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2/1/16 - Eisenheim - On Falcon's Wings - 6463 words


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If you've read Max Gladstone's craft sequence, it will make sense when I tell you that this story was inspired by my reading of it.  No worries if you haven't.  As usual, I'm interested in Mary Robinnette's beta questions: what confused you, what didn't you believe, what was wonderful.  

I'm particularly interested in this one about he amount of exposition/world detail, whether it's good, too little or too much, and the relatability and believability of the characters.
Thanks to everyone for reading.
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Personally for me there was too many name drops to follow in the first paragraph.  It helps me to latch on to one name and be like ok thats the place and some details... ok thats a person and some details etc.  Not sure if everyone felt that way but there was about 5 names with no substance to them.  Maybe add more description so I can picture/differentiate them in my head. I found the second paragraph to be much smoother and could even be switched with the second for a softer intro.  Just my perspective though interested to hear what others say.


I enjoyed the imagery of a light god trapped in a prison of reflections and the idea of going into a wasteland to capture gods.  I do think the story might benefit from the female character being a little more out of the loop and awed by what is happening.  I did not really feel fear at any point for either character when getting chased by jackals or confronted by gods.  


The lovers tension between them was also very believable for me and I liked that you kept referencing the subtle glances/touches.  


So I guess what I am looking for is more fear/peril.  Yes, god is dead but I didn't hear about any children starving or towers falling.  Yes, the character got hurt but I wasn't really that worried about them.  I liked how Alssia was viewing Idris being confident or timid to the different demons but I didn't have the "this thing might rip his face off feel" despite the threats.   Everything seemed kind of usual run of the mill type day in god hunting land.  Maybe include an anecdote of the last person who tried to catch a demon and got ripped to pieces?


Was fun to read and I look forward to hopefully reading more.  Sorry if my comments were unhelpful this is my first stab at critique.

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P1 - "the day was braking" - breaking

P2 - "Idris was sweating before they had left the border" - Feels like we've hopped into Idris' POV here.

P2 - "and she like looking" - liked

P2 - The devils pleading for tribute is a wonderful bit of worldbuilding, as compared with what we know about how people catch gods. I liked this and was immediately curious to know more.

P3 - From "Run. Now." to the end of the next paragraph, you use "now" 4 times.

P3 - "along the ride behind" - ridge

P4 - "keep he hold" - her

P8 - When Idris hits the jackal, does he do it with his fists?

P8 - "One came at her on the left." - This paragraph is a mess, and I had a very hard time following the action.

P9 - "The breath went out of him" - This isn't something Alssia can know, feels like another pov shift.

P10 - "noticcably" - Too many "c"s

P14 - "she should have be terrified" - been


You may want to change the name of the dark-skinned man named Idris, because I saw Idris Elba all the way through and it took me out of the story somewhat.


The first paragraph is a heavy read, with a lot of details thrown at once that I knew right away I wasn't going to remember. Maybe cut a few names to introduce them later, and make sure you hit the ones you do present here often enough so that they can be remembered into paragraph two and beyond.

And after telling us the names and responsibilities of everyone else, dropping in Idris without telling us who he is or what he does makes it impossible to know why he's with Alssia.


I found their trip a little too easy, particularly where it comes to the cost of the magic involved. I assume some amount of magic was involved in Idris speaking to the demon that then turned on its servants. This took out a serious threat and seemed to have taken very little effort. I guess I'd like to have seen Idris need to sacrifice something to achieve it, or have you explain why he didn't lead with that maneuver.


All in all, I enjoyed it, but my final thoughts are that the whole thing seemed fairly easy. That they should be able to send out two humans to trap a god in less than a day seems odd, unless you show us that the gods (or demons) are everywhere. I know they need to find a specific type, but I didn't feel like we saw enough of the others. There was the stone lion, and the fire one which responded first to the idol, and a mention that the jackals were demon-enhanced or something, but I would have liked to have seen more of them along the way, even if they were ambivalent towards the humans.


I enjoyed the ending, and that the two of them will find some measure of togetherness in sharing god duties, but you dropped the ball on a promise in my opinion. Alssia mentions that Qadim had changed, and that Idris would change as well. In the moment where she took it upon herself to finish binding the demon, I thought we would get to see Alssia and Idris change as well, but we didn't. Not even a hint of how things might be different.


Good stuff. Needs a bit of work in some places, but a compelling story overall,

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I have to sum up, because I’ve gone on a bit much, sorry!


I find your frequent use of a double ‘and’ in lists distracting and unnecessary. Often, especially where the last term in the list is an opposite and designed to have an impact, I think you lose that impact and the flow of the phrase, by introducing ‘something and something and something’.


It’s an interesting story, I like the set up and the characters. Some of the mechanics seemed a bit off to me, like the fight with the jackals, where they seemed to attack one at a time, and the severity of the wounds, which seemed a lot worse at the time, but then didn’t appear to have much effect afterwards.


My biggest plus is your handling of the relationship / attraction between Alssia and Idris, which I thought was excellent. “I never needed you to be stronger.” – superb line. This is the kind of perceptive comment about a relationship between two people that goes deeper than the superficial fluff. I think a lot of writers think it’s enough to tell the reader that there is attraction between two characters, but this sort of comment encourages the reader to think more deeply about what attracts two people, and that a relationship is much, much more than a writing device.


I think that the story loses impact from a complication of certain scenes. The fight with the jackals was too long for me, and I think you could trim a lot of the writing in the edit. There are places it could be much more direct. I bet you could get down under 5,500 words just by streamlining the language and making it more direct / better flowing.


The climax of the story is excellent, surprising yet inevitable I would say. Even at the last moment, I thought she was going to capture the demon/god, so when they did it together it was very satisfying, and neatly resolved their relationship 'troubles'. Plenty of tension and conflict, cleverly resolved. Great job though, especially with the characters.




Diving into the detail...


He lay in in the temple


Alssia was not surprised to be chosen.” I thought at first Alssia had been chosen as the new god, only at the end of the paragraph did I realise she had been sent to find the new god.


It was a maze of flutes and chimes” – I'm not sure about ‘maze’.


The wastes turned hot quickly” – to me this sounds like the wastes change, whereas it’s actually Alssia and Idris reaching the hot part of the wastes, as in ‘Inland, the wastes were hot.’


She needed to focus on keeping them safe, and finding a way through the wastes so that Idris could catch a god, not on his eyes and his smooth skin” – a bit disjointed.


She put her hand to the amulet” – I would say ‘Put her hand on’ or ‘Raised her hand to’ – for low.


He startled at her voice and struggled to focus on her face. She almost laughed. He looked like an owl startled from its burrow into unaccustomed sunlight.” Repetition of ‘startled’.


Idris sweated and puffed


safe from hunting beasts too


sunk into the dust and sea” – don’t think you need it, more dramatic and smoother without.


and speed urgency would make them follow instead of gathering the rest for a sure kill” – speed is not a reason in itself. It’s really ‘the need to catch them quickly’ or something like that. I thought urgency was closer to that.


blood and spirit and treasure” – you use the multiple ‘and’ construction a lot. I like it occasionally, but I think that's three times averaging once per page. I'm starting to get irked by it.


three coming along the ride ridge behind” – I presume.


chains of coins and hacked and broken silver and copper” – it really loses its effect when used so much.


sipping lightly at their spirits” – excellent phrase, very sinister.


mouth and eyes and cracked skin” – really, I would urge you to cut down on this a fair bit, it’s very noticeable. You never seem to use conventional list construction of a comma between items.


lead raider” – suggest ‘leader’ for flow.


ankle and knee and hip” – It’s not just the repetition of what starts to feel like a gimmick or tick, but it’s actually slower to read. ‘Ankle, knee and hip’ trips out better, it think, certainly in moments of urgency such as this.


keep her hold” – her hold, but think it’s smoother without it – sorry, I'm getting over picky.


I like your description of the stone demon, its manifesting and its threat – nicely done. I enjoy it carving stairs as well. It’s not quick, but it has a kind of sickening inevitability to it. The raiders will continue to pursue.


and readied her sling again


The raiders’ laughs and taunts


She went, taking the lead again.” – I realise you're connecting this with the last sentence, but I didn’t get it at first. “Alssia took the lead again” would be smoother.


I enjoyed the way Idris took charge of the situation and turned the demon on his acolytes. That was unexpected, but I wasn’t bothered about the lack of foreshadowing. It was good also to see him being capable, although I had no reason to doubt that he’d done a good job with the god trap, seeing him in combat was good. It’s harder to


There was a trouble though” – Why not ‘a problem’?


You don’t know what you’re doing” – he did more than alright with the stone demon. I'm not sure I believe her when she says this.


how stubborn he could be


He broke a branch from one of the lonely Cypresses(?)


She could be lost if he still Her loss was bearable if found a god for them” – avoids the repetition of still in the next line.


the urge to give them some malevolent intelligence that was toying with her and Idris was strong, but they showed not real sign of it.” – I find the writing rather wordy in places, but if it’s still an early-ish draft, I can understand that. I'm confident you could get it under 6,000 words without losing anything important from the story. For example “behind rocks and trees and kept her from preventing another easy cast


She tried to relax, tried to be the serpent, cool, loose, coiled ready for her prey to come in reach” – great line.


broke off in the final yard” – that's the last step for animals that big, seems unlikely – five yards?


Its partner her high and her leg buckled in earnest” - ??


had a black mask on the left side of its face” – I don’t know what this is.


Idris’ (or Idris’s) scream boiled along her limbs


Alssia seems here to be fighting one jackal. What are the others doing? I can’t believe Idris is holding them all back. The mentioned that they were attacking in unison, however it sounds here more like they are attacking one at a time as dumb henchman always do so conveniently in the movies.


Also, Idris seems to have no defence in this situation, so I'm struggling to figure why the jackals haven’t ripped him to bits by now.


She had seen his eyes when the jackal went for her, and that made it easy to imagine what he had seen in hers” – nice line.


He stood there, staring at her, so full of pride, so eager, so much like the young warriors and the huntsmen, beautiful and fierce and foolish” – okay, I'm going to worry this point some more, sorry! I think ‘beautiful, fierce and foolish’ has more impact than your double ‘and’. Missing the first ‘and’ in the conventional listing style, places the first two terms right next to each other, linking them more closely, so when the third opposite term comes, it has more impact. Rather than that, I think the unconventional form, which I think is less easily interpreted, will distract many readers. I picked this one out because I thought it was a great line until I got to the double ‘and’.


I never needed you to be stronger.” – superb line. This is the kind of perceptive comment about a relationship between two people that goes deeper than the superficial fluff. I think a lot of writers think it’s enough to tell the reader that there is attraction between two characters, but this sort of comment encourages the reader to think more deeply about what attracts two people, and that a relationship is much, much more than a writing device.


It wrapped him from shoulder to hip like a cage of bone and silver” – it’s much bigger than I pictured up to this point, was it folded up before?


Idris looked at her, with his eyes pleading, for forgiveness or something she could not guess, in his eyes” – the ordering of the phrases in some sentences is a bit weird to me, splitting up phrases to introduce – e.g. this one.


clenched his jaws” – he’s only got one jaw.


It spoke from the idol like a choir of glass tongues and metal teeth” – super line, I'm really enjoying the encounters with the demons and Idris use of the idol. This is a good climax to the story.

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Thanks to Robinski and Shrike for those line edits.  I'll see you many lines are still there once I've done to bigger stuff.  I think I'm going to keep Idris as a name, partly because I do want at least one name that immediately flags the characters people of color.  I imagine the whole thing as ancient north-african Mediterranean coast, and the name is an easy way to signpost that.


I'm doing a first pass today, so maybe next week or the one after I'll have another draft.

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As a general note, you're not mostly going to see a Sandersonian level of magic system detail from me.  I like things a little more mysterious and a little less physics-like.


I quite enjoy this approach, and think you handled it well in this particular story.

Out of curiosity, was this in response to the paragraph of mine where I stated it felt like the trip was too easy? Because if so I can clarify what I meant.

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Okay, because by "cost something" I didn't mean that I necessarily needed to see him pull mana from the mountains or swallow a piece of silver or something. I enjoy the magic realism approach where some things just are the way they are as a natural order of things. I really enjoyed the mirrors and the winds and the trapped Gods and such.

I meant that if he had the ability to force the demon to turn on its servants, then it needed to be clear why he waited so long to pull off that trick because he let it go so long that Alssia got hurt because of it. It came across to me as being an extremely easy thing to do for him, so I wondered why he didn't just do it right away, and "because it costs him something he's reluctant to give up" is the most common answer to that particular question. And if there is no cost, then I'd still like to know why he chose not to do it right away.

Edited by Shrike76
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I think everyone has covered the relevant points so far, so I don't have too much to add.  I really enjoyed this and it definitely reminds me both of Gladstone's books and of Pratchett's Small Gods.


Like everyone else, I got confused by the first paragraph, especially between Belhadid and Belmaladh the first time around.  After that it smooths out.


I'll second that the fight with the jackals was too long.  With less detail it might actually flow better.


As to it being too "easy," I didn't think so while reading, but looking through the comments, I can see that.  I was thinking that Alssia's leg wound didn't slow her down enough.  Two days seems like a short time to tame a god, but this is also a very god/demon rich world, so I can see how that would be the norm.


I loved the gods you showed, especially the stone lion and the demon cult around it.  The ending worked for me.  I was originally thinking the female god would come between Idris and Alssia, but then you turned it around.  Cool.  To Robinski's point, if you were to add a little bit to the end you could show how they changed by hosting the god, but I was fine with the story as it was.  The main theme was the relationship between the two and I think you nailed it.



Some grammar notes:


pg 2: "and she like looking."



pg 2: "She almost laughed"



pg 7: "but they showed not real sign of it."

--no real sign


pg 8: "the Jackal’s neck "

--capitalized Jackal

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- Love the opening line.


- I also couldn't help but think of Idris Elba.


- I like the revelation that these are no ordinary jackals, to up the threat level. 


- I felt the ending seemed a little abrupt. I wanted to see more of both characters, not just Alissa.


- Overall, I liked the mythic feel of this story, as well as the fast-paced action. I just needed a little more meat in the ending - perhaps some more interaction between the lovers. 

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First off, I really liked the sequence of events toward the end, with Idris summoning the different wind spirits.  I loved the magic, the explanation of how the demons are born and how they become proper gods.  I loved the exchange between Idris and the spirits, and I could feel the grandeur of the spirits as they spoke in about who they were and what their virtues were.  I also liked the part where we get Alssia's internal commentary on the demons/gods, particularly the part where she compares Bash-Irem's virtues of justice and retribution to Siad Amak's careful and cautious nature.  The exchange with both the desert wind demon and Bash-Irem inspired a real sense of awe and wonder, which in my opinion was the real high mark for this story.  The ending line was also great.


That said, I didn't get the same sense of wonder and awe from the beginning.  The first few pages read more like a prologue, feeling more like summary than scene.  This may have been the intent, but I had a real struggle trying to understand the world based on that "prologue."  It felt very abstract to me.


The entire introduction, Siad Amak didn't feel like an entity that existed in the world, he felt more like an abstract idea.  Even though the first page described a battle between Siad Amak and a bull, I couldn't really paint a mental picture of what was happening.  What does this god look like?  Is he a "super-human," a 7-foot man with incredible strength and powers, or is he a majestic 30-foot monstrosity who towers over entire armies?  Is the bull also some kind of "god" or supernatural being with god-like powers?  By the time I got to the end of the first chapter, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what the gods were, and what their role in the world was, but I felt mostly in the dark during the story's intro, and even now I couldn't tell you exactly how big Siad Amak is--I assume that he's a bipedal man, but I'm not too sure of even that.


I was also initially confused about Alssia's role in the story at first.  Her name is dropped in the first sentence, but here's the place where I first became aware of Alssia as a character:




Belmaladh needed a new god.


Alssia was not surprised to be chosen. She was the best of the hunters, swift and silent...


At this point, I'm thinking, "Oh, Siad Amak was the god of Belmaladh, he needs to be replaced, and so Alssia was chosen to replace him.  She must be some kind of goddess of the hunt, like Artemis."  I made it several paragraphs past this before I realized that Alssia wasn't a goddess herself; she was a "regular" person on a mission to capture a new god.


I presume that the intended viewpoint is third-person limited, from Alssia's point of view.  With that in mind, this line feels like a viewpoint break:



His eyes unfocused again, thinking of gods and demons and the binding instead of the ground under him.

How does Alssia know what Idris is thinking about?


I feel like pronouns were used a bit too liberally.  I was never mislead or confused by what was going on (being that all the female pronouns must be Alssia, and all the male pronouns must be Idris), but there was a point at which I actually forgot Alssia's name, there are places where we go for entire pages without ever reading her name.  There's no "hard and fast" rule for this, but generally I'm fine with seeing someone's name the first time they appear in a paragraph, and then after that they can be "he" or "she" for the rest of the paragraph.  Otherwise, you get confusing paragraphs that start like this:



Idris gasped.  She rolled up to look over the edge.

I know that Idris is a dude, so "she" in the second sentence must be referring to Alssia, but this did force me to do a double-take and pulled me out of the story.


On a similar note, I think I could have benefited from seeing more dialog tags.  I don't mind seeing the word "said."  This exchange in particular forced me to do a double-take and re-read multiple times to make sure I was understanding what was going on:




“Are you all right? Did he hurt you?”


“Not worse than I already am. Did you mean to call that…thing?”


“It doesn’t work that way.” He looked hurt and stepped back half a pace. “The idol calls spirits that fit. I made a prison for the wind, but any wind can feel the pull.”


If I understand correctly, the dialog goes: Idris, Alssia, Idris.  But there's nothing in the first two lines of dialog to indicate who is saying them.  I inferred it based on context (based on the fact that the last line is spoken by Idris, and it must be a back-and-forth exchange, and also it makes sense for Idris to be expressing concern for Alssia at this moment rather than the other way around).  This issue could be fixed simply by ending the first line with "said Idris."



Overall, I loved the world and the magic, the interaction between the human characters and the demons/gods was great, I think the huntress/priest relationship is an interesting one and it made me want to keep reading.  There were some mechanical issues that kept me from getting really into the story until I was fully in the "swing of things," and a few places where things like syntax left some room for doubt, but I think those are relatively easy fixes.  I struggled a bit with the introduction, and this felt like a bit of a "slow burn" to me for early on, but I think things really got paid off in the end.

Edited by Kuiper
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