First Impact: SHADOWCATCHERS by Kimberly Callard

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. 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 offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have the query for an upper-MG fantasy from Kimberly Callard. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Query Letter
At only 14 years old Zane Blackthorne is the youngest Shadowcatcher on the force. He's also the best. He has to be. The ridiculous amount of gold he earns hunting down tax evaders is the only thing keeping him from ending up back in the slums where he was raised. And he'd rather eat a Narcow than end up back there.

Zane thinks he's hit the jackpot when the Empress commissions him to collect the shadow of a political opponent. Sure, she threatens to sic bounty hunters on him if he fails, but that doesn't scare Zane. He's too good to fail. At least, he is until a rat-faced urchin named Meescha gets in his way.

A victim of the Shadowcatchers herself, Meescha shows Zane what happens to those who can't afford to buy their shadows back. Most become husks of their former selves, withering away with agonizing slowness; the rest die instantly, their lives snuffed out like street lamps at dawn. Haunted by the faces of the suffering shadowless, Zane must make a choice: continue living in luxury as the Empress's enforcer or quit do the right thing and spend what's left of his life hiding in the slums with a target on his back.

I believe agents assume it's a
multiple submission.
SHADOWCATCHERS is a 48,000-word Upper MG fantasy told from two viewpoints: Zane's and Meescha's. I am submitting it to you because (insert personalization here). Please note it is a multiple submission.

I am an associate member of SCBWI.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Adam's Thoughts
There is a LOT of good here. Stakes and voice in the intro. Inciting incident in the 2nd paragraph. Sadistic choice in the 3rd. It's almost as if you've been reading my comments to the others, Kimberly.

The only comment I have is a nitpick about the choice. It's sadistic all right, but I kind of know what he's going to pick, and I'm curious about where the story goes after that. He doesn't hide in the slums, so what does he do? What's his new goal?

All that to say I feel like there's more story here. Honestly, this is probably good enough to garner requests, but if you wanted to improve it, that's the direction I'd go (but not too far in that direction, lest the query get too long, aye?).

What do the rest of you think?


Steve MC said...

In the first line I thought a Shadowcatcher was a ghost hunter or something. Then the mention of tax evaders made me think it was slang for just that, before the next paragraph explained it's just what it says. Maybe others won't get confused, or it works with that mystery, but it did have me puzzled at first.

Also thought the part about hiding didn't have as much drama as it might, in that he's not out to change anything. It could work, though, and the "target" line shows there will be plenty of action.

Just read Adam's comments, and yep, right with him. And cool names, too.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Love it. Want to read it.

That's pretty much all I've got. (Except that it sounds like an MG version of this Debt Collector future-noir I'm writing... which makes me want to read it EVEN MORE. My kids would die to read something like this.)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

p.s. Kimberly - when this gets published, I would love to have you on my blog to promote it! (yes, when... I have a high degree of confidence in this story. :))

Joshua McCune said...

Terrific query. I disagree with Adam's change to 'do the right thing' because it implies moral unambiguity, which I think limits the stakes. That being said, 'quit' could use a bit more punch. Perhaps something along the lines of 'give up everything he knows' but in a more specific way (would he lose his family, not be able to provide for them, etc).

Either way, terrific query.

Matthew MacNish said...

This is pretty close to perfect, as far as I'm concerned.

Patchi said...

Great query. I love the third paragraph. I would word the choice as: continue living in luxury as the Empress's enforcer or []spend what's left of his life hiding in the slums with a target on his back. No need to imply what the decision is. Neither sounds good and I want to know what he does.

K Callard said...

Wow. Thanks everyone for the comments.

Susan, I'm flattered, and I'll definitely remember your offer when the time comes. It might be a while, though, I'm still working on revisions.

Matthew, I'm so glad you approve - I went and read pretty much every entry at QQQE before starting to write the query.

Patchi, I like your wording. Thanks for the input.

Melissa said...

Wow, this is an amazing query. It is intriguing and makes me wish it was published already. I got a little query envy going on, you make it look so easy. I think you have very strong writing skills. I'll be looking for you on the shelves. :)

K Callard said...


Thanks, Melissa. :D

Adam Heine said...

"I went and read pretty much every entry at QQQE before starting to write the query."

That's the way to do it, Kimberly! It shows :-)

Matthew MacNish said...

Well there you go. You just leveled up your awesome.

The Dieselpunkette said...

pretty much all good, same as Adam said, imho. I did get a bit confused over the connection between tax evaders and shadows - I first thought that shadows must be a world specific slang word for tax evaders. You might see if you can rephrase things to make it clearer.