn't, I had no idea who you were writing about. Similarly, there's no way of knowing for some time that Khari and their shared husband are one and the same character because it's not made clear until much further down the page.

Other than that, a fine job. Thanks for sharing

Offline Kaira_Khadime

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Re: Azhar: Chapter 1 (Feedback would be appreciated)
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2020, 03:03:07 PM »
Thank you for taking the time to read and give feedback on this. I really appreciate it!