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I'm working on a series of short fantasy books (target audience mid-teens to 30-ish). I'd like to know whether or not the short pre-story before the first chapter of the first book works as an intro, and I'd like some critique.

Specifically, I want to know:

  1. Does it catch people's attention?
  2. Does the style suit what I'm trying to do? (I've gotten conflicting feedback here.)
  3. Are there any rough spots I should iron out? (Grammar, wording choices)

Thank you!


The Legend of Gideon Flynn

This is a story that parents in Hael Malstrom tell to frighten disobedient children.

Once, in times long past, when dragons were still common and the Great Fault was young and Hael Malstrom’s redwood was only a sapling on a bare hill, a pack of mercenaries and treacherous guards massacred a king and all his family: his wife, his children, even his grandchildren. Only one person of the king’s household escaped alive—a young man named Gideon Flynn, the youngest prince of the royal family.

Gideon loved his father. He loved his mother, his brothers and sisters, his nieces and his nephews. He took his father’s throne with a heavy heart, and he did not wait long before he plotted revenge against those responsible for his family’s murder. And because he could not be sure which of his nobles were ultimately responsible, he had them all killed.

But it wasn’t enough. Revenge, he thought, was supposed to satisfy. He felt nothing.

He began to pursue the men who might have been indirectly involved, spending the contents of his treasury freely. He put his father’s enemies on sharpened spikes first, then their servants. When Gideon’s friends spoke against him, he turned on them with the blind zealotry of a man who had lost everything. It was only a matter of time before the nation rebelled against their mad king.

When opposing armies marched down the capital's streets, when he found himself trapped in his palace with nowhere to run, Gideon turned to the only thing he still believed in. He threw himself from his highest tower and smashed on the ground below.

That should have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t.

When Death came to Gideon Flynn, it told him that his hands were stained by the pain and blood of his people, that it had no interest in collecting his soul. It gave him healing and eternal youth, and the broken king who had wished for death became immortal.

It has been thousands of years since the fall of Gideon Flynn. The country Hael Malstrom has risen and fallen many times, under many names. A new line rules now—the peaceful Torlo family, who have discarded the office of king in favor of the more ambiguous ‘Grand Meister’. The dragons are nearly gone, the great fault is old, and the Hael Malstrom redwood dominates the capital city Valdenemus. But they say that when terrible things happen to good people that Gideon’s shadow has fallen upon them. He is the cause of droughts and calamity, and his presence lingers on his subjects to this day.

And though no one has seen Gideon Flynn for thousands of years, they know he isn’t gone.

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Is your proposed series intended to have any connection with this existing work? –  Fortiter Mar 23 '13 at 1:47
    
Woah... That's uncanny. But no, nothing in common whatsoever. (The Legend of Gideon Flynn is the prologue's title-- the book itself is called 'Painted'.) –  ElizaWy Mar 23 '13 at 1:55
    
The ideas are clear and interesting but could be expressed better. I suggest reading through the answers to most of the questions listed in right sidebar. Several of the suggestions in those answers will be useful. –  jwpat7 Mar 23 '13 at 5:42
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2 Answers 2

1) There are seeds of an interesting story there, so the premise is sound (that is, I'm basically interested to continue).

2 and 3) I don't know what your regular prose style is like, but I feel like this could be more lyrical. It doesn't sound like a legend. Legends have longer sentences, more antiquated phrasing, and more detail. They take a while to get to the point. This sounds like you were explaining to someone what the backstory of your novel is, and transcribed it.

For example: your first sentence starts off perfectly, up until you get to "a pack of mercenaries." It should run more like:

Once, in times long past, when dragons were still common and the Great Fault was young and Hael Malstrom’s redwood was only a sapling on a bare hill, there was a kingdom called Foo. The kingdom of Foo had been ruled for generations by the Bars, known far and wide for their generosity and kindness. Foo was prosperous and lush, welcoming to all who would do an honest day's work for an honest day's reward.

But some people beheld generosity and saw it as weakness, and looked at lushness and saw it as theirs to use up.

So one terrible night, when even in the moon hid her face in horror, a pack of mercenaries and treacherous guards crept into the Castle of Bar and slaughtered the inhabitants within, from the king and his family down to the least stableboy. The king, the queen, the princes and princesses, their husbands and wives, the royal grandchildren — none of the line of Bar survived.

Except...

One young prince. Named Gideon Flynn.

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I was confused about Hael Malstrom. The first sentence indicates it is a place (all emphasis mine):

This is a story that parents in Hael Malstrom tell...

The second sentence is confusing:

...when dragons were still common and the Great Fault was young and Hael Malstrom’s redwood was only a sapling on a bare hill...

Hael Malstrom seems to own a redwood tree, with a possessive, so I thought Hael could be a person, whose last name was Malstrom. The entire sentence is problematic, mostly because it is very lengthy. It is horrific, as well:

... a pack of mercenaries and treacherous guards massacred a king and all his family: his wife, his children, even his grandchildren.

However, the name of the locale, Hael Malstrom connotes "Hell" and "maelstrom", which is appropriately dark given the situation. Yet the story introduction remains discordant, as it seems unlikely that

parents in Hael Malstrom [would] tell to frighten disobedient children.

Or rather, it would frighten them without doing anything to improve behavior:

I felt sympathy for Gideon Flynn. Having one's entire extended family murdered reminded me of the depictions of Czar Nicholas of Russia, who was murdered, with his wife, young son and four (five?) daughters in Ekaterinburg during the Russian Revolution. I also was confused about plot progression. You said that a pack of mercenaries and treacherous guards massacred Gideon's family. Given that, how was it possible that

He [Gideon] took his father’s throne...

without any struggle? Where did the treacherous guards and mercenaries go? Wasn't it a palace coup? It doesn't make sense for them to just kill everyone and go away, leaving Gideon with a kingdom and throne intact. In fact, this sentence indicates that there was intrigue and dissent:

he plotted revenge against those responsible for his family’s murder. And because he could not be sure which of his nobles were ultimately responsible, he had them all killed.

Why would the nobles have allowed Gideon to assume the throne, and rule again? I think that it would be obvious which nobles were responsible for killing his family, as they would have attempted to kill Gideon, instead of letting him be king.

Anyway, it would make sense for him to avenge his family's deaths. If he didn't, his subjects would think he were weak, and a coward. The next part is a problem in terms of plot, but more in tone:

He put his father’s enemies on sharpened spikes first, then their servants. When Gideon’s friends spoke against him, he turned on them with the blind zealotry of a man who had lost everything.

That is not the sort of material that I'd expect in a fantasy prologue. Slow deaths on sharpened spikes, by impalement, is terribly gruesome. I don't think any parent would tell a child about this. Also, is zealotry blind? Zealotry is not necessarily a sign of mental derangement either. Gideon has lost his family, but he has regained his kingdom, and as a nobleman, he would know that that was his job and obligation, to rule over the people. So I don't see why he'd feel as though he'd lost everything.

Finally, the story concludes by saying that Gideon is referred to as a dark shadow, to represent anything bad that happens such as bad weather, or even calamity that befalls blameless people. That's quite a negative legacy. Yet this was his ultimate fate:

When Death came to Gideon Flynn, it told him that his hands were stained by the pain and blood of his people, that it had no interest in collecting his soul. It gave him healing and eternal youth, and the broken king who had wished for death became immortal.

I understand Death not wanting someone. In that case, Death wouldn't reward a man who was sullied with genocide and shame by granting him eternal youth as an immortal in good health. And even if Gideon were so fortunate, why was he still lurking about Hael Malstrom, causing calamity and ruin?

Please don't take this as harsh criticism, because you may have intended this as an outline, I realize. My issues are more about plot than about writing style or flow of narrative.

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