Calling All Critiques: Entry #9

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Entry #9

NameLeo Valiquette
TitleThe Sword and the Skull
GenreAdult epic fantasy

The iron bells of the Holy Clerisy summoned the faithful of Vysus to morning prayers.

It had been eight years since Sabelwood, and Ryn still couldn’t bear the sound of it. Bells had tolled that night, too. They had been different bells, in a far distant place, but the Clerisy’s cry was the same, wherever it ruled, always shouting the crimes he had committed in its name. A tide of anxious fear, thick and dark, threatened to smother him, driven closer with each strike of the bells’ clappers. Some mornings were worse than others. Today, it was coming on like a raging bear defending her cubs.

He took slow, measured breaths and focused on the singsong chants of the shamanists, rising from a thousand rooftops in praise of the new sun. The rhythms of the two religions drifted through the bedroom’s narrow window with the teasing aromas of outdoor cooking hearths and bread ovens. He could sense the arid heat of the isthmus, rising to chase away the night’s cool respite, through the thick walls of mud brick and stucco.

By the time the bells had gone silent, the worst of his terrors had passed—his penance done for another day.

Josalind’s face was still buried in her pillow, arms cradled over her head. He attempted to slip from beneath the linen sheets without rousing her, but his foot had barely passed the edge of the mattress before her slender frame was astride his waist and coppery red curls tickled his cheeks.

“And where do you think you’re off to?” she asked.

Ryn looked deep into the milky cataracts that blinded her, but, as always, saw only the sea-green lost beneath. “I’ve got to get something.”

“Do you, now?” She brushed her lips across his chin. “You dreams were dark again last night.”

“Were they?”

Did her Sight give her only a sense of their nature, or did she know more? She had never said, and he had never mustered the courage to ask. He seldom remembered his dreams, but if they were dark, there was little doubt about what they concerned. For so long he had wanted to tell her about Sabelwood, of how his cowardice on that evil night was the true beginning of the road that had brought them together and led to Vysus. But as the years had passed, it had become that much more difficult to speak of it. It was his secret, his shame, his burden to bear.

He savored a slow kiss before wiggling out from under her. “Wait here.”

“For what?”

“Just wait.”

He visited the water closet, pulled on a loose cotton shirt and short pants, and made for his desk in the common room of their apartment. A palatar’s sword rested in its scabbard against the desk–a bitter reminder of faith forsaken and oaths broken that he couldn’t bear to cast away. Facets of stained glass were mounted in the squarish pommel, gleaming with the colors of the Clerisy as if the sword hungered to answer the bells’ call to duty.


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10 thoughts on “Calling All Critiques: Entry #9

  1. Thiis entire critique event is about providing constructive criticism. Be polite but do not gush. Well, I want to gush, all right? I’m a romance writer, and when tangible emotion washes over me, when I can’t take my eyes off what I’m reading, I’m sold. And that was the case with Leo’s writing.

    So many emotions wafting out from such a short text: anguish, relief, love, sadness, regret. We know so much in such a little space without being overwhelmed: the layout of the apartment, what’s outside, what waking up means, feels and smells like, we have enough backstory to whet our appetite and wonder what brought on this need for daily penance, what are those dark secrets that torment the hero.

    Honestly, nothing seemed out of place other than my need to get my hands on that book … if that.

  2. I really love this piece.

    The one area that gave me trouble (and it could just be a personal preference) is the sentence that reads “They had been different bells, in a far distant place, but the Clerisy’s cry was the same, wherever it ruled, always shouting the crimes he had committed in its name.” I enjoy the imagery, but it feels as though there are too many thoughts piled in to the one sentence.

  3. I am the Self-Appointed Queen of Finding and Removing Narrative Distance. OK, so, really, some of my CP’s have said I’m good at it, and by good, I’m sure they mean, “OMG, I GET IT ALREADY. I’LL REMOVE IT.” So. Here are the instances I found, which is the only possible critique I can muster because I agree with the previous posters about the awesome emotional impact this excerpt has.

    “He could sense the arid heat of the isthmus …” can be turned into “The arid heat of the isthmus rose to chase away …” It makes the reader experience the feeling with the main character, rather than looking at the main character from the outside and watching him experience it.

    “… but, as always, saw only the sea-green lost beneath.” You could do, “The sea-green shimmered beneath.” If you really want to get crazy, you could also change the beginning of the sentence so that we’re looking rather than having Ryn look.

    “… there was little doubt …” is a passive construction. (OK, not narrative distance. Maybe I should update my title.)

    “… it had become that much more difficult …” is also passive.

    All right, that’s all I have. Excellent job.

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