Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, the idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only one page, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a few paragraphs!
It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of first-page critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of slush and critique it.
This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Freelance Editor Alissa Davis.
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The First Page
Author A described this manuscript as a historical romance between Pirate Prince Gregory and Princess Samantha Mermistia of the South Seas..
I like pirate romances, so let’s take a look.
The clouds hung low today, hovering above the weathered ship. Hot, humid and with not even a slight breeze to complete their journey South, Pirate Prince Gregory Ramsey impatiently stared at the still ocean. The water was like glass today, taunting him. It was like the ocean knew Gregory was close to the finest treasure he had ever coveted. Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead, reminding him that it was only going to get hotter as the sun got even higher. Gregory turned around to address his trusted misfits that kept the dreaded Black Night vessel going.
“We rest today.” Gregory said in his deep, commanding voice. “Tomorrow, we sail for the islands, where the most precious jewels you will ever feast your eyes on await.”
Cheers from his ship arose. Then a chant erupted for the Pirate Prince, “Gregory the feared, Gregory the Pirate Prince, Gregory that rules the Sea!”
Gregory smiled at his crew below. Loyalty is what Gregory treasured most and loyalty is what they have given him. He raised his hand to quiet them and continued, knowing that what would come next may bring upon his crew some discontent.
“As you know friends, a Prince,” Gregory stopped himself, “a Pirate Prince needs a princess.” Gregory waited for the jeers and cheers to dissipate and continued, “what I promise you is true. Gold and jewels are waiting for each and every one of you. For me, I am going to find something I treasure even more than diamonds. Promised to me since the day I was born. The daughter of the King of the South Seas, Princess Samantha Mermistia.” Once again Gregory’s crew erupted in cheers. This made him smile again. He put up both of his strong arms again to quiet them and he turned to his friend and advisor.
Leonard stepped forward and turned to face the crew and said loudly, “Princess Samantha will be joining us on the Black Ship.” Murmurs went through the crowd of haggard pirate faces, “A woman on the ship?” and “no place for a measly girl”. As the murmurs got louder and louder Gregory knew he needed to calm the situation. He nodded at Leonard.
Leonard said, “Enough. Enough. Yes, the princess will be joining us. But, She doesn’t know it yet.” And with a wink and a hearty laugh Leonard yelled, “To Prince Gregory!” and the crew laughed, cheered and echoed, “To Prince Gregory”.
One fellow pirate called out, “Now we’ll have someone to wash our clothes.” And another bellowed, “and feed and bathe us”. Cheers followed.
Gregory had been with women, a lot of women. But it was the girl with golden skin that haunted his dreams since he first saw her as a young lad. Her brown hair had sparkled in the sun as he had watched her from his father’s ship. She had stared back and waved at him and smiled. Her gorgeous smile had stirred something in Gregory that he had never felt before. Later that night when his father had told him she was the girl he was going to marry he had felt so happy. Now he was going to make her his for once and for all. His golden princess.
Samantha lifted up her impossibly large skirt and tried to sit on the stool, facing the mirror with anger in her emerald eyes. Anger meant for her crew. Ever since Samantha’s father had passed away everything was in chaos. She was the rightful Captain of her ship. And her ship hated her. Vile things constantly spewed from their mouths and disrespect shot their eyes as they looked at her with disdain. So, she was a woman and she had breasts. So, what? Samantha scowled at herself in the mirror.
Samantha looked at her hair in the mirror and picked up the scissors. She grabbed a handful with her small hand and started to cut. Curly, golden locks fell to the ship’s wooden floor. She cut and cut and cut until her golden-brown hair just reached her chin.
Samantha tucked her hair behind her ears, smiled and stood up. She then took her scissors and cut her skirt just above her knees, leaving her legs bare. She loosened her corset and glanced at her father’s sword on the wall. With a smirk on her lips Samantha grabbed the sword. She made a sash with the remnants of her dress, tied it around her waist and secured the sword in place on her hip.
Samantha looked in the mirror and took a deep breath. Her crew was going to have to get used to Captain Sam Mermisita of the South Seas. This was her ship and they were going to be her crew, whether they liked it or not.
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I started out thinking this might be a mermaid/pirate romance. Samantha’s homeland is Mermistia, and that sounds like a mermaid name to me! On this first page there is no indication of Sam being a mermaid, though, so if there aren’t any mermaids, you might consider changing the name of Sam’s homeland to something that sounds less magical.
Speaking of Sam, I like her attitude. She’s not here for any sexist nonsense from her sailors, and while she reads as very young, she assesses the situation, identifies the problem and makes a plan–cut her hair and her gown and put the fear of God into her sexist crew.
I get a strong Peter Pan/Wendy/Lost Boys vibe from this first page. The sailors who think the princess will wash their clothes, feed them and bathe them are very like the Lost Boys, who cheer at the idea of a mother because she’ll make them pockets, tell them stories and tidy the house. Sam is our Wendy, ready to demand respect and find adventure outside of her home. She doesn’t get much space on this page, but she’s the real star here, and Author A might experiment with starting in her POV. Finally, there’s our pirate prince, leader of a misfit crew. He’s ready to find the girl he’s been longing for and spirit her away from home so that he can keep her for himself. Unfortunately, he’s a bit too used to getting his own way.
It may be that Author A didn’t even think about Peter Pan while writing. Sometimes readers see things in a story that the author never intended, and that’s okay. Personally, I love fairytale retellings and wish I saw more of them! However, if Author A doesn’t want that “I Won’t Grow Up” feel, I suggest that they look for spots where the characters might be coming across as too young for a historical romance. (For instance, when Gregory feels the need to reassure us that he’s been with lots of women, which immediately makes me suspect that he has not.)
Author A does a nice job with setting on this first page. I love the descriptions of the clouds, the reactions to the constant heat, the unmistakable feeling of being on a ship. Once we’re in Sam’s POV, Author A could add the same level of setting detail there, inside Samantha’s cabin on her ship. I initially assumed she was at the palace in Mermistia.
I have a couple of questions:
-The princess’s father is dead. She doesn’t mention a mother. Is the queen still living? Is Samantha abandoning a kingdom she’s meant to rule?
-If there was some sort of betrothal agreement between their fathers, why does Gregory imply he’ll be kidnapping Samantha? If the agreement isn’t being honored now that her father is dead, it might help to provide that info.
Author A has a wonderful imagination and I encourage them to keep honing their craft and fleshing out this story.
Would I keep reading?
I’d pass on this one.
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