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The Kraken's Daughter

20191230-The Kraken's Daughter-Astrid's Children-5790 words

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Hi all,

This is a flintlock fantasy short story. I know it's a little on the long side, but it didn't feel quite long enough to split into two.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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As I read:

At first I assumed that the first scene was some unexpected catastrophe, and was a little surprised to reach the end of the scene and find out that this is apparently something that happens often. Since it apparently does happen often, I’m very curious to know why, if the buildings can’t be saved, they haven’t evacuated the district/city/etc. or put other safeguards in place?

The slow destruction of a city that everyone is just resigned to is an intriguing setup, but I think we’ll need some answers sooner rather than later as to why this phenomenon can’t be mitigated in some way (other than what is essentially magical first responders). This is especially true because magic seems to be both commonplace and powerful, and we don’t have a sense of what its limits are.

The discussion around the table implies that this is only one group out of the full orchestra, but if this is such an emergency, I wonder why isn’t the full orchestra present?

There are a few points in the dialogue of this second scene that feel a little “as you know, Bob,” explaining to readers what the characters should already know, i.e. “Much of their archive was destroyed…” “… the domain of the Vocalists...” I think the information we’re getting is good, but I think there are places the dialogue can be trimmed so that it feels more like a conversation between people who already share the same cultural context, and less like educating the readers. Much of what’s being said here doesn’t need to be spelled out as explicitly as it is for readers to get the point.

had spread through the city fast as a rumor…” nice.

With the bakery’s collapse, I find I have the same questions again: Why are they just hanging out in a city that's literally falling in on them? We now know that they don't know how to fix the cause of the sinking but there must be things they can do to mitigate the dangers, even if that's just abandoning some parts of the city for safer zones. The sinkhole and the suggestion that things are getting worse helps a bit, but definitely with the first building it seemed like they were basically just letting it happen.

I’d originally thought this was going to be a story about getting to A, so it felt like a bit of a letdown when they got to A’s grave so easily – and without a whole lot of planning, it seems.

I really like the “Are you wearing pants?” as a sort of comedic anti-climax in opposition to what E (and readers) are expecting from the raising of this famous figure. I almost want to see it emphasized a little more, for example, making it its own paragraph while E tries to find an appropriate reply.

Okay, so the appearance of two new people, again, really makes it seem like E and C did not plan this very well. Did they not know that the interior would be guarded, and if this is such a crime, why didn’t they take the time to find out?

It’s the opposite of floating.” Yeah, I like her.

...their best goldfish impressions.” Hah.

Wait, E knows what’s going on? I thought she didn’t and that’s why they raised A in the first place?

Why does C have to be the one singing for the whole week? Can one of the other vocalists not take over?

Hmm, the end, mentioning the repeated C4 chime is the first time anything the musical aspect of any of the magic has been described in anything approaching technical detail. Not necessarily a bad thing, but noticeable.

At the end we also have the reappearance of a few of the percussion characters whom I didn’t find super distinct. I was fine with that at the beginning because I didn’t have the sense that they were terribly important, but it does mean that their reappearance at the end doesn’t have much emotional impact.

Overall:

I really liked A, and the central idea was neat. That said there are two major things that I think could really be used to strengthen this piece:

The worldbuilding wasn’t quite there for me. I’ve already harped on the way the characters are handling their falling city, which messed with my suspension of disbelief in several places. I also wanted a little bit more around the taboo of raising the dead and how that affects the world and the people who practice that particular art. We get one very solid conversation around this between E and C when she asks for his help, but other than that it feels like people just find it generally icky. Which is fine, but maybe seems like a thing that could otherwise be gotten past when your city is literally falling into the sea.

That being said, I think that how much you want to beef up the worldbuilding on that point depends a bit on what you want the focus of the story to be. That was the other thing that I felt could use some improvement: is the focus on getting past the politics and cultural taboos? Or is it physically sneaking into the mausoleum in order to get to A? Right now it feels like both are getting too much attention to just be minor obstacles or setting details, but neither is getting enough attention to be the major obstacle of the story. If it’s meant to be a political intrigue or a character/emotion focused piece, then I think we want to see E either persuading people to her side or maybe failing to do so and going ahead anyway, and the costs and consequences for that. If the politics and cultural stuff is meant to play second fiddle (ahem) and it’s more about them sneaking into the mausoleum, then I’d want to see less arguing with the people in the orchestra and more tomb raiding: planning on how to get in/avoiding the guards, more obstacles as they actually do make their way inside, and more understanding of the bad things that happen to them if things go wrong.

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Overall, I really liked this story and it went by very fast. Didn't even feel like a long entry. Of course, I'm also a sucker for music-based magic, so that helps. ;-)

I have the same two problems @Silk does, and I think they're related to each other. First, the tension flags as the story progresses, and second, I'm not entirely convinced on the worldbuilding. You have a very high magic level, which you show by people doing ordinary things by magic. In fact they are concerned with shoring up the city with magic instead of a big architecture project. That works. However, I think it's too easy for them to perform (ha) the magic. This is shown when C. raises A. from the grave with little to no effort. They can even bring people back to life who have full faculties and the ability to do their own magic. That sends me into thinking about raising a necromancer, who raises more necromancers...etc.

I think both of these can be solved by making the magic a little harder to use. Then you have the chance for more try/fail cycles in the story, and the worldbuilding gets a little more solid.

You might also look at the length of the story. It's already almost 6k, which puts it above the comfortable short story level. You might try expanding it into a novella, which would give you some space to develop the characters a little more, have some try/fail cycles, and explain the worldbuilding better. I mainly say this because I want to read more of the story! It's really good, and I think could have a good chance at catching an agent's or publisher's attention at a slightly greater length.


Notes while reading:
Pg 1: okay, music magic. I'm on board...

pg 2: "glockenspiel"
--is that really percussion? I guess maybe.

pg 2: I realized that not a lot has really happened yet, which I would usually fault a short story for, but I'm drawn in by the sense of wonder. Good job.

pg 2: "They have their own A., their own Music capable of doing what we need.”
--So each city is raised by a great master of music? The one in V. is still living while A is dead?

pg 3: "it seems unlikely that the V. know much more about the practical aspects of their origins than we do."
--Ah, sounds like their city's architect is dead too.

pg 3: "I have broached this subject with them, and they refused to consider it.”
--interesting premise.

pg 4: "nothing to do with either of the magical domains"
--a little bit Maid-and-Butler here, but gets the information across...

pg 5: "Translucent Percussionists pounded insubstantial drums"
--so zombie magicians can still do magic? That seems like it would lead to a big feedback loop...

pg 9: “I can’t leave B!”
--tension is good in here, but I don't actually know who B is. Wife? Daughter? Hired help?

pg 9: "knocking E’s chimes to the ground."
--this seems like a punishable offense in this world...

pg 10: "“H’s daughter was,”
--ah. Might be better to know this earlier to up the tension.

pg 10: "She bought a ticket to S that night"
--I don't know where or what this is, so it doesn't make a big impact to me as the anchor sentence to this section.
--Edit: I looked back and realized this was where the necromancer was headed. Might need to make one more reference to it to stick it in the mind of the reader.

pg 13: "Oh, but when you need it, then it’s not taboo anymore.”
--good argument.

pg 15: Good description of magic and magic users without being infodumpy. It gives a great perspective into the world.

pg 16: "A. sat up from within her tomb."
--hmm. I almost want more tension here. The song just works the first time. There's no try-fail. I'm not sure there needs to be, but if it was this easy, I feel like someone else would have snuck in and done this before.

pg 17: Ah, the necromancer has to keep singing to keep the ghost around. Good limit on the magic.

pg 17: the whole thing with the ineffectual lawmakers is comical, but I feel like one of them would have just run off to alert others.

pg 18: “This won’t be terribly efficient,” she warned. “You’ll need to get me a set of new chimes for the rest of the job.”
--why? Aren't these the ones she was buried with? I presumed they were hers.

pg 18: "on account of the rust coating the chime"
--oh, is this why? Maybe lead with this.

pg 19: "it soon became obvious that A. herself had no objections to her raising."
--okay, but it all seems a little too easy.

pg 20: "a week of near-constant singing had put C. under a great deal of strain."
--uh, yeah, I would imagine. Is this even possible?

pg 22: It's a nice ending, but not great. The second half of this felt like things were too easy, and I wanted some more conflict.


 

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Overall

I think there is a good story in here, but it is buried under a lot of exposition and extra words. I think the first ten or so pages could be cut entirely, and the rest expanded to give more character dynamics to our leads. The narrative really gets going when A is brought back, but before that it really jumps around and is hard to stay invested, much less follow what is going on.

On 12/30/2019 at 10:31 PM, Silk said:

Why are they just hanging out in a city that's literally falling in on them?

This is also my question

On 12/31/2019 at 7:56 AM, Mandamon said:

I have the same two problems @Silk does, and I think they're related to each other

I have similar issues to @Mandamon and @Silk, though I'd like to see more character development of our lead character along with some changes to the worldbuilding

 

As I go

- why is percussionist capitalized? What makes it a proper noun?

- this first page has a lot of new words and I'm glazing over because I can't take them all in at once

- page two recaps page one. I think you could cut all of page one

- pg 4: as I reach the end of this page, I know the purpose of the story, but I don't have buy in. The city is crumbling but...why do I care? Why do the characters care? I need someone to get invested with. I need to know what the stakes are, beyond some crumbling buildings

- pg 5: so many words that I don't know the meaning of. I'm so confused

- pg 9: I'm not feeling any tension here because I don't have any investment in the daughter or our lead at this stage

- pg 12: what was the purpose of the dead daughter?

-pg 12: Okay, so this story is about bringing back the mythical musician because... the city is grumbling and needs restoration? Is that it? I think the past twelve pages could probably be put into one, maybe two, to get to this point, then build from there

- pg 12: this type of repetition: but how many murders go unsolved because of your prudishness? How many families don’t get a chance to say goodbye when a loved one dies from a sudden accident? <--- is a good way to cut down words. You said this above already, in sort of a narrative info spread. Here it comes more naturally through dialogue. You could remove the entire previous mention of it, leave it here, and it would be more natural and add better flavor and tension to your story

- pg 16: LOL! I enjoy A's reactions when she wakes

- I am much more invested once A is in the story. She has very solid personality

- I'm not sure I understand the ending

 

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Posted (edited)

TAIG: (Thoughts As I Go)

Pg 1. – Had to look up the second instrument mentioned. Apparently, it’s a type of flute. I’m kind of getting minor shmeerp vibes, but hopefully I’ll recognize the rest.

Pg. 2 – Nope, but I think it works well in the context of this part to have an instrument I don’t recognize.

Pg. 3 – So power is derived from the song itself, not necessarily the player. Interesting…

Pg. 3 – Forbidden necromancy? I’ll have more to say about this in my notes, I’m sure.

Pg. 6 – C sounds interesting, and no doubt going to be used by the end of the story

Pg. 7 – Despite’s E’s perfect notes and tempo, it doesn’t seem to be working. So is it about power after all, or is E overconfident of her own ability?

Pg. 12 – The necromancy taboo again.

Pg. 15 – Apparently necromancy can only be performed near the corpse of the target. That seems a bit more restrictive than the usual methods of summoning shades. Also, if a few hundred years have passed, there isn’t going much of a body left.

Pg. 15 – A dirge for the purpose of bringing a soul back to life to save the lives of others? That strikes me as odd, and possibly even a bit too simplistic. Is this because only forms of lamentations will work for necromancy?

Pg. 17 – Non-standard version of the temperament of ancient resurrected souls, seeing as A seems very amiable and cooperative towards working with the protagonists.

Pg. 19 – And now the tone doesn’t matter, as A seems to be able to work decently on a set of ancient chimes, and while I am sure A is a master, that is going to sound terrible.

 

Overall: I really enjoyed this submission for the most part. The magic system had a large part to do with this, for like any Lord of the Rings fan, I am a sucker for sound-based magic systems, not to mention I enjoy orchestral music, so that got my interest. Unfortunately, I never really felt like I understood where the power behind the system came from. It Lord of the Rings, the closer you were to Eru the creator, the stronger your song was. Your system made it seemed like the power was in the notes themselves, so it was solely determined by the individual’s skill in playing music, but A seems to draw power fine when playing on subpar chimes. I’m a little confused. But overall, it’s a good magic system, and I like the concept. I think it works very well.

The necromancy aspect is what threw me for a loop. This story reminds me of a very similar story which has a similar set-up, except the resurrected spirit in that story more or less calls out the person breaking the taboo. And I was expecting that. That makes me wonder what the necromancy taboo is. Traditionally, these things tend to be theological in nature, which makes them absolute, yet A has no problem breaking them. E does give an explanation as to why they don’t do it, but then explains why she’s perfectly willing to ignore the explanation for the greater good, which A agrees with.

In terms of characters, C stands out as the most interesting. I kind of wish we got more of his perspective than we did. A good all-out argument between him and E would have been very interesting for me to read.

Edited by aeromancer
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Like the others, I think this is a good piece, but suffers from a lack of narrative focus. This leads to a lack of tension and the feeling like there is a lot of excess information here. It reminds me more of a character study than a piece with any kind of directed narrative thrust or plot.  This reads less to me as a coherent story than an exploratory exercise for some longer work. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, and I would certainly read a longer work in this setting, but if the intent is to have a story here, I feel like a lot of extraneous pieces will need to removed for it fit together better.

 

As I go:

This is a well-written piece and the world is interesting, but I feel like it wanders around a lot in the beginning.

I have some reservations about casting a war criminal of this nature in a sympathetic light, but that might be bleed-over from my watching most of the New Year's Twilight Zone marathon. Rod Serling had some opinions, there. 

I also agree about the story really starting around the page 10 or 12 mark. The rest is good for the author to know, but a fair bit of it doesn't seem to me to really go towards the point of the story. 

A is quite the strong personality. I like her a lot. 

There's just a lot of extraneous bits in this and I think once those get sorted out or streamlined, it'll be really great.  One that stuck out particularly oddly to me is the theme of the war, and people having war memories that affect their actions. It pops up a couple times but never seems to g anywhere or have much bearing on what happens in the story. There are some bits that feel like they're out of a slice-of-life piece or a character study, there are other parts that remind me of a coming-into-one's-own story, but neither of those takes the forefront or shapes the rest of the piece. Everything is just sort of arranged next to each other, but they aren't really interacting to form a complete whole.

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Posted (edited)

I've read the comments only after reading the piece so I'm opening with my notes.

I loved the worldbuilding: the plague and war, the specialties of various musicians, the visual glimpses into the world (there are no rich visual descriptions but to me everything looked Wagnerian, and Astrid’s statue wears a Valkyrie’s winged helmet). It’s impressive how much WB you managed to stuff into that first page and how evocative it’s of the feeling of the world. Did you use a certain technique to do it or does it come naturally to you? (I’m currently working on creating the world feeling in my novel). The rate at which the information came was perfect. But do note that I enjoy learning (provided that it’s interesting) so my opinion may not be representative.

There’s some great humor, both in-story and meta.

Opening with the MC walking (performing an action) and witnessing yet another disaster was a good way to establish stakes and instill dynamism without the MC protagging as such. It’s Brandon’s advice so he’d approve. He did say he always opens with his protag doing something even if it’s just walking. It's also good you open with a remote disaster, which foreshadows the inciting incident of B's death in the sinkhole collapse.

I enjoyed the first 10 pages and oppose cutting them.

While my suspension of disbelief was not challenged, it did feel like skirting the edge of the absurd. This is probably due to music as a magic system, even though I enjoyed the implementation very much. The good part is that an orchestra summons, in my mind, great knowledge and technical acumen displayed by imposing virtuosos high up on a stage. The bad part is that music (in general) feels abstract and – dare I say – artsy, which suggests some unreliability to it, or maybe simply the (false) dichotomy between art and scientific exactness. So I suggest that the magic system would benefit from anchoring with technical detail regarding procedures, limitations, and costs. Having technical detail is like saying ‘we’re pros here, we got this’. It doesn’t have to be much or very technical – let me give an example. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld wizards at the Unseen Academy were prepping to summon Death to ask him some thing or another; he hated being summoned so the Rite of AshkEnte was highly dangerous. The commentary was that normally the rite involved a week of fasting, thick candles, abstruse paraphernalia, and thaumaturgical circles with drawings in 8 colors, the number 8 being highly symbolic. However, it had been discovered that, in a pinch, the rite could be performed with a simple incantation, 3 small sticks, and 4 cc of mouse blood. Despite the (intentionally) comic ludicrousness of this tiny detail, its precision suggests that wizards must know what they’re doing. Much research (and likely numerous deaths) must’ve gone into establishing the minimal working quantities – and who’d think of mouse blood without already being desperate? To anchor orchestral music as a magic system to be reckoned with and dispel potential feelings of unreality, I’d like to see some such (minor) detail established early on. Terramancy takes 12 years of study and perfect pitch, sure, but will the musician’s leg fall off if they sing the wrong note? What are the limitations and consequences of the magic system?

The system seems very powerful and, at times, hard to practice – but is it dangerous to the practitioner? Some skin in the game wouldn’t hurt. What are the costs of this magic?

The bit where we see E repairing H’s floor is excellent – we see the tools of the trade, feel the felt on the mallet, hear the chimes etc. This isn’t the sort of technical detail that helps understand how and why music functions as magic, but it’s letting the reader experience using the magic so it’s great in that way.

Loved the irony with H’s daughter – preparing cake to celebrate her restored health and then she dies while bringing ingredients from the cellar. But then I’m known to occasionally appreciate dark humor so don’t take my reaction as representative. I realized immediately that it was his daughter in the basement upon reading her name, it was to be expected after the buildup with the cake. But do note that the name is not readily readable as a woman's name to English speakers, who aren't familiar with -it and -ir terminations for women's names.

B's death is the inciting incident but it's not set up clearly enough. Why is this the last straw that determines E to say 'that's it, I'm doing it'? Maybe we should see B in the store, greeting E, maybe they're friends and E is personally distraught instead of experiencing the loss vicariously through H's eyes? As it is, for some it was too small to register as the inciting incident. Strengthening this bit will make E stand out more as the protag instead of being swept out in A's charisma.

I don’t understand why musicians have jobs and also must perform as rescue workers, doctors etc? I.e. E working as a visa reviewer. Shouldn’t they have just their job as musicians as it’s important enough? I wouldn’t like to think it’s a bunch of hobbyists that are performing the magic in this world.

I liked how E and C had a moral argument where one couldn’t be said to be right over the other. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Astrid is great. Her people clearly need some of her no-nonsense attitude.

Speaking of limitations, can be soul of the deceased travel infinitely far away from their body? If so, they could be summoned anywhere so that can’t be true or they wouldn't need to go to the grave. If it’s not true, there’s a summoning radius and some sort of trade-off must be done to expand that radius when you walk away. Since the power comes from pitch, which needs to be perfect at all times, what else do they need to add in order to expand the radius? Volume? more musicians? Would big miracles take the full orchestra? How far away from the body could a full Vocs choir be at the most? Do you need to add musicians with the square of the distance?

I liked the play on contrasts – but then I like contrasts in general so don’t take my taste as representative. First it was toasting for H’s daughter health only to find her dead. Then it was trampling all across the taboos of Vocs by the only person they couldn’t contradict – the deceased who moreover doubled as their founder. These are great in terms of expectation/reality for those who enjoy irony and thematic playfulness. Possibly going even into ludonarrative dissonance.

Vocs having to repair C’s throat – it needs to be stated clearly how this works. I understand it’s supposed to work like that and this is a limitation but I’d like to feel certainty, and ideally know why. If C summoned A is he now the only one who can? If others can summon A too, how much time needs to pass between C’s summoning and theirs? And why can’t someone else do it instead? If only he can summon her for a while, then it means it can’t be only pitch that gives power, there must be the Voc’s personal something, e.g. fundamental frequency. Right now it feels more like the technical aspects aren’t worked out but rather C is the deuteragonist and therefore he’s got the action for plot reasons.

Pg. 21 – I liked that they were doing research on A’s song but I don’t understand why was this information lost in the first place. If it was the war and the plague, make it a point there to close the foreshadowing loop. Always try to close the foreshadowing loop in half a sentence because the reader will have forgotten by the time the info is needed. This is possibly the biggest weakness of the story. You've set up everything but then didn't make it come full circle, which is why it feels like it wasn't set up.

I liked the ending. This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Taboos could die starting here in favor of a no-nonsense approach.

 

On 1/3/2020 at 6:18 AM, aeromancer said:

I never really felt like I understood where the power behind the system came from.

Well said.

It needs to more clear it's about (1) being on pitch and (2) the musician's connectedness to the source of Music (whatever that source is, would be nice to know). Right now these two bits of info are scattered and lost somewhere in pages 15 and 19. It needs to be at least foreshadowed so that it clicks into place when we see it outright stated. 

On 12/31/2019 at 8:31 AM, Silk said:

why, if the buildings can’t be saved, they haven’t evacuated the district/city/etc. or put other safeguards in place?

The slow destruction of a city that everyone is just resigned to is an intriguing setup, but I think we’ll need some answers sooner rather than later as to why this phenomenon can’t be mitigated in some way (other than what is essentially magical first responders). 

why isn’t the full orchestra present?

a bit of a letdown when they got to A’s grave so easily – and without a whole lot of planning, it seems.

@Silk and @Mandamon are right on these points although I personally don't need more backstory. These elements could be mentioned in passing but that should suffice, i.e. establish it's a peaceful, traditionalist location with low crime/conflict and limited resources.

As to the answers, I can well assume some people left while others chose to stay behind because it's hard to be a homeless refugee in a foreign country; some will even be old and stubborn and unable to walk well. I can also assume the sinking phenomenon started at most a few years prior (or it would've all collapsed already) and the bureaucracy, belief systems, and taboos of Ag... delayed things  just like in the real world where we know about climate change for 70 years and still do nothing to address it other than denying it or pretending to act (e.g. diesel emissions scandal). In fact the premise sounds like climate change with coastal erosion and land sinking in places like Stockholm and Netherland.

About the full orchestra being present  we expect catastrophes everywhere daily but we only call rescuers when necessary since we can't predict where disaster will next hit. Besides, the musicians seem to have jobs on top of their magic attributions, so it's an imperfect world with poor planning and limited resources. About failsafes, the music magic doesn't seem suited for creating them  though we don't really understand how it works, it's unlikely they would be able to make a song that would keep a house suspended in the air or prevent an earthquake that hasn't happened yet. It's also foreshadowed at the beginning of the story that they need to wake A because they can't use the music to its full potential because they don't know how/what to sing. However, since it's a big plot point, it should be insisted upon, maybe mentioned again in E's inner dialog 'we forgot so much in these 500 years' or something.

About getting to the grave easily  it could be a cultural aspect. In Sweden, where this piece seems based, you sleep with the garage door open and still find your tools in the morning. If resources are limited, no one would guard a tomb when the only threat is a Voc... and it's established local Vocs won't wake A. Assuming ease, E and C don't need to plan much to get into what's basically a museum, especially if E spent her whole life in the location. And they did get caught. 

Again, all these aspects can be quickly referenced in E's thoughts to get them out of the way. She can express in 1 sentence frustration with the slowness of decision making and the blindness of the government etc.

 

One last but essential point. it's possible your protag isn't showing enough personality, which makes A seem like the cherry on the cake, which makes the entire opening seem like an intro to her entrance. Sure, E is protagging, taking decisions etc but we don't witness her personality. Given the ending, I don't think you designed her as a blank/featureless protag, in which case she needs to get more unpleasant spinach in the beginning so we can appreciate the cake she gets when she plays alongside A. There's no real triumph without a challenge and B's death isn't sufficient for the reasons I outlined. BIg end-of-the-world stakes are important for the epic feeling but the protag needs to go into the climax with strong personal stakes, otherwise it all feels remote and principial. 

Edited by Lightbearer
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Overall thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. The magic system worked for me even as someone who isn't really a music person. A's personality was hilarious, and I think it could be played up a bit more. E felt a bit boring. I wasn't quite sure what her personality was other than her one big decision to become a heretic.

And therein lies the problem. I felt like the most epic part of the story was her decision to use magic she felt was horrible to save her city, but then after only a brief standoff with the guards, everyone ends up being fine with it. I feel like there needed to be a consequence for what she did: either she should have been exiled or perhaps it results in some other dramatic change to the country.

I also wasn't sure of the significance of her getting to play with A. This would work if A was trying to keep her from getting exiled by showing approval, but otherwise it seems kind of unearned. All she did was wake A up. She didn't have to figure anything out. I had expected her to learn more about the vital magic A had, to have some kind of revelation, but in the end, they just save the day and that's it.

Notes while I was reading:

pg. 2 - Wow, this first page is depressing and resigned, which I think is the point. It does a good job of getting across the magic system and the tone of the story.

pg. 5 - "my intended purpose in your country has nothing to do with either of the magical domains V have power over." - This seems a bit on the nose and verbose to me, like you're trying to make sure we understood that these were the two domains vocalists have power over. I already got that. Trim this to make it more natural.

pg. 6 - "E recalled the previous day’s argument among the R P." - I didn't realize this was the same character as the first section until this point. Why is an important cabinet member interviewing people for access to the country? Is she important? Is this a normal interview or special because of the nature of the researcher? I am unsure and now I want to know.

pg. 7 - "E was no exception, and she had just slid the first bite of deliciousness incarnate into her mouth when the floor started to tilt" - Again, she doesn't show up until after I thought the scene was going to be about the baker. Maybe make the description of the shop incorporate her perspective more.

pg. 10 - "She bought a ticket to S that night." - Wait, she's running away? This made me really mad at her.

pg. 11 - "E pushed herself out of the chair and crossed to the door of the lounge just as C put his foot on the stairs leading up to the guest rooms." - Oh oh, she's going to talk to the researcher. I get it now.

pg. 12 - "the citizenry are desperately trying not to show how close to panic they are.” - Are they, though? I can't picture what this would look like.

pg. 13 - "I think I can be a heretic if I have to." - I love this line! Wish I had written it.

"The small island that housed A’s tomb was known as the M D."  - Every section in this story has started with the description of a location. It's starting to feel a little boring; unless it's intentional, maybe mix it up a bit.

pg. 15 - "C paced around the tomb, trailing his fingers across the bas-reliefs on the walls. “C, I don’t know how much time—” - I was confused for just a second about who was speaking because these are in the same paragraph, though using his name at the beginning of the quote helps. Maybe put in some stage direction for E to help the reader figure it out.

pg. 20 - "Each evening, after she returned to her rest, several of the R V shored up C’s throat with their Music." - I feel like C's voice having problems could have been something shown in the story. It would add to the epic scope.

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More thoughts after reading everyone's comments:

Definite yes to adding a little more detail to the magic system. Though it's a short story, throwing in a few intriguing details will help to make the world seemed real. Halfway through the story, I found myself wondering what happened when people just sang, you know, to their kids or for entertainment. Is there a magic associated with that? Especially since the vocal magic seems so much more powerful.

I was okay with raising A being super easy. I felt like the real heart of the story was the choice to do something distasteful or heretical to save the country. If that is the true heart of the story, it doesn't matter that implementing that choice is easy. You would need to implement some more development of what the protagonist is sacrificing (who is she leaving behind, what happens to her religiously if she does this, etc) and then implement that sacrifice into the story. If, on the other hand, the story is supposed to be about raising the sinking city, more emphasis needs to be on the methods for saving the city and convincing others that this is okay.

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