Friday, 27 June 2014 00:00

Mentor's critique - Dream Mages

Authors of best-selling YA fantasy novels build their success on two pillars of strength—a highly inventive imagination, and a gift for exploring youthful relationships. At each end of the spectrum, one could cite the Harry Potter series (Rowling has one of the most creative imaginations in contemporary young people’s fiction) and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series (making love relations between vampires and young humans attractive is more of a feat than she’s really been given credit for).

Maureen, your talent in Dream Mages is for handling magic. Not only do you create very original events, but the use of magic becomes a central conflict in Kelnarium, since the leader of this fantasy world is waging war against all those with magical powers. The magic scenes are by far the best in the book. The eerie apparition of the Cree in the misty woodland on Claire’s first arrival in Kelnarium; the angry greeting that Claire’s grandfather gives her in the house of Dorran, with flames issuing from his body and filling the hall; Claire’s efforts to summon fire and send it forth while she is training to be a true Dorran—these are dramatic moments that draw the reader in. You have made the mystical link between the red-headed, hot-blooded Dorrans and the element of fire exciting and believable, and the Maelwynn episodes go several steps further, into an enchanted territory of caves, secret coves and a seashore palace that is at once seductive and disturbing.

This is a strength on which you can build, and there are opportunities in the novel for more fireworks. For instance, while the expeditionary force is waiting at Maelwynn to march on to the capital, the mage Tarn claims they have no time for learth experimentation and says that Melvin will have to teach Claire more on the journey; yet on the next page Lord Maelwynn calls a meeting two days later. Claire could spend several hours of these intervening days in magic training, where you could let your considerable imagination run free.

The symbolism you employ to explain the concerted deployment of magic is vivid and ingenious. You use the metaphor of blended colours to convey the different types of magic thrown against the great enemy, the Beast, and this is echoed in physical reality when the allies seek out the Enchantment Weavers and see their prophetic tapestries.

Claire is the central character and everything is viewed through her eyes. You have made her a somewhat mercurial being who is on the verge of maturity and has a lot to learn. This encourages the reader to be interested in her, and her lack of intimate friends makes us hope that her adventures will perhaps teach her something more about love. You have given yourself the opportunity to show Claire developing over the course of the novel, and to allow your female readers (who, because of your narrative stance, will be more attracted to this book than boys) a chance to share the journey with her, fall in love with Gareth and experience the intense emotions that the end of her journey arouses.

This is where I feel you could strengthen your work, so that the pillar of Relationships balances that of Magic. I suggest you review every scene showing Claire’s attitude and reaction to others, and strive for greater clarity of thought and feeling. Claire’s underlying passions and purpose are often obscured or negated in your manuscript. For instance, at one point she addresses Lord Maelwynn while ‘studiously ignoring Gareth’. This is just after Gareth has expressed his love for her in a rather beautiful compliment and she has humiliated and rejected him, without the reader having a clue as to her reasons. A phrase like ‘unable to look at Gareth’s face and worried that she might have hurt him’ would be more illuminating.

I’m not suggesting that any of the events in your story should change. I’m talking about the language you use to reveal the flow of emotion inside Claire. You obviously wish her to be a heroine: to empathise with her, we must not only admire her fiery courage (her Magic) but also believe in her capacity to love (Relationships). You use language skilfully when magic is in progress—I’m suggesting that you use equal care when Claire is interacting with others, especially with her parents, Marcus, Gareth and Lotte.

Maureen, if this is your first novel, you are to be congratulated: you have laid the groundwork for an original YA fantasy. Your story is coherent and eventful, and the magical episodes build to a satisfying climax. I particularly like the way Claire’s search for her brother ramps up into a battle for the survival of Kelnarium—a classic fantasy plot device that you manipulate well.

I do feel that more work needs to go into the emotional life of your central character in order to make her a heroine worthy of her quest. At present, your novel has the aspect of being written by someone quite young. If this is the case, good on you—you show lots of promise. Many thanks for letting me read it, and I wish you joy and success from your writing.

Additional Info

  • Written by: Maureen Flynn
  • Country: Australia
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