Dear Miss Snark:
Please consider representing FIRST, DO NO HARM, a fantasy novel set in a world reminiscent of the eastern Mediterranean of antiquity. The novel is complete at 95,000 words.
Aithne, an apprentice healer, knows that her inability to do magic means she will never become a master healer or even a fully functioning member of gypsy society. Still, she manages to cope until the day a simmering regional conflict erupts and she fails to save the life of her best friend's husband. As the Islands descend into all-out war, Aithne and those she loves react in very different ways. Aithne's husband opts to take the gypsy children to safety; her best friend shuns Aithne and vows to take magical revenge on her husband's killers;
and Aithne's mentor is drawn into a life he hoped never to see again. Aithne herself faces a paradox: to save lives, she must learn to kill. (there's your lead)
I am an editor with [non-fiction press] and have been a slush pile reader for [small SFF press].
(oh dear dog, I know your pain)
Thank you for considering my novel. The first 550 words are enclosed for your perusal.
All the best,
Aithne knelt in the bow of the little wooden boat, squinting in the glare of the whitewashed clay walls of the City on either side of the canal. Behind her, Breanainn's oars creaked in the rhythm he had kept up since they left the gypsy coast. Amid the multilingual babble of
the market on the quays, she could barely hear Jarlath and Ruari rowing behind. Was it louder than usual?
"On the right!" she shouted, pointing to an empty iron ring on the canal wall. Breanainn angled the boat towards the wall. As he dragged his oars in the murky water, Jarlath's boat came around them and stopped, the two boats bow-to-bow next to the ring.
"I'll go first," said Ruari, clambering into the bow of Jarlath's boat. She pointed at the neatly coiled bow rope and said a few words. The end of the rope lifted into the air. Aithne tried not to watch as Ruari flicked her fingers, sending the rope towards the ring, through
the hole, and back into Ruari's palm. Ruari tied the knot by hand, then said the binding spell. That done, she turned and busied herself with the weavings she had brought for Market Day.
Breanainn and Jarlath were equally busy, pulling the shade cloths off the fish they and the other gypsy men had caught that morning, neither one looking at Aithne. She took her own rope in hand, stared intently at the ring an armspan away, and threw. The rope fell short, splashing into the water. Aithne gritted her teeth and hauled the brine-sodden rope back in. She took a deep breath and then threw again. This time it went through. Breannain gave a single stroke with his oars; Aithne grabbed the loose end out of the water, pulled the boat to the ring, and tied the rope as tightly as she could.
Without looking at anyone, she busied herself with her healer's bag. Ruari hopped out of her boat onto the quay and reached down to her. But Aithne scrambled onto the quay on her own, laid a rug down on the stones, and silently began to put out her herbs.
"He was a little far," said Ruari, shifting from foot to foot.
"No, he wasn't," Aithne answered. "Just leave it."
Ruari hesitated, but finally turned to reach down into her boat for her weavings.
Aithne finished with the herbs and plopped down behind them, cross-legged. At least he hadn't tried to help. Sometimes he added just a little magic to whatever she was doing so she wouldn't fall short. "I can do it without magic," she would say, glaring. "But I
hate to see you struggle," he would answer. It had taken him years of marriage to begin to see that she would rather struggle.
Shaking off her thoughts, Aithne looked around at the City houses. Bright curtains fluttered in the breeze, while window boxes overflowed with fragrant flowers from the Islands, the Kemar delta, and places farther still. But the market babble was louder than usual, anxious,
almost frenetic. Suddenly she realized something she hadn't noticed at the time: the guards at the City gate had been scanning the horizon instead of watching the boats enter the canal.
A cold dread crept over her. It must have begun. Something was happening with the Kemari.
Ok, here's our first example of "I just didn't connect with the writing".
I don't connect with this. It's not bad writing. There are no obvious orange genitalia (this is an in-joke - in case you haven't been reading all the entries). It's not awash in adjectives.
There's some inpending doom. There's the hint of conflict. What's not to like? Dunno..it's just not for me.
I'd send it back with a form letter but this is one of those that there really isn't anything helpful to say.