Professional review by Random House: http://www.rbooks.co.uk/
Congratulations on being selected for the YouWriteOn top ten this month! You have a fascinating idea for a novel with a wonderful setting that is certain to intrigue readers. I very much enjoyed the extract I read; there was a genuine sense of adventure flowing through your writing and Aulf's desire to explore the world was very contagious and inspired me to want to read on.
You have the beginnings of a very interesting story in place and I hope my comments help you to progress further with your writing.
There is a surprising amount of action in your first few chapters and I would recommend that you consider slowing down the action and devoting a little more space to each of the key episodes you describe, as at the moment it felt like your story raced ahead without me really have an opportunity to consider what these scenes might mean for the characters and for your plot. Certain incidents, such as the funeral pyre for the twins’ father or the attack by the raiders, really felt like they would benefit from some expansion so that readers fully understand their impact. It may just be that this is an early draft of your book but I would suggest that you aim for longer chapters to enable you to develop these episodes further, which would potentially result in just 3 chapters in your first 15 pages, rather than the 5 you have at present.
I love the idea of Aulf and Ingar being introduced to a whole new world through Jacob and Elya's superior equipment; I think you caught very clearly the mixture of awe and excitement they felt on seeing the ice lens at work, for example. I wonder whether you might be able to signal this difference in their cultures at a slightly early point in your narrative? At one point Aulf marvels at the unusual hat that Jacob is wearing but what about their speech; would they sound the same as Aulf and Ingar or would they have a different accent and a different vocabulary that would all help to emphasise the subtle difference in their worlds?
I liked the conversation between Aulf and Ingar where they discussed what might lie beyond the Ice Plain; there is a lovely sense of longing when Ingar sees the glint of excitement in Aulf's eyes that I'd have liked to have seen a little more of. That restless curiosity is a very appealing trait in a central character and I was pleased to see that Ingar seemed to reciprocate and hopefully wasn't simply wanting to travel with him so that she wouldn't be parted from Aulf, she will be a much more interesting character to follow if she is as full of curiosity and enthusiasm as Aulf.
I think your unusual setting is one of the most appealing factors in your story and I'd personally have loved a little more scene setting and physical descriptions, to really build up a clear picture in my mind.
I deliberately read your synopsis after I’d read your opening chapters and I hadn’t picked up on the clear fantasy element in your story, assuming instead that this was set in some version of the Arctic, so I‘d recommend you focus a little more on how you can convey the history of your story and give readers a stronger sense of the setting and period.
I would also like to have had a little more detail about how the boats and other technology worked – you are creating a new world for your readers so you need to ensure that they can picture it as clearly as you can yourself. Once I’d read your synopsis I was fascinated to see how the story unfolded because it all sounded so original and exciting but I don’t think this new world aspect is quite coming across as strongly as it could be in these early chapters.
I would have liked a little more clarification on Aulf and Ingar’s relationship. I had initially assumed that they were in a relationship, 'As long as you took me with you, she added firmly' but then when they are considering where they can hide their new acquaintances I then wondered whether Ma's was meant to be their mother. I would recommend that you do make this distinction a little clearer, as again this will help to build a strong mental picture in the mind of the reader.
Aulf and Ingar don't appear to introduce themselves to the twins, or perhaps they have already introduced themselves to Elya before Jacob wakes, but I would have liked to have seen how they described themselves and their occupations to their new travellers. Again, the ‘half wild orphan girl’ aspect wasn’t coming across to me in these stages and but when I read it in your synopsis it sounded fascinating.
Could we have some more detail about Jacob and Elya's world – their father is dead but what about their mother? Do they miss her as well? I would have thought they might have been homesick after seeing their father's funeral pyre and I’d have liked to have seen a little more of this emotional strand to the narrative, as its this that will really bring a story to life on the page and encourage your readers to empathise with your characters.
I think you have the beginnings of a great story in place and I hope my comments enable you to refine and improve on what you already have in place.
I would suggest that you look at ways of spending a little more time on each key event or point of interest so that you give the reader more time to get to know your characters and your setting, and for us to see how the relationship between your characters works. As I’ve mentioned above there were some elements of your synopsis that I hadn’t picked up in this extract and while you’re certainly not expected to have set up your entire premise in your opening pages, I would have loved to have seen some of those details brought out so that I could really picture your world and imagine how your characters worked within it.
Congratulations on a very strong beginning!