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6/26/23 - Ace of Hearts - Everlasting Sunset sub 1, 3245 words (V)

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Hi everyone,
Thanks again to everyone who critiqued Bond of Wildflowers! What I have here is my most recent Nanowrimo novel, which I wanted to be quite different from Bond of Wildflowers. Everlasting Sunset is adult fantasy with a high learning curve, and that combined with the fact that this is draft 1 means I'm anticipating that this will be a bit rougher around the edges than Bond of Wildflowers. I don't know if I'm going to submit the whole 140k word monstrosity of a novel right now, but getting an eye test of the early parts will help me get more of a direction in revisions regardless.
For this sub, we have the prologue and the first chapter. I know prologues are difficult to make work and I figure there's a good chance the assessment will be to rearrange the story so that a prologue isn't necessary, but I figured I might as well see what people think first. In chapter 1, one of my main goals was to have a clear plot/character hook since that seemed to be missing from the previous fantasy story I submitted a bit of here.
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Hi, Ace of Hearts!

This is actually my first critique as part of Reading Excuses. So thank you for letting me read your novel!

I enjoyed the beginning of Everlasting Sunset very much. It is intriguing. I can’t wait to learn more about the powers and plots in this universe and get more of the worldbuilding. I also enjoyed the characters – they are rather no-nonsense people (especially Ash), with youthful idealism and good potential for character dynamics.

With that being said, I felt that at times some things or the atmosphere were slipping away from me. So here are some comments about that.

The prologue.

I have nothing against prologues. This one was very engaging. It also left enough mysteries (hope we’ll learn more about them as we go on). But I feel like it needs a bit more distilling – everything it needs is there, but I also had a feeling it was all over the place. I think the thing to concentrate on might be the purpose – is it about Galena’s guilt or the actions to be taken? Because Lilac only grunts in the end – she doesn’t exactly make any promises to act. Then the prologue ends with Galena submitting to his guilt and going to die. That’s fine – he is who he is, but that took me away from the crisis. All in all, I feel like it is just about making the messages stronger, because I like all the components – the intrigue of changing sex and that deciding who will be the emperor.

Here are also a few line-by-line things that caught my attention:

1.       Page 1, first paragraph – personal preference, I guess, but I felt the two names close together was too heavy; plus Galena (again for me) doesn’t sound like a male name, so I would try to rephrase the sentence – “His sister Lilac walked in as Galena was pacing….”

2.       Page 1, “Lilac laughed and twirled around in her dress…” This Lilac’s behaviour looked rather childish and show-offy and personally for me it didn’t fit the whole premise (I understand she is young, but I couldn’t connect it to her first seeing her brother after five years. Was it like look at me how I’ve grown? Maybe, it’s because I don’t know her age – is she younger than Galena?). I feel like you wanted to show her joy and to remind of their kid’s years, but maybe something like an embrace would do the job better? It will definitely make him feel more guilty.

3.       Page 1, “I can’t chat, Ly.” It felt a bit contradictory, because he came there to tell her things. Perhaps, you meant he didn’t want to digress. As the previous phrase of Lilac is cut off, it is hard to judge. Maybe rephrase it?

4.       It is just a thought, but as I was reading I felt it could be really cool to introduce psionic abilities from the very first paragraph. It will probably require you to start just one moment earlier as Galena is expecting Lilac, but it can be very striking and it might portray his fears, anxiety and unsureness stronger than simply pacing.

5.       Page 2, “Galena shrugged. “What matters is that I bought into it. I was looking for a way to test it out.” While reading this, I was asking myself whether he just wanted to test it or like challenge it. I think it is important to think of the language here, because it will also show Galena’s true attitude. How I saw it, he was desperate and very eager to stop his husband, and therefore I felt it required stronger language.

6.       Page 4, paragraph 2, “If he could have seen the dangers but didn’t look, it meant he never cared enough to check.” I kept myself asking – could he or could he not. If-sentences are handy, but here it is hard to tell whether he is using this to blame himself or to acquit himself of the guilt. In my opinion, if you made it more categorical, it may fit better his and his sister’s reaction.

7.       In general, I thought it would be nice to strengthen there the image of what kind of planet Galena left and has now come back to. The prologue doesn’t give an exact idea. There is ocean and islands; from the conversation it seems to be a very peaceful place. But even when it comes to where Lilac and Galena meet, I couldn’t say whether it was a hut on a beach or their family mansion or castle. Giving a bit more might help with creating the background – are they the source of these waters? Are they important in the galaxy? Are they far away? I know that’s a lot and we don’t need all of it, but just the place felt too obscure to me.

Chapter 1.

The steep learning curve promises a lot for this novel. As I said before, Ash’s personality appealed to me. And I love the hint that there might be a love story or at least a deep connection between Ash and Palladium.

Here are a few line-by-line things that caught my attention.

1.       Page 5, “It meant she didn’t need to feel bad about forgetting their names despite her mother’s gentle prodding.” I didn’t quite understand whose names – bureaucrats’?

2.       Island Jacaranda – is it the same island as mentioned in Prologue? It’s not clear.

3.       Page 6, paragraph 2: at first reading it confused me. It is clear from the previous paragraphs that something is not right with her wanting the defence job, though she was a soldier (already a contradiction in itself and intrigue as a result). Here she is not supposed to reveal she was a soldier, though every minister is a soldier in the past. And only then we find out that she is not supposed to remember that fact. It makes me wonder how in general they know that ministers are former soldiers if no one is supposed to remember? If that is explained later, I would still recommend to rephrase the paragraph and put it straight away that she wasn’t supposed to reveal she remembered she used to be a soldier.

4.       Page 8, “I’ve been around over twenty years and most of them have existed for less than five.” This is a lie Ash gives about her age, but it still made me wonder, are there no records? How do they know who is minister and who is not? Couldn’t she pretend to still be a soldier then if there are no records of her age? Do people simply fall out of the Calamity Ocean and keep going? They should be found by someone if they are babies. Or is it Ash’s hope that no one looks into the records (as she says later – but if she is under some suspicion, shouldn’t they look into her records? Shouldn’t Ash be checking Magnolia for reaction whether she saw through her lies?) It took me some effort to get into the whole age and reincarnation thing, but on the other hand in the country with thousands of ministers, things should be properly documented. Magnolia’s presence there is a proof to that. And then Ash’s lies wouldn’t work.

5.       Page 11, “Ash offered a numb nod. She should be ecstatic to find the real reason she volunteered to be a base overseer, but she never really expected him to be here. All she knew was that this time, she was going to save him.” I realise you probably meant that Ash didn’t mean to see him there on the beach, but the indefinite article before ‘base overseer’ made me wonder whether she volunteered for a specific base or a particular one, and if it was any base or she couldn’t choose, how could she be sure she was going to save the guy?

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You aren't kidding about a steep learning curve!

But overall, I'm enjoying this. It has great worldbuilding so far, and you have a nice hook (two really--one in the prologue and one in the first chapter!) to get us invested in the story.

I think I need to see maybe one or two more chapters, but I think the prologue works here. We see enough of its influences in the first chapter that it gives some insight with the steep learning curve and helps us jump up to where there characters are in a completely new world that works differently than we know.

Overall, looking forward to the next entry!

Notes while reading:

pg 1: "sitting on the ocean’s edge as little boys"
--nice! It's a cool backstory and sets up a trans character nicely.

pg 1: "After leaving this planet and ascending to the throne"
--okay, that's a lot to unpack.

pg 2: "Do you remember the connectedness principle of aggression?”
--Two queer characters--excellent. But yes, this is definitely dense material!

pg 3: "used to make barriers..."
--trying to keep up with what's going on here...

pg 3: "Sunset Water kept spilling out, and is engulfing the entire galaxy"
--okay...fairly lost but still reading.

pg 3: "off-chance one of us ended up on the throne"
--There are a lot of cool hooks in this prologue, but it is very dense and confusing. I'm wondering how much all this is sort of acting as a gimmick promising revelations?

pg 5: "300 Years Later"
--okay...that definitely fulfills the purpose of a prologue. I usually don't like them, but I think this one might work? I'll have to see the first few chapters to make a decision.

pg 5: "she had been reborn from the Calamity Ocean as one of them"
--I'm sensing a theme with water and rebirth here...

pg 6: "her spirit being funneled back into a baby."
--theres...a LOT going on in this paragraph.

pg 10: I really like the worldbuilding through here. It's very unique! Bodyswapping far future magic/tech.

pg 11: "All she knew was that this time, she was going to save him."
--good hook!

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This is a very interesting story, and great worldbuilding! 

I'm not the best at knowing if prologues work, because I love them, but I will say that the interpersonal relationships in this kind of threw me. I get why you have everything the way that it is, but it was really hard to follow at first. Complicated, and I'm expecting somewhere in the novel all of these relationships are going to have a bigger role, otherwise I think you could simplify this. (I am a little heartbroken at the rift between brother and sister, but that's me- ha ha!)

Page 4- The S W You said it was like talking to a person.” - I think maybe given how chapter one shows us where life its after this calamity it might be useful to have a little better understanding of how it all works from the prologue. It's very vague. 

Some thoughts on chapter 1- is A working against this SC? Does she agree with it? Not agree? I like the set up for this, but I'm a bit confused on where she stands. 

Page 10- Before long, A saw a child running away from a monster made of C C.- I thought for sure A was going to be in trouble with M for running off to fight the spider. Or that this was some sort of test to prove she was a soldier in a minister body? Should A be running off to save the child or is she getting herself in trouble? 

Sorry to be short this week, but I read through it will very little things that kicked me out. Great job!

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  • 2 months later...

“…the waves crashing on warm sands…” I was briefly confused as the first sentence stated they were in a room. Maybe a quick addition to this sentence to show G is looking out (I presume) a window or patio door?

“a pang of his own guilt” as opposed to who else’s guilt?

P2 “Which isn’t your fault” I’m really curious to know how L is reacting to the things G is saying, aside from just her dialogue. I’m getting the impression from G that this confession is a really big deal, but not at all getting that from L’s reactions so far. Is she concerned or trepidatious abut what G is building up to? If not, does that make it easier or harder for G to keep going? Etc.

“…the way he crushed revolutions and left entire planets in poverty” – curious as well about G’s conflicting feelings here. G married someone who was apparently a terrible person for a political alliance, but also loved him?

P3 “…she could tell where this was going.” Details! I mean, yes, another hint about where this is going would be helpful at this point, I think – I’m still in the same “this is going to be bad but I have no idea what it is” place I was at on page one – but mostly, I’m wondering: how is L reacting to this? Is she taking it better than G expected? Worse?

“SW kept spilling out…”  Now we’re getting into specifics, but I don’t actually know what SW and the SD are or what they do, so I don’t understand the implications here. “

“…her body was frozen stiff.” This is the kind of context clue I’m looking for! More please.

P4 “It didn’t matter that he was desperate to find any solution to the killing done…” Okay, I am having trouble squaring L’s very matter-of-fact reaction (and G’s presentation of in the first couple pages, for that matter) with her sudden anger at the apparent calamity G has created with the SW.

“Kill me. You know I deserve it.” IT’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is, but this feels like it … escalated really quickly? I think it’s maybe the lack of emotional cues and context up to this point.

P5 I like the sentiment of the first sentence as a hook but stumbled a bit on the phrasing.

P6 “…but for A to remember her previous life was strange.” I like the setup, but if I’m interpreting this right and they’re usually reborn as entire new people and A is a (the only?) break from this pattern, this seems almost understated?

“A minister shouldn’t have any interest in going to the beach…” Meaning that they shouldn’t want to go or that they shouldn’t care if they do? But I’m also getting lost here in tracking who is how old when they’re reborn as what. The thing I’m most curious about is what the calamity actually is.

P7 “It is … troubling that someone volunteers to lead a defense base.” Why? This seems very strange to me. Unless it has to do with the earlier line about the horrors of fighting, in which case, maybe hang a lantern on it?

                Edit: never mind, I see you do this a paragraph or so down.

P8 “That was your first good retort… I’ll make note of that.” Um, why does M need to make note of A’s zippy one liners? Even in the context of what appears to be overbearing surveillance. There’s something about the setup here that I’m still not understanding.

M seems to have disappeared from the beach during the struggle with the crystal spider.

Overall:  A good start to a new work! I think the prologue works pretty well. The biggest thing I wanted there was a better sense of more emotional cues and escalation, which could be as simple as putting just a little more focus on how people are reacting to what’s being said, what their bodies are doing, etc.

The first chapter has a few interesting things that could serve as hooks but I feel a bit like I’m drowning in all the information that is presented without quite having enough to know what any of it means. I think that knowing a bit more about the ocean and how it works would be really helpful to appreciate the interesting things that seem to be happening re: rebirth etc etc. The first and second halves of the chapter also gave me different senses of what the book would be about – in the first half of Ch1, I assumed that it would be about A trying to fit in and hide/figure out why her rebirth was different while the base was being defended. The second half suggests that she came here deliberately to save a specific person. Both are interesting hooks and I think both can happen at once, but I wonder if there is a way to make these two ideas feel a little more integrated.

Incidentally I am assuming that one or both of the people from the prologue will be/have been reborn out of this mess, though I’m not willing to place bets yet on whether that will be an explicit plot point…

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