Author Topic: Seeking Critiques: Flight of the Pirate Witch, SFF novel, 1905 words  (Read 211 times)

Offline Dugarte

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Hello! Adhering to the 2,000 word limit, this is just the beginning of the first chapter of my manuscript, I tried to find a decent place to stop, but I know it's not ideal, but the chapter does continue. Please share any thoughts you have, and I will look forward to sharing more. I am also looking for critique partners interested in exchanging manuscripts for full, in-depth critiques, so feel free to PM me about that. Thank you!



I was falling, desperately fighting against gravity and doubt. The rugged terrain was so steep I had scarcely any control. Legs pumping, wings flapping, head spinning, stomach rolling, the world flew by me in hurdles and crashes.

Behind me, the golden sun set over a smoldering volcano peak. A black knife of smoke cut the rays of light in half, dripping a bloody glow of reflected lava light. The eerie twilight glow cast my shadow before me as I plummeted downhill.

To my left, the volcanic foothills rolled and curved with the serpentine tropical coast. Craggy mountain tops peaking up, pastoral valleys dipping low, all carpeted by the tropical forests between the hillsides and the beach. I dared not take my eyes off my path to admire it.

To my right, daedal stone architecture clawed at the darkening sky. Towering mausoleums and ornate sepulchers glowered, ghoulishly macabre. Pitch black obsidian and glossy white marble curved and climbed in monolithic works of masonry deifying Death. To me, it symbolized home, painful memories, constant misery, and everything I was trying to escape.

Ahead, tearing my eyes up from my rocky slope, I saw the bruise colors of the coming night swallowing the ocean’s endless horizon. Closing darkness dimmed into oblivion over the tide’s eternal susurrus. The cold, quiet solitude was my promise of freedom.

Dread thoughts of home drove me to pedal harder, pumping my wings against the pull of the earth. The memory of my first and only experience flying threatened to overwhelm me with pain and horror. I squeezed my eyes shut, repressing the thought. It formed a black cloud on the horizon of my mind. I was forever running from it.

My agonizing ride took a sudden lurch as I pedaled off a hillock that arched into the air.

Weightlessness. I gasped, eyes still shut tight, afraid to break whatever perfect combination of physical and mental will had lifted me off the ground.

Legs burning at the pedals, wings beating so wildly the bones creaked, the wind rushed through the feathers of my hair band and set my long hair streaming behind me, cooling and uplifting, like a reward for all the work and trauma.

Am I really flying? I had to see.

Squinting, I dared to look down, realizing the hillside was two meters beneath my wheels. I was floating at a downward angle, but staying clear of the earth!

I beamed with triumph, heart leaping, throat constricting, tears welling up. One more moment of joy and I would have wept.

Then I scanned the sky ahead.

A predatory shadow passed through high clouds, lurking in the haze.

The memory that had been threatening to crush my soul, boiling in the back of my mind, came thundering down on my heart. Dream turned to nightmare. Pain shot through my skull, nausea churning my stomach. Invisible, dead weight crushed my body.

My plunging race from the sunset faltered; heart sinking, legs failing, wings slowing.

I was falling again.

A jarring touchdown, the wheels of my invention squeaked and cracked painfully as I yanked the levers to turn my leathery wings, catching the air to break my plunging crash.

I turned to gently slow the bumpy ride, and my machine was reduced to a rusty, winged velocipede, heavy as reality. The wind no longer whistled through my hair, the horizon shrank, the foothill’s slopes.

Finally stopped, I winced at the damage to the spokes of my creation and glared up at the sky, wanting to curse the monster that had frightened me out of my flight.

The airship was The Ruthless. I had already recognized the sky pirate vessel. It reemerged from the cloud cover, descending and angling west toward Graveport. Toward me.

***

A third Corvid at the same time. It was common to see one of the leaders of the airship pirates in port. My home, Graveport, was one of their favored markets. It got rough enough when two of the notorious Corvid Captains and their raucous crews fell upon Graveport at once.

I brushed wild strands of long, black hair out of my face, adjusting my feather-crested hair band. The traditional adornment of the Volcanic Scars signified the owner’s tribe. Mine had been deliberately burnt. Half of the crest of white feathers were scorched black – a rare mark of discrimination invented only a few generations ago, when the first colonists settled. The secretive and isolative Zordun tribes refused to grant full status to the children of mixed blood. They let me work in the necropolis, but I would never be fully accepted in their society.

Crouching beside the wheels of my flying machine, I reviewed every part for damage from my rough landing. Spokes, and bolts, cogs, and springs; everything felt too loose.

I sighed up at the gigantic, predatory skull gaping down at me. The headpiece of my flying machine bared her massive, yellowed fangs in angry reproach at my piloting.

“Sorry,” I whispered sadly.

My hands drew my most prized tool from its secret webbing. I kept the omni-wand it tucked behind the buckle of one of the belts slung from my jumpsuit.

The omni-wand was not much to look at – a blunt rod of charcoal-colored metal with no discernible shape or use – at first glance. The metal felt like no other tool any smith could produce, smooth to the touch, but with a perfect grip, as if it gently stuck to a hand so long as you held it with intent. It was no ordinary device. With a little concentration, it became the most useful piece of equipment anyone could hope for.

But I could not concentrate. Three Corvid Captains gathered together was a rare nightmare. Monsters prowling the streets, hunting with wild, carnal eyes and calloused, red hands. Hunting for someone like me.

The molecules of metal moved around, shifting into the shape of the tool I wanted as my heart pounded, mind aflame in memory. The metal rod in my hand sprouted a wrench head.

My excruciating thoughts made the microscopic metal pieces change formation. It was a cruel, mad way to activate a supernatural gadget. Yet it was so omnipotent, so universally useful, I could not imagine the cost of trying to build or maintain my flying machine without it.

My omni-wand and the remains of my only childhood friend were my ticket to freedom.

I have to get out of here.

The wrench fit perfectly around the bolts that needed tightening. Wincing with dread, I turned it into a screwdriver that was just the right size for the parts of my machine.

Where the fittings joined the emaciated wings of the giant Camazotz bat, I took care not to scratch the remains. The light, long bones and leathery joints still worked nearly as well as they had for the apex predator when she hunted the volcanic hillsides a decade ago.

It had been tricky fitting a modified velocipede and controls to the preserved corpse.

In her honor, I had named my machine Chiroptera.

The flight tests were showing exponential progress. My heart skipped at the giddy sensation of gliding, lighter than air. I’m so close. I took a gulp of water from a flask at my belt.

Satisfied that everything was returned to good repair from rubber-rimmed wheels to leathery wings, I replaced my enchanted omni-wand in my belt, the metal resuming its plain, simple shape. Grasping the handlebars, I turned Chiroptera uphill to begin the exhausting walk.

If I were frugal with my supplies...If I could make the packs lighter than the stones I’m using for practice. Maybe I could really fly?

With aching muscles, I retreated up the bumpy hill against the wind. Knapsacks across the back of the machine were heavy with stones simulating the weight of supplies.

I had bought all the non-perishable items I would need to run away. I had enough coins left for food. Canteens ready to fill up with water.

All I need to do is master flying, and wait for Mom’s Rhizanthella Uada flower to bloom, and I’ll be ready to go. The grave flower bloomed every four years from the day it was planted. It was my birthday, so I knew my mother’s grave would be blooming soon. She died the night she gave birth to a dead, blue baby. The rumor was that witchcraft had traded her life for mine.

Memories, unrequited dreams, and the worst lingering nightmares all carried over into the roots, stems, flowers, and pollen of the supernatural plant. They were my only connection to her.

My last wish was to bid my mother goodbye and take what memories she could leave me.

The climb uphill was a long battle. It was dark by the time I reached the abandoned ruins high up the foothills. The temple ruin was just a silhouette in the twilight, the interior pitch black and filled with echoes of forgotten prayers.

I stood panting, eyes adjusting to the darkness as my hands groped for my flask again. Gulping, I studied the faint lines of carvings that no one else had admired in decades, perhaps centuries. The skeletons, flies, worms, and bats all engraved in the friezes.

This was where she brought me back, I fought back tears, remembering the giant Slayer bat carrying me to the temple ruins ten years ago, instead of eating me as I had expected. Her four-meter wingspan was still impressive as the frame of Chiroptera. She had looked as big as a dirigible to me back then. The skull, twice the size of mine, made for a fearsome bowsprit. Her brood of pups had been nearly as large as I was then, still learning to fly.

They had all left without me.

I’ll miss these secret places. I thought of the unattended nooks within the necropolis, the soft sounds of Graveport on quiet nights. And my books. My heart sank to think of leaving behind all the wonderful worlds of knowledge and imagination that set me free from reality.

My only comfort was the running list of titles and authors I kept on a strip of parchment rolled up in a corked vial tucked into a pocket of my coveralls. I had a system of symbols to denote what I thought of each book and author, and an ever-growing list of books I had seen referenced, which I hoped to find once I was free from Graveport.

Chiroptera went back in her hiding place amongst my store of supplies and the overgrowth in the cavernous shrine to the dead.

I turned to navigate the steep slope of overgrown stone steps back down to the beach.

A childhood’s worth of running away, starting at the ghost-filled necropolis Myktla, afforded me an intricate knowledge of the forsaken northern slopes of the volcano Tepetl.

In truth, I had felt familiar with each ruined landmark as soon as I stumbled on it, triggered by memories I had that were not my own, quietly lurking beneath the surface of my mind. I recognized the tilted stone columns with skeletons carved into the side, remembering when they had first been erected. My feet could follow every broken stairway to every tomb, expecting them to flow smoothly into the hillsides.

The old shrines were all overgrown with brush and moss. The trees were choked with climbing vines and debris. The memories were long dead, faint as inarticulate whispers.

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Seeking Critiques: Flight of the Pirate Witch, SFF novel, 1905 words
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2020, 05:35:57 AM »
I'll comment as I read through, if I may.

The dramatic opening sentence works well - up to a point. I'm not 100% sure why you added 'and doubt' since it's clear your character is suffering physically rather than emotionally or philosophically. A minor point maybe, but from your excellent critiques on here you'd probably agree that less is often more.

Paragraph 2 adds some context but on a line by line edit maybe look at the repetition of 'light/light/twilight' and 'glow/glow'. It's an easy fix.

By the third, fourth and fifth paragraphs I began to wonder how he was able to take in all this detail if he was indeed battling against gravity. Your opening suggests an uncontrollable descent, but now it all seems to have slowed down to quite a leisurely pace. I appreciate you're keen to flex your descriptive muscle, but in first person narrative you have to bear in mind the narrator's state of mind when he tells us what's happening.

The image of someone pedalling at take-off makes up for the rather purple prose that precedes it - I almost felt I was battling to gain flight with him.

More repetition - 'hair band/long hair' - and later we have 'black hair/hair band'.

'I beamed with triumph' doesn't quite work for me since a beam suggests a particular kind of smile, visible to others. Since he can't see himself, maybe find an alternative way of expressing his delight. A sudden gasp of elation maybe?

Again, the crash back down to earth is effectively drawn. 'heavy as reality' I particularly like.

'I kept the omni-wand [it] tucked behind the buckle of one of the belts slung from my jumpsuit.'

I like the idea of an omni-wand - the DIY gadget every home needs. But there were times when I had to track back or pause for thought. Zordun tribes, Corvid Captains, a Camazotz bat and now Mom’s Rhizanthella Uada flower. It's a lot to take in while keeping pace with unfolding events. Maybe, in your haste to reveal this strange world you're expecting too much of your readers. But that's purely a personal observation since I'm not a reader of fantasy.

Despite these minor nit-picks, I did enjoy this excerpt. You write well, and though you tend to wax poetical, that's no bad thing as long as the plot keeps moving forwards. I just felt at times you'd pressed the pause button in order to add another layer of description.

Thanks for sharing.

Offline Dugarte

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Re: Seeking Critiques: Flight of the Pirate Witch, SFF novel, 1905 words
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2020, 03:16:37 PM »
PIJ1951 Thank you for the thoughtful critique! I really appreciate your feedback.

I cannot believe I - who have a pet peeve about repeating words or phrases in close proximity - failed to realize I was using the same words like light, and glow, multiple times in the same paragraph!

You are not alone in finding that my opening paragraphs get a little bogged down in vivid descriptions that cut into the pacing/action of the first scene. I am playing with some ideas on how to rearrange the first chapter so as to improve the pacing, without losing all of my descriptions, but perhaps trimming them and spacing them out a little further down in the second/third page.

I am definitely sensitive to the concern of introducing too many plot elements in rapid succession. I want my book to be accessible and not overwhelming. I will look at how I might be able to spread out introductions to those people and things.

Your positive feedback on the lines that especially worked for you are also very encouraging to me. I could learn from you when it comes to giving more supportive commentary in my own critiques.

I hope to continue critiquing other folks' work and posting pieces of my manuscript, and I hope you will be interested in continuing to read.

Thanks again!

-David

Offline Mattdp123

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Re: Seeking Critiques: Flight of the Pirate Witch, SFF novel, 1905 words
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2020, 02:58:04 PM »
My major criticism is that the opening scene doesn't seem the clearest in what's supposed to be going on. This might just be me failing to comprehend what I'm reading, but I couldn't really tell what's supposed to be happening. It's written like the character is both falling through the air trying to keep themselves in the air, and at the same time they're riding down the mountain to get into the air.