First Impact: ROGUE PRINCESS by J.J. DeBenedictis

We've got one last First Impact submission for September! This might be the last critique for which I offer a monthly prize so remember: anyone who shares their thoughts in the comments is eligible to win $10 for Amazon/B&N or a 20-page critique from me. Your comment doesn't have to be long, just useful!

And I will still take First Impact submissions as they come in. So if you want a critique, send it to Details here.

Huge thanks to J.J. DeBenedictis for submitting the query for her novel, ROGUE PRINCESS. If you don't already know, J.J. runs her own excellent query critiquing/rewriting blog. You may recall she helped make my own query successful. I'm more than happy to return the favor!

Remember all this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it. Any in-line comments are to the right, overall thoughts at the end.

Query Letter
I don't imagine necromancers with
mustaches so much, but otherwise
I love this opening.
Everyone thinks necromancers are moustache-twirlers in goth make-up and disturbing wardrobe choices. But really, they're more like Wynne--a considers himself sensitive and friendly young man who. He sees his job less as magically wrangling souls and more as offering comfort and closure to the bereaved.

The 2nd half of this sentence feels
cliche and vague to me.
So when the king tries to kill Wynne to hide the fact the queen has been murdered and reanimated, it thrusts the necromancer into a world of intrigue and violence he has no capacity for.

I'm unsure of the meaning of the
highlighted bit here.
To save his life, Wynne shimmies escapes down a drainpipe and joins the Rogues' League, a military company that offers sanctuary to criminals in exchange for service to the crown. Unfortunately, Wynne's plan to then enlist the help of the warfront necromancers disintegrates. The queen's continued un-life is weakening the walls between worlds, and Wynne's peers are too busy stopping angry souls from creeping onto the battlefield as walking dead to help Wynne crowbar the queen back out of her corpse.

I'm not sure "bigotry" is the right
term here. It makes me hate the
princess more than I think is
In fact, the only person willing to help him is the bigotry-driven princess (also hiding out in the Rogues' League) who murdered the queen in the first place. Unfortunately, her bigotry mainly consists of hating she hates anything to do with necromancy, and Wynne isn't sure this is an alliance he can survive.

"The walls between worlds" feels
repetitive to me here.
But he has to. There's more at stake than the comfortable life he had planned. If Wynne doesn't break past the palace's security and re-kill the queen, the walls between worlds will tear, angels and demons alike will spill through to wreak havoc, and the dead will rise and begin to eat the living.

ROGUE PRINCESS is a 77,000-word fantasy that will appeal to readers who enjoy the dark humor and relentless action of Joe Abercrombie's novels or Richard Morgan's A LAND FIT FOR HEROES series. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Adam's Thoughts
This sounds like fun! I think the voice and Wynne's character comes through really well, and the plot sounds intriguing. I do want a more sadistic choice to leave me wanting more (I always do, don't I?), but I think this does a good job getting the story across. I think most agents would immediately be able to tell if this was the kind of story they were into.

One thing you do want to be careful of is wordiness. You can see I trimmed a lot, and I bet you could trim even more. There's plenty of great voice and word choice here that you can stand to streamline it without losing any of it (though even I'm rethinking cutting the word "shimmies" -- it's a great image).

What do the rest of you guys think? Would you read this?


Patchi said...

I like the premise, voice and conflict. I think this query really answers the question of what the book is about. But I felt it was a bit long.

You might avoid throwing people off with the first line, by exchanging the "Everyone" for something like "Those who think...never met Wynne."

I think you can streamline things by merging paragraphs 2 and 3. I would suggest taking out the vague part in paragraph 2 and going straight to how he escapes. And I like "shimmies" better than "escapes."

I agree that "the crown" threw me off, wasn't he running from the king? You don't mention the princess until later, so I would just cut the highlighted part.

Also, you say "unfortunately" twice, so I would pick one.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Eliza Tilton said...

I agree with your changes and add a few.

The necromancer description threw me. The description reminds me more of an eccentric mage than a necromancer.
I think you can cut that out and start right with your hook.

When the king tries to kill Wynne to hide the fact the queens been killed and reanimated, it thrusts the sensitive necromancer into a world of intrigue and violence he has no capacity for.

Now that's a story I want to read!

Steve MC said...

This does sound good, and I agree with all the parts you trimmed.

"Escapes" might be better than "shimmies," especially if you cut the phrase about saving his life, 'cause it shows what he's doing - escaping something. But "escapes down a drainpipe" could be read as he magically goes down it.

The only question I had was how in the Rogues' League they serve the crown, and the king's the one he's running from. But it sounds like the author knows what they're talking about, and has many things moving on many fronts, which sounds great.

It reminds me of Pratchett's Mort, where the kingdom starts to fall apart 'cause the princess wasn't killed (and yet isn't really alive), crossed with the grittier feel of The Black Company. Should be interesting, for sure.

Matthew MacNish said...

First, to answer your question, I would totally read this. It has just the the right balance of fantasy-awesome and tongue-in-cheekedness to whet my whistle.

Now, I do think all of Adam's comments are spot on. I definitely think this is a bit overwritten, but queries are hard, and it's easy to try to squeeze in too much.

My main problem here is focus. I sense like three different potential main conflicts, and I really don't think you need all that. Try to pare it down to:

- A character we can care about (I think you have this pretty well nailed)
- A main conflict that is both obvious and unique, and rife with tension (you have too many plot-lines here, methinks)
- A difficult choice, for which there is no easy answer

R.S. Bohn said...

I like the premise, and it doesn't sound like something I've read before -- which, considering how much I read, is a very good thing. I especially like the Rogues' League, a (literal?) underground company.

I agree with the suggested changes, which tighten it up. The only thing that threw me was the sudden mention of angels and demons, and the living dead. I understand necromancy, at least I thought I did, but this seemed to come out of nowhere and confused me. Perhaps a possible allusion to such things in the opening paragraph, where Wynne is described. I might've been better prepared for the mention later on.

All in all, interesting and exciting.

mshatch said...

I agree this sounds like fun, especially if it's anything like Joe Abercrombie. Excellent crit.

Myrna Foster said...

My only argument with Adam is that I think "shimmies" is more specific (provides me with a better image) than "escapes." Be careful not to lose your voice (which reminds me a bit of Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett).

But you can definitely make word choices that will tighten up your query. For instance, instead of saying "break past the palace's security," I'd replace "break past" with words like "circumvent" or "crush," and I'd use "king's" for "palace's." The king is your antagonist, isn't he? Keep it set up that way.

You could also be more specific about what makes an alliance with the princess dangerous. I'm confused about that point. Why did she kill the queen? That action says more about her than anything. Is there an ironic romance there? Why is she important enough to be in the query?

And hey, I'm not an expert on queries, so if my advice isn't helpful, blow it off. I'm hoping this one gets published, though. I'd like to read it.

jjdebenedictis said...

Woot! Thanks for the crit, Adam. I really appreciate it! I also really like all your suggestions and will definitely be re-jigging things to deal with your concerns.

And to all the commenters, thank you also! It's great to hear your reactions, you've also made some fantastic suggestions, and those who compared me to Pratchett really gave me the warm fuzzies in particular, since Pratchett is my hands-down favourite author. :)

Thank you, everyone!

The Dieselpunkette said...

I agree, it's a bit wordy, and pretty much all of the tidying up looks like it improves the flow. But it does look like it would be an exciting story, you definitely have a strong plot and premise.

The princess felt a little out of place somehow, though, partly that she's so instantly unlikeable, but there's nothing to clearly hook her into the story - no explanation of why she's with the Rogue's League, or why she'd be willing to help Wynne, and ends up feeling to me like she's been plopped in at random.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I do think it's a bit wordy in spots, but that's a good problem to have because it's an easy fix. I specifically had issues with "goth makeup" because that immediately made me think this was contemporary, but then by the end i wasn't sure.
BUT! I would definitely read this. It sounds right up my alley and i love that he has to rekill the queen.
Good luck!

Kristen Wixted said...

I have trouble with wordiness because I am easily confused. So...after a go over and another go over, I would say
-leave in "shimmies" btw
-I would like more of the humor and less of the synopsis. Paragraphs 3 and 4 are full of information but you've just set up a possibility for the most unlikely of heroes to save the day. I don't really care about the walls between the worlds-I want to know more about this Rogues' League. But you leave me with Wynne's plan to enlist...and I'm totally lost! Who did he enlist?

and then the princess part makes it even longer--maybe leave out the League and have more on his relationship with the princess?

I do write MG so my story lines are probably more simple, so keep that in mind. I like the idea of re-killing the queen--that's new to me.

The humor in this could be really fantastic by the way you've set it up, but I don't feel like it comes through in the query.

Hope this helps!

Nicole Zoltack said...

I vote to leave in shimmies. I would definitely reads this, it sounds like it would be right up my alley!

I kinda like the first line and kinda don't. I don't think of necromancers as having moustaches either. You could just say something as simple as Wynn isn't a typical necromancer--he's sensitive and friendly and enjoys offering comfort and closure to the bereaved. Just a thought.

Angela Brown said...

I would definitely read this. There are some things at stack if this rogue princess and necromancer can't get their act together and work together.

And I have to hide in the corner instead of off up a suggestion given I sort of like a bit of the wordiness...but that doesn't mean an agent would.