Monday, 01 September 2014 00:00

Mentor's Critique - Coronation

Mark, this initial novel in your new fantasy series gets off to a lively start. You lose no time in introducing four main characters in your first pages: in order of appearance they are the High Priest of Chala, Ang-Gdak; Princess Ra-Na-Kel; the princess's handmaiden Fe-Co-Sim; and First Minister Bo-La-Shen. We also meet minor characters, such as the Third Steward, when Ra-Na-Kel is demanding a chocolate cake for her birthday.


You vividly give the geographical and political set-up of Chala, the capital of Ra-Na-Kel's Imperium, as the High Priest takes an overview of the city, the cathedral and the port. There is enough detail about the layout and buildings to centre the reader in this intriguing place, and Ang-Gdak's determination to rule the people through the church is nicely imaged as the great cathedral bell rings out, commanding the citizens' obedience.

Your writing is accomplished and reads smoothly. You use extended imagery to reveal the inner workings of the characters: eg in the bell sequence above (where the bell is the voice of the law), and when Ra-Na-Kel is standing by her window: '[She] admired the play of sunlight and wind upon the gossamer curtains. A soft breeze tossed the translucent material and brought with it the unmistakable tang of the harbour. The wind made the light fabric dance around her ankles: it teased her, tempted her to come out and play.' The wind represents freedom, but Ra-Na-Kel cannot bend to it, because today is too important for childish concerns.

It's intriguing that in all your thirty pages there are no colours mentioned except one: the 'old women in black'. This absence of colour is so singular that I feel you may have a personal reason for it. If so, I suggest you continue the way you've begun. If not, you may like to enrich your descriptions with colour highlights.

You use the introductory scenes admirably to establish Ra-Na-Kel as the central character and for that reason (and for the sake of instant drama) I suggest you open the story with her, as she demands a chocolate cake from the Third Steward. The conflict between the princess, angrily twitching her cane and ranting about trivia, and her trembling servant, has its ridiculous side and introduces us to the sly humour in your narrative. When the princess is nasty, for instance, she can be quite witty, as in her remark about sacrifice in the extract above. These interactions also hint at a struggle within Ra-Na-Kel herself, where the spoilt brat shows signs of giving way (at very rare moments!) to the future queen.

Ra-Na-Kel thus has two sides to her character, a possible third being the sweet child who adored her late mother. Will she ever pull herself together sufficiently to make a leader of her people? You have placed this question at the heart of your novel and thereby promised much entertainment for your readers. Ra-Na-Kel is interesting, active and exasperating. We know she's going to make some right royal mistakes—and while we'll enjoy watching her do so, it's impossible not to have some sympathy for her situation. As long as we hate Ang-Gdak more than we dislike the princess, her development through the novel will keep our attention and loyalty. I suggest that you look carefully at the characters who are closest to her, and in each dramatic scene decide whether you've successfully conveyed the aspect of her inner life that you wanted to reveal. It would make for even more tension if the stakes get a higher for her each time. In your extract, you've already moved her problem from getting a chocolate cake to deciding how to quell a rebellion, so you're on the right track ☺

At stake plotwise, of course, is the throne itself. Judging by your synopsis, the central question escalates from 'will this girl ever make a worthy queen?' to 'will she ever make queen at all?' Ra-Na-Kel has little idea at the beginning that she must carefully manage the powerful people in her realm, especially those who may turn out to be traitors. She will be kept guessing about the High Priest for some time, and it would add excitement to the story if the reader were kept guessing too. As a bonus, if the reader spots the traitors before she does, there's a nice dramatic irony in store. You've prepared us for this in your first portrait of the High Priest, whose attitude towards Ra-Na-Kel is scarily ambivalent.

As you build in this skilful way with plot and character, it may be helpful to check whether the climax of your novel is satisfying, especially since this is the first in a series. Without introducing a spoiler here I can't be specific: suffice to say that Ra-Na-Kel must play a genuinely heroic part at the end, and she should take the initiative in setting things right. We need to close the book believing that she can succeed in her goal and has the allies to get there—a conviction that will make us eagerly await book two. This novel strikes me as Young Adult fiction: if so, you've produced a complex enough character in Ra-Na-Kel to appeal to teenage girls, and if in this novel you give her a young male ally of equal interest to boys (I can't tell from your synopsis whether you've planned this), you could foreshadow a love element in the story. Congratulations on Coronation. Do you have a title for the series? If so, let us all know in a comment.


© Cheryl Hingley

Additional Info

  • Written by: Mark Probert
  • Country: Australia
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