Reviews, Sneak Peek Weekends

January Sneak Peek Weekends #3

Today I’ve got a handful of fantasies following a suspiciously similar trope…

Flicker and Mist

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Having the ability should have been fun. In another world, a child who could become invisible might play pranks on her parents, might sneak around with friends, might go ride the beasts in the dead of night. In another world, the Ability might have brought freedom and joy. But I was not born in another world, I was born in the Upland, where the Ability was used as a weapon of war.

Author: Mary G. Thompson

Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Published: January 3, 2017

For People Who Liked: Scorpio Races, Half Bad, The Grisha, X-Men, The Incredibles

Target Audience: Fantasy readers, fans of characters with superpowers and/or magical abilities.

If I were an agent/acquisitions editor, would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

If this were the first fantasy manuscript involving a protagonist oppressed or hunted for having a magical power that set her apart from everyone else, I might give it a tentative pass. Or at least put it in a pile for later considerations.  Which might be what I’ll say for any book on today’s list. But being a regular reader of fantasy, and YA fantasy at that, I know the tropes. I’ve seen these tropes over and over again.

I get it. We’re still chasing after the next Harry Potter. It’s been 20 years. Let’s put the magical Chosen One/weapon convention to rest. I want a new fantasy novel to grab me and do something new with the genre!

The publishers want this one to follow in the footsteps of Half Bad. I can tell. It’s got that exact same vibe as Sally Green’s series. Except Half Bad is also not doing anything unique with the genre, nor does it have a particularly great reputation in terms of diverse representation. Granted, Flicker and Mist already hints at better writing than Half Bad, so maybe, just maybe the same ol’ conventions might be taken in a new direction.

Frost Blood

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I offered my hand to the fire. Sparks leapt from the hearth and settled onto my fingers, heat drawn to heat, and glittered like molten gems against my skin.

Author: Elly Blake

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 

Published: January 10, 2017

For People Who Liked: Half Bad, Frozen, Lord of the Rings, Red Queen, Throne of Glass, X-Men, The Incredibles, Flicker and Mist.

Target Audience: High fantasy readers. The same people who might pick up Flicker and Mist; they can take them home as a package deal.

Would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

I picked this one up immediately after Flicker and Mist. If these two crossed my desk at the same time, and this one happened to be lower on the pile, I’d put it down immediately. This isn’t to say that this book is terrible and shouldn’t be read. But rather, agents aren’t wanting to see exactly the same plot in every submission they see.

If I were an agent, my personal focus would be on fantasy and sci-fi, and as I said, I’d be looking for that unique hook that sets a manuscript apart from other novels in the canon. The trouble is, there’s that trope again and I’m not going to wait around to see if this is putting a twist on the convention. This is especially why I chose to do these sneak peeks. Opening chapters aren’t going to give you nearly enough to tell you whether the story’s going to be amazing or not. But that’s exactly what most agents are using to pass judgement on whether it’s good enough for publication.

That being said, there’s nothing particularly new going on with Frost Blood either. Though it does help that it can easily slot into an already existing subgenre alongside so many other stories in a similar vein. And that’s exactly why it was published in the first place…

Lost Girls

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I remember last night perfectly. I know what we ate for dinner. I know my little brother didn’t do his homework. I know Dad drove me to my ballet lessons, then waited for me in the Starbucks across the street.

Author: Merrie Destefano

Publisher: Entangled Publishing

Published: January 3, 2017

For People Who Liked: The One Memory of Flora Banks, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Target Audience: Readers who like gritty mysteries, amnesia plots, or paranormal/urban fantasies.

Would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

No. The entire first page is word for word the back cover blurb. Which I know isn’t the author’s fault, but as far as novel openers go, as an agent, I’ve already read the blurb, and would be looking for something in the manuscript sample to tell me something I don’t already know about the novel. So often, I find myself 50 pages into a novel, turn to the back cover and go “oh, that’s what this novel’s about?” and it’s a feeling I thoroughly enjoy, because it means the author’s keeping me guessing. That’s not what’s happening here and it’s just very lazy on the publisher’s part. My interest just isn’t piqued and it isn’t helped by the juvenile writing style.

Also, you can’t tell from anything in the marketing of this book, but she’s got hints of possibly having some special magical power and I’m already bored.

If you want something a little more original and engaging, try:

You Don’t Know My Name

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The numbers on my phone stare back at me. Thirty more minutes of target practice before I can start my homework. I take a breath and run the back of my hand across my forehead. It’s still damp with sweat from my run and the hour of Krav Maga with Mom.

Author: Kristen Orlando

Publisher: Swoon Reads (Macmillan)

Published: January 10, 2017

For People Who Liked: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Catch Me if You Can, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, James Bond, The Bourne Identity, A Series of Unfortunate Events

Target Audience: Readers who like spy or undercover plots

Would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

I will admit, I had a lot of fun reading the prologue of this novel, which is shocking, because despite what a prologue is supposed to do, it’s rarely the most engaging part of a novel. It feels exactly how I felt watching Netflix’s new A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s surprising, it’s action packed, it’s doing something you don’t ordinarily see in YA. I’m excited by the My Parents are Spies! angle.

This is the exact type of book as an agent, I’d request the full manuscript. The opening narrative is strong and pulls you in. With this in mind, if I were to then receive that full manuscript, I’d have to give it a pass because it quickly devolves into a silly high school plot where the author tries too hard to make cool teen lingo happen. But I was excited for that hot second and I encourage people to give it a shot just in case it is the fun spy plot it says it is.

Poison’s Kiss

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I’m not a bad person. At least that’s what I tell myself over and over as I wend my way through the marketplace, past the vendors selling spiced meats and bright fabric, incense and rare birds.

Author: Breeana Shields

Publisher: RandomHouse

Published: January 10, 2017

For People Who Liked: Wrath and the Dawn, Rebel of the Sands, Six of Crows, The Raven Cycle, The Sineater’s Daughter

Target Audience: People who like more lyrical prose, fans of the deadly kiss trope, fantasy lovers.

Would I select this for publication based on the opening chapter?:

After about five hours of poring over books, I was more than a little weary of reading the same plot over and over again. And so it was with such delight and relief that I stumbled across this beauty. This one was unquestionably the easiest yes I could give to any of the 11 books I flicked through on this particular day. It’s got this vivid, beautifully written, colourful world building that feels very much like Alwyn Hamilton or Leigh Bardugo’s handiwork.

I’ve harped on this entire post about taking the usual and making it unusual and this is the perfect example of how an author can do that successfully. For some reason completely unknown to me, I love the doomed lovers convention where if they kiss, one of them will die. It’s one of those things that is likely done to death in a million horribly written ways, and yet I’ve read a handful of really well-written twists on the theme. This being one of them. I’d love to see this one get more attention as time goes on!

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