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L Marrick
November 15th, 2011, 05:09 PM
This is the first half of the first chapter of my YA novel. I'd love to get some impressions, to hear what's interesting and what's dull. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated, especially constructive crit. Thanks!


CHAPTER I: THE WALLS OF ARELATE ARE THERE FOR MY PROTECTION, I WILL NOT SNEAK BEYOND THEM


“Repeat after me, Julian: the walls of Arelate are there for my protection . . .”

“ . . . The walls of Arelate are there for my protection . . .”

“I will not sneak beyond them.”

“. . . I will not sneak beyond them.”

“All at once now. Say it!”

I dared not sigh aloud. “The walls of Arelate are there for my protection, I will not sneak beyond them.” I sat in a chair that my uncle had moved to the most open space in his bed chamber, facing the war table across the room, and the great empty fireplace beyond it. It was an attempt to make me feel exposed and vulnerable. It wasn’t working.

Well, perhaps it was working a bit, but that was to be expected. He learned interrogations as a prince, and refined his skill when he became High King of Britannia. Because he was now co-emperor of the Roman Empire, with people to conduct interrogations for him, did not mean he had lost any of this skill.
My uncle Constantine stalked around my chair as though considering pouncing upon me. I knew he wouldn’t. He does not believe in beatings. There was no safer place in the world for me than under his dark, scrutinizing gaze.

If that was true--and it was true--why was my heart pounding?

“You do understand this is a siege--tell me that, Julian.”

“I understand.”

“I do not think you do. Where did you get the flower you gave to Guntilde? No, do not answer me. You got it beyond the walls.”

“Sir, I--“

“I said do not answer me. Do you think I do not know my own capital, nephew? Flowers like that grow only in the marshes far beyond the city walls. What is that look you are giving me? Say it again!”

“The walls of Arelate are there for my protection, I will not sneak beyond them.”

“I don’t believe you.”

I said it again, summoning more conviction. He accepted it, for the moment, but I could tell he was not satisfied.

He paced like a caged lion, moving away from my chair to the war table, spread with maps and plans and diagrams. I wonder there is not a path worn in the stones there. His heavy purple state cloak fanned behind him. He claimed not to like it, that he preferred his sturdy soldier’s cloak and only wore this one for morale. I didn’t believe him. He looked good in this purple one, and he knew it. It set off his long dark hair.

As he turned, the cloak brushed too closely to the war table, knocking a diagram to the floor. He picked it up and pressed it back to the table with a smack, then yanked the cloak off and flung it on a chair. He was trying to think of something bad enough to say to me.

“Damn it, Julian Flavius! You are more intelligent than this! Venturing outside the walls will get your head cut off your shoulders and sent to me on a platter!”

That was worse than I expected.

“Don’t look at me like that. Say it again, and mean it.”

My voice was quieter this time. What he had said--the idea of him receiving my head--hurt me. “The walls of Arelate are here for my protection, I will not sneak beyond them.” I sounded more sincere this time.

He was running out of anger. I thought that soon he would set me up with pen and ink and begin dictating some dull list of commendations. Or worse, he would order me to the stock rooms to report to the supply officer, and the supply officer would order me to inventory supplies, and the supplies would be fewer than the last two times I inventoried them. It wasn’t as though new supplies had made their way past Gerontius’s army outside our gates. I believed our supply officer had the most depressing job in the city.

During a siege, that was saying something.

My Uncle the Emperor came to a stop before my chair with his arms crossed, looming at me. I dared not raise my eyes, but felt his gaze on the top of my head like a touch. It was disconcerting, as it was meant to be.

“Alright, Julian Flavius. You get one chance, Mithras knows why I’m giving it. Explain the marsh flower you gave to Guntilde.”

I tried to think quickly.

“Don’t think about it, just answer.”

He see a lie in a moment. But the truth would condemn me, so I stayed quiet. So much for my one chance.

He sighed and moved to the war table, falling on a chair. “You did get it beyond the walls,” he said, defeated. “Nephew, what were you thinking? Were you thinking? Disguises and escapes? What is is about wild places that pulls you away from me? And Arelate must be secure, if you know of a way out I demand you make it known to me.”

I was a little disappointed in this demand. What motivation did I have for revealing this? He did not know how I was getting out and unless I told him, he could do nothing.

I loved him, but sometimes I wondered whether, subconsciously, I were intentionally provoking him.

“Not going to speak? Fine, make your choices, but you’ll live with them. I will find your exit and make you more sorry for your silence.”

I was not overly concerned. I did not think he would find it.

Yet, if he did, he would certainly shore it up and I would be in for more trouble. My secret exit was in a forbidden part of the city. Not even the refugees went there.

I will admit--I knew I should not go there, either. I should not sneak out. There were many men outside the walls of Arelate, lurking in the impassable salt marshes, who would love to capture the emperor’s nephew. I would not like to be used as a pawn in some blackmail against him. Or killed. That would have been unpleasant.

But the siege had been on a month already and there was no end in sight. It was very monotonous. The wild appealed to me, calling with a siren song. The marshes were a whole world, my own, full of exotic grasses and creatures. Plucking the flower for Guntilde wasn’t why I went. It was an afterthought, and a foolish one at that. I wished to impress her with exotic blooms.

I ought to have known better than to try to impress her.

“Julian, you’ve been in my care four years now. Have I taught you to have so little respect for anything?”

“Sir? I do respect you.”

“No, you do not. You do not respect me. You do not respect war, though you’ve been surrounded by it your whole life. Maybe that is why you do not respect it. You do not respect our enemies, and that is a fatal error that will get you killed if you don’t stop it. You do not respect these walls that are offering you protection, nor the population of Arelate. You do not even respect Guntilde.”

I thought, In that you are wrong.

“I’m not wrong,” he said, again as though hearing my thoughts. He is a perceptive man.

helium
November 17th, 2011, 05:39 AM
Really liked the writing. But the scenario seemed cliche. Btw, what does YA novel mean?

jvars2
November 20th, 2011, 08:47 PM
Hey, nice piece of work you've got going here, but I have one suggestion:


Well, perhaps it was working a bit, but that was to be expected. He learned interrogations as a prince, and refined his skill when he became High King of Britannia. Because he was now co-emperor of the Roman Empire, with people to conduct interrogations for him, did not mean he had lost any of this skill.
My uncle Constantine stalked around my chair as though considering pouncing upon me. I knew he wouldn’t. He does not believe in beatings. There was no safer place in the world for me than under his dark, scrutinizing gaze.
~ Here, I felt that the reader was unprepared for such huge amounts of information, which all seems really important. Maybe you could try introducing it slower or more spaced out, because it feels really sudden and unexpected. Just my take on it.

JDegg
November 22nd, 2011, 04:45 AM
I liked this, it has a lot of good set-up, even if it's not strictly the most original piece, I felt the Uncle was a very overbearing character (though it seems he has a good reason to be) and the lesson he's trying to impose on his nephew is a necessary one, but its obvious that good things are not going to happen. I'd be interested in knowing whether something good does happen in the end or not (it would be so nice to have a bad ending in a YA).

I didn't know the protag was a boy until the Uncle specified so. The way he was going on I assumed it was a niece and that she was young, which leads me to point out that I have no idea how old the protag is either. Those things should be specified early on to save the reader confusion.

You set up a lot in a small time, you don't really need to tell us the Uncle's position, the decorum of his room as well as the war table and his fancy dress impresses upon us that he's a very important person without the need for expository explanation. I'm confused also how there could be a siege, and the uncle lets his nephew run around free? If they are being sieged upon shouldn't there be catapults or gun fire or battles or something very close by? The scale of the conflict should be established to increase believability.

The Uncle's explanation of needing to know where a way into the keep is is so logical that the fact the Nephew wouldn't feel bad about not telling either means that the Nephew is stupid, or a complete sociopath who doesn't care whether or not he dies in a war. Or he's so disassociated with the whole conflict, which is not really set up, except maybe near the end of this piece.

As I said, I did enjoy where the story was going so far, but these things distracted me most. I look forward to seeing more of it. Also, just write this out before changing much of anything, it helps to see the whole picture with all of its little holes and rough spots rather than seeing a small piece and thinking it too rough to finish the whole thing.