First Impact: MIST OF KAVALA by Carolyn Abiad

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where I take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start, and we're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

Remember, anyone who leaves a critique in the comments is eligible to win a 15-page critique from INCARNATE author, Jodi Meadows. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful.

This week we have a sci-fi query from Carolyn Abiad. Thanks for submitting, Carolyn! My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. Everything here is just my opinion. As always, your mileage may vary.

Dear Mr. (agent),

The 2nd sentence feels misleading to
me. I'm sure he feels responsible, but
I wouldn't say he is.
In the biodome of Kavala, fifteen-year-old Taner is a pacifist who worships the goddess Tyche, like the rest of his outcast family. No one suspects he’s responsible for his father’s violent death. The Shadowcloak’s fatal shot was meant for Taner, who was pocketing the thief’s artifact.

I like the term mods in this sense.
A mix of guilt and vengeance drives Taner to defy his creed and secretly train to fight the Shadowcloaks. He activates the artifact, hoping to find the thieves, but what he discovers is not a portal or a passage. The artifact mods things, literally changes them. Taner mods his weapon, an auto-aim scope appears out of thin air, and the action alerts Tyche’s rival god, Mithra.
I'm having trouble tracking which
god is which here.
Mithra’s Elite Guards give Taner a choice: follow Tyche from his prison cell, or use his instinctive military skills to capture Shadowcloaks with the Guard.

Whoops, you lost me here. This
sounds like a cool reveal, but in the
query you might need to keep it
At Guard boot camp, Taner follows a raiding thief into the Shadowcloak dome, and discovers nothing he knows is solid. Biodomes are holographic, driven by Mithra’s exploitive codes. Mods are part of the fight to control reality. And the Shadowcloaks once followed Tyche.

Clear stakes. Good.
If Taner doesn't stop Mithra’s manipulation, the Shadowcloaks and everyone he loves in Kavala will be destroyed.
Linking to your website is great, but
I doubt agents will be interested in
the background of your book.
MIST OF KAVALA is a 59,000-word YA science fiction novel. Kavala’s world rules draw on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing games, the mods that plague them, and the ancient military cult of Mithra. More information about the mythology in the book can be found at carolynsnowabiad (dot) com.

I believe you might like my YA sci-fi, MIST OF KAVALA (because).

Thank you for your consideration of my work.

Carolyn Snow Abiad
Women’s National Book Association
- Charlotte Membership Chair
SCBWI Member

Adam's Thoughts
This sounds like a cool world with a clear plot. I haven't actually played an MMORPG since 1989, but as a gamer I would totally read this.

I do think the query gets a bit confusing when it comes to the gods of the world. Part of that is I didn't realize the gods were actual characters until Mithra was introduced (usually gods are non-participants in a story), so I wasn't paying attention.

Actually, you might be able to skip mentioning Tyche entirely just to simplify it. Something like: "When a thief kills Taner's father, Taner leaves his family's pacifist religion, secretly training to fight the Shadowcloaks." But better, you know?

I like that even though the story is based on MMORPGs, it doesn't feel like a game-turned-novel. And who knows? You might find an agent who likes MMORPGs as well.

What do the rest of you guys think?


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I, too, found this a little hard to track (which, honestly, is how these games sometimes make me feel, so I was glad to see Adam have trouble with it too! LOL).

I'll just focus on the first paragraph: although "shadowcloak" is a pretty descriptive name, it felt jarring to me in the first paragraph to switch to that term without explanation. It had a "Oh yeah, a Shadowcloak shot my dad; I see those all the time." feel to it. It also was a little confusing - Taner's pocketing an artifact, but he's not a thief, the Shadow cloak is? In spite of Taner being a pacifist and feeling guilty about his dad's death, I'm not getting a sense of what drives him (we see that in P2 "guilt and vengeance"). I guess I would start there, guilt and vengeance in the first paragraph, unless the story starts with something else driving Tanner, and his father's death is the Inciting Incident. Then I would back it up and say, "Taner's biggest worry is passing his OWL exams in the biodome of Kavala, until a guild of theives known only as the Shadowcloaks, murder his dad. Only his family doesn't realize, Taner stole from the theives, and the fatal shot was meant for him." ... only, you know, accurate! :)

Steve MC said...

It sounds great, but a few places had me scratching my head.

Like I couldn't make sense of this line: The Shadowcloak’s fatal shot was meant for Taner, who was pocketing the thief’s artifact.

The Shadowcloak is the thief, or is it a weapon?

And when given a choice to "follow Tyche from his prison cell," I thought it meant follow her there, or follow her from there, not "follow" as in worship.

I didn't get "Mods are part of the fight to control reality" until I read how the book is about mods in videogaming. Which is cool, like hacks in the Matrix.

So altogether, it sounds really interesting. I've read a bit about Mithra, but don't know of any connection with Tyche. I guess you're unfolding your own myth, which is cool. :-)

Matthew MacNish said...

Carolyn is a friend of mine, so I can never remember whether I actually critted this on the blog, or only over at WOC.

Either way, I LOVE the premise, but I agree with Adam in that I still think the query needs work. It's a bit too much, a bit too unfocused, and ... it's hard to describe, but it's like each element is cool on its own, but they don't quite fit together well enough to form a cohesive query.

I think Adam's advise of less world detail, or more focus on the plot is absolutely sound.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I think that there are some really great things about this query, and other aspects that need work.
Overall, i will say it sounds intersting enough that i would check out pages, but there was a lot of confusion for me.
I didn't understand who the shadowcloaks were, which then confused the rest of the query for me.
And the "pocketing the thief's artifact" just lost me completely. I had no idea who the theif was and what this artifact was, etc.

I really think this query would work better if you just simplify more. Simpler is often better, even when you have a complicated plot and world.

But! Your stakes were clear and like i said before, even though i was confused about a lot, i'd still take a look at pages.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

I like this concept even though I am not a gamer in any sense of the word :) The only real video games I've invested any time in is Goldeneye 007 for XBox, DDR and PacMan!

Anyway, I agree with the comments above: I think I make these same mistakes in my query letter - I put in too much detail because I know the plot so well so it's hard to see how someone unfamiliar will be lost in the details.

For example, do you even have to mention that his family is outcast? I saw that in the first sentence and waited for its importance to surface later in the query but it didn't, leaving me confused.

Cut the unimportant details and focus on the main conflict. It will then leave you space to make the motivations clearer - for example: why does Taner steal the artifact in the first place? that's not clear.

So, I would start with Taner stealing the artificat and why. Then point out that this causes his father's death. This changes him, he trains to fight, discovers the powers of the artifact and then goes on a mission to stop the god from destroying his world. Try to leave out as many of the specifics about the gods and the warriors and the guards as possible.

Good luck with this and thanks for sharing. Critiquing someone else's query always helps me look at my own flawed one with fresh eyes :)

Victoria Dixon said...

I don't do role playing games and got lost fast. You could definitely say he worships the goddess of peace and we'll know a lot about him from that. You lost me at Shadowcloaks and "thief's" because I didn't immediately connect the two. I had to stop and realize they were the same. You could always say: "The Shadowcloak thief's fatal shot..." and at least make it clearer.
The world sounds fascinating and full of depth. Great job and I LOVE the inherent battle between violence and peace.
Also, having written something with ties to role playing games (yeah, I know, which I don't play), I sincerely hope this takes off! LOL

Deniz Bevan said...

Can't believe I missed this!
Hmm, I was a bit confused by the gods too - how could a god be locked in a cell?
On the other hand, I get the sense that the writer knows what she's talking about :-) Since I feel like I struggle with an authoritative voice, it's nice to read a query that has one. Taking out a couple of the names/new terms in order to simplify the flow would definitely help.