What I gleaned about the story: A young woman spymaster, who has the ability to speak with or control rats, is trapped in a burning warehouse by a low level thug, who can control snakes. And somehow, assassins are involved.
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Analysis: As I’ve been saying recently, the use of past perfect – or rather, its lack of use – seems to be a spreading plague. But this time it happened on the very first page, when my feelers were at their most sensitive. (Although there were a few more later as well.) This is a simple mechanical issue – the kind solved easily by any experienced editor. So when I find this on page 1, my shields go up and I get ready for a long and bumpy ride, because the first page is always the most thoroughly edited page of the entire work.
Analysis: The king’s spymaster is caught in a warehouse by a murderous thug. He tells her he’s about to kill her. And her response is to start solving chess problems in her head to come up with a strategy to use against him? Chess might be a poetic metaphor for situational strategy, but it’s completely useless as a real-time strategy generator when you’re trying to prevent your own imminent murder. When characters think in a manner totally divorced from my understanding of how real people think, the disconnect flings me completely out of their heads. It not only breaks my immersion, but creates a barrier between us that will make re-immersion more difficult.
Analysis: I’m not sure what to pin this immersion break on, precisely. I find enough implausibilities in this paragraph that it’s difficult to assign just one. First is the fact that it’s really hard to judge the length of a coiled rope – especially when you’re standing in a smoke-filled room facing certain death. Then there’s the problem that a rope only six-ish feet long, and with no grapples or hooks attached, is of absolutely no use in helping you climb up to a railing above your head. On the heels of that, it seems extremely unlikely that someone could pick such a rope up, swing it, and throw it, without ever noticing that this object was not in fact a light-weight, fibrous, and inanimate rope, but was really a heavy, writhing, angry snake. And lastly, I could not credit a snake as long as that being able to get itself completely entwined about her leg – and then begin biting her – before she finally realized it was a snake. Getting encoiled by a snake takes time.