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Reading Excuses - April 9 - Yados - Death's Black Hand 2.0 Chapter 2 (L)


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This is Black Magic, Blacker Deeds with a new name and some different confines. If you've read that, you're set, just skip to chapter two. If you haven't, I provided the revised chapter one.

There have been several prologues attached to this project. None of them are here. I don't know what I'm doing about that yet. The story should stand on its own regardless.

Basically, I'm dusting this off to be published in NYU's genre fiction publication (even though I'm now an alumn) as a serial feature. The first chapter has already been published. What that means is that I have deadlines and pressure and those keep me working. So I'll be plowing forward on this project.

Thus, give me your feedback if you'd like on the first chapter, but it's out there now and there isn't much I can do. The second chapter has to be in by the 18th, so whatever timely consideration you could provide would be appreciated.

The real hurdle will be the third chapter, which is a mess. This one was mostly just trimmed down and de-whimsified.

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I will start off saying that I really enjoy your style of writing. It flows very nicely and works well drawing a scene that feels darker without being feeling depressing - ie Till is walking through the Barrow which is basically a depressing slum but the writing still has an almost "cheerful" wit.

That said I feel that Till was the only person in the Barrows. You do briefly mention other people (the hungry faced and the footpads) but it felt as if they really weren't there. There is no interaction with the world around him in the early parts of chapter two - He is walking down an empty street surrounded by empty houses etc. If this is what you wanted than great but I felt that the slums would be pretty populated.

My next thing is a little bit of a nit pick. You have a moment when you are talking about footpads - the wise and the unwise. I feel that the two examples should be switched - an observant footpad would notice more about the surrounds including the fact that Till's shadow wasn't normal while an unobservant one would focus merely on their target and change their mind based on the body language. I know, nit pick right?

(Also side note - I was getting really attached to the story UNTIL I saw the f-word. I don't know what it is but it creates a wall between the setting and me. I think "don't mess with me" would be any less powerful honestly).

I really did like the character Darvy but I got mixed signals about the whole tavern scene. On one hand you have this completely rundown, bottle-of-the-barrel place that before Till became "owner" actually had a clientele. I had an image of this patrons as similar to the tavern itself - back ally people that you wouldn't want to run into in a dark ally. Than juxtapose to them you have a barkeep that doesn't seem to have much of a spine.

I would either like to see Darvy with a little more backbone - OR - you could create a wonder dynamic between him and Roa. Him the owner her the muscle basically. I feel this could be done well with merely a line or two.

The next thing that threw me a bit about the tavern was - again - you have this rundown, bottle-of-the-barrel place yet it seems to serve fantastic ale. To me a place would serve whatever strong beverage it could brew and sell to its hardy clientele.

Two things came to mind to address this - One would be a quick line about Darvy's father's secret ale recipe that allowed the place to stay in business so long despite the location or you could have another link to the "Till loves the Barrows because its his home - warts, dung, spoiled ale and all."

I must say I loved reading the part about his drawings - I could picture every bit of it and it was fantastic until we got to Ayami and Surr - both of them draw complete blanks in my head (well Surr I see currently as a red blob). I feel that there isn't enough information to even start to picture either of them. Even without a lengthy description (please don't do I hate those) there isn't any cultural information to imagine them myself. Are the people mainly white/darker/skinny/tall/etc. This could be done by a brief line about Surr and a comparison of them as siblings - two birds on stone (or sentence).

My last thing is again a VERY SMALL nit pick. The line about Roa reading a book. I had an image of a haggish brute of a woman until that line and she turned into just an ugly girl. I think the image would be more consistent if she doing something like carrying a cask of ale up from the basement or something manual labor-ish.


Overall I really did enjoy the start of this story. In the future I would definitely like to see some part of Till's criminal background (why he was one - just for kicks / to get back at the elite / robinhooding etc). I also hope that there is some background to phrases and words that are used in your setting - ie the Remains (from ch 1) and the use of Death as someone/something that frequently is sworn to.

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Thanks so much for your feedback!

I'm glad you liked the style. I've realized that much of my efforts upon revising any work I do involves toning myself down when it comes to narrative voice. I'm trying to hit a good balance on the first go, but sometimes it gets away from me.

Good point on the depopulation of Barrow Muck. I originally had a sequence where a catastrophically unwise footpad tried to have a go at Till, but I ran into page limit problems and cut it out. Now that it's out, I should add some people, just in the description. I like the sequence though, I may include it in the 4th or 5th chapter.

Sorry that the instance of language was a problem for you. It probably won't make it into the final draft. I *did* put an "L" warning in the title.

Darvy and the ale are sort of fossils from the first version of this chapter, which played the discrepancy between the quality of the bar now that Darvy had the money to improve it and Till's expectation for the bar to be horrible as he liked it in the old days for more page-space. Without that set up, the ale being good makes less sense. Of course, in the original draft, Till is upset that the ale hasn't been watered down. I'll set it up, though probably in a different manner as I've shied away from the original angle.

I should describe Surr and Ayami, true. There was a prologue originally when I did that, but now it isn't here. I forgot.

And Roa's complicated. She's definitely the muscle (read "haggish brute of a woman"), but if that was all there was to her she wouldn't be as fun to write. I am a firm believer that we need more ugly people in fantasy.

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On the whole the chapter is not that much different, in terms of plot, than the previous iteration. Which is fine, since I liked the last iteration too, minus a couple of issues.

I’m glad you cut the first couple pages of info-dumping you had in the previous version, though the start of the chapter is still too much information for my tastes. Yes, it’s more streamlined, focussing on the district Till is in rather than describing the whole city, but it’s still two pages in which the only thing that Till does (or what happens to him) is that he walks down a street without anyone bothering him.

So, it’s better, but there’s more you can do with this. When describing the threatening atmosphere that Till has cultivated around him, you mention hypothetical footpads, where an actual ruffian would make it a stronger scene. Show instead of tell. For instance, Till notices someone coming out of a dark corner for him, the man sees him, sees Till’s distorting shadow and goes elsewhere. Now we see it happen rather than get told how it could have happened if there were ruffians around.

I see in your comment that you cut an actual ruffian due to page count constraints, but if I may make a suggestion I’d cut the first two pages of information and replace that with an actual encounter. To me that would be more interesting.

There were a couple of sentences that didn’t read well.

“what do want you... no good, soul stealing, conjuring fiend”

“But since Ayami’s death, since his rise to legitimate practice, Till did have the same patience for Surr.”

I think you meant “What do you want, you…no good, soul stealing, conjuring fiend”, and “Till didn’t have the same patience for Surr”.

The chapter gets better when Till enters the tavern, though I share Kartys’s problems with the Remains. It doesn’t completely mesh with it being a rundown place.

I liked Roa’s description, very evocative, but I miss an age-component. I’m guessing she’s middle-aged, but I don’t know for sure.

The drawing scene worked really well for me, it shows depth to Till’s character.

Surr I cared less about, but maybe that will change in the coming chapters.

The last thing, and I believe I griped about this in the last iteration as well, is the would-be assassin. So far he’s the worst assassin ever. Unless you’ve changed much about the next chapter I know the reason for this, but at present the assassin’s incompetence feels jarring. After building up Surr’s dangerous reputation as well as that of Till and his tavern it’s improbable anyone would send an amateur after Surr. Having him there doesn’t feel right.

On the whole I liked the chapter and I can definitely see the improvements over the last version.

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I'm going to agree with Asmodemon that this version is nicer than the last one. Actually, I'm just going to agree with Asmodemon about everything he said, and move on to a few other things I noticed.

The introduction to the Rat's Remains was off to me. Actually, the paragraph before it, where you say "There it was-- Vern's end. The Everlasting Wall. Death, but it was a depressing sight. This far from the cities center, you couldn't see the sun if you tried. Not at midday in summer." Based on my previous read of the chapter, I was expecting to get to the tavern, and at this point I read Vern's End as the tavern name. Then I thought The Everlasting Wall was the tavern name. Now, both of those reactions are at least partially due to me knowing what to expect, so a first-time reader may not have that problem, but you might want to be sure it that part is clear, because you're introducing three different place names in just two paragraphs.

The description of the drawing of the she lion caused me some confusion, probably due to the earlier descriptions of the dragon in chapter one. The impression I was left with was that all the creations would be too difficult to do in large form, so when the she-lion was described as not being any taller than Cern, I had to reassess my earlier impression. It wasn't much, but it did distract me from the story a little bit.

I kind of miss the part about wanting the ale watered down. Perhaps Till could think about it wistfully, while still appreciating the taste of this one? Alternately, I thought the last part of the byplay between Surr and Till with the ale (Till turning his tankard upside down) was unnecessary, but I can see why you might want to keep it in to further illustrate the relationship between the two.

When the two are talking about liking each other, I get a little confused who's talking. Part of it is the paragraph breaks, where you have Surr speaking and Till shrugging his shoulders in the same paragraph, where I would expect them to be different paragraphs. That makes me not sure on which person is speaking next, although I went back and tried to logic out that it must be Till.

Finally, the assassin at the end. I agree with Asmodemon here (didn't I mention that?) about the obviousness of the assassin. I might suggest that, although it may be a touch less dramatic, perhaps Surr could merely say that somebody is trying to have him killed, rather than assassinated. It would seem to cover a slightly wider range of possible people being hired, including a somewhat incompetent foreigner who didn't know what he was getting himself into. Especially if the next happenings with the would-be killer (assuming that part of the plot hasn't changed) are done to him without his knowledge.

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