Saturday, 27 September 2008

Harper Collins' editor's comments on 'Torbrek...and the Dragon Variation'

Here is the review I won on Authonomy by 'Torbrek...' getting to the top five at the end of August:

The manuscript here is a fun, solid foundation for an engaging youth adult fantasy.

It’s a well-written story following Tor, an appealing young woman who has been forced by political circumstance to pose as a man in order to join the army and use the master sword craft passed on by her grandfather. The reader meets her shortly after she achieves her aim, and as she faces her first initiation trial – to slay a dragon and rescue a princess.

Only, like Tor, the dragon, Xantilor, doesn’t turn out to be entirely predictable – and so begins a friendship that elevates Tor through the ranks to Dragon master and offers a beleaguering kingdom a chance of survival against a tyrannical neighbour.

It is a very appealing premise, and the sassy heroine and opinionated older dragon offer the reader an entertaining pairing of heroes, but at the moment it doesn’t quite live up to its promise. Primarily, the fantasy world needs more realisation; secondly, we'd feel closer to the characters if their motives were explored in greater depth.

For example, Tor’s own history is fascinating and has been carefully thought out. Skardroft’s destruction of Cramble, her grandfather’s legacy, and the weight of her disguise are all important and establish the wider political situation in the readers mind. But because the depiction of these details seems a little rushed, the picture as a whole is a little hazy. The tyrant’s ambitions could be revealed earlier in the story, as this and its connection to Skardroft’s hate of the Hundred Knights should be the framework into which everyone’s personal motives are woven. The core of the work is in place, but I wonder if there’s quite enough around it.

There are some really great characters and ideas in the story. I’d like more of them – and I’d like to be more afraid of them, too. The downfall of the dragons is certainly intriguing, and Corfe is brimming with wicked possibility. Overall, the manuscript is of good quality with an engaging voice and lightness of touch – but more work is certainly required to strike the right balance between a quickly paced story and a richly built world.

I think this is a perceptive and fair assessment of 'Torbrek...'; but it was my first novel, and I don't want to spend any more time on it. Catch a Falling Star, my third book, is what I am working on now.


  1. Fantastic, Lexi - you should be proper chuffed! Power to your typing fingers for the current one.


  2. Thanks, Nik.

    It's satisfying to have discerning comments from a proper editor who has read the first 10,000 words with attention.

    Onwards and upwards!

  3. Well done - a good critique indeed. I'd still be tempted to work on it with that advice in mind and then submit though. Never say never.

    After all, I completely wrote A Dangerous Man from scratch after I'd received my Literary Consultancy report, and that was what got it published. Okay, so it's small press and doesn't sell much, but the reviews are great! I'd say go for it.



  4. Anne, I don't know how you did that!

    I marvel at Jilly Cooper being able to re-write that novel she left the only copy of on a bus. The first enthusiasm is what takes me through a book - I don't mind revising, but re-writing...

    Right now it's Catch a Falling Star that has me in thrall.

  5. You can always go back to Torbrek, can't you? Never hurts (when you're writing something you're excited about) to have other things on the go, that will always be there.


  6. I suppose...never say never.

    And I do love Trav Zander; I think it's a great read, but unfortunately is the sequel to Torbrek....

  7. I don't mean this to sound condescending, but the difference between a professional author and one who will never be published is the willingness to work on a book beyond the point where it's enjoyable, just to get it right. If you agree with the editorial comments, rewrite it. Don't just abandon it because you're distracted by the new, shiny book!
    Best of luck, though - it sounds like a great idea.

  8. I'd say the difference was talent and persistence in equal measures, Anon (if I may call you that).

    Most published authors have two or three unpublished books on their hard drives, the ones they learned to write on.

    Too many writers get stuck on their first book, unable to let it go, when its problems are intractable.

  9. finally tempted me to your blog.

    My take on this publication malarkey is exactly the same as Anne Lamott's:

    "Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy, a hologram.."

    I find if I do it fun, it is fun. And I do it! If I start getting sidetracked by dreams of publishing deals itall goes off the rails.

  10. Yo Nick,

    Of course you are quite right. If I enjoy my book, others may.

    How do you stop yourself dreaming? That's the tricky bit.