What I gleaned about the story: First washer woman, and now jilted lover, Ciardis enjoys the days entertainment, watching the judge sentence a highwayman to being disemboweled by wolves.
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Analysis: Anywhere else, I would have let a missing comma go, but when it causes a stumble in the very first paragraph, I have to flag it. Frowning Ciardis wormed her way closer to the front of the crowd, straining to get a peek at the criminal. Who the hell is “Frowning Ciardis”? In the previous sentence, we met Ciardis Vane, so it’s probably her. But then we see that the local group of enforcers she is watching are called the “Giardis,” so this “-ardis” thing might be the local naming convention, so maybe Frowning Ciardis is somebody entirely different. Nope, it was just an introductory comment. Ciardis did someting while frowning.
I’m joking, of course. The -ardis echo was not part of why I flagged this, but it really did cast an unfortunate shadow over the comma problem. And that’s my point. The ice is so incredibly thin at the beginning of the first page that almost anything can cause it to break. Which is why I keep saying that the first page is holy. It has to be flawless, so that readers can get their feet under them before you start throwing snowballs at their heads.
Analysis: I’ve let three or four cases of missing commas go now, since I’ve already docked one. But now on page two I see: At this point Ciardis was staring off in the distance – hand pressed flat against her stomach as if by holding it she could keep her stomach from plummeting in despair. Why is there an em-dash there? I read it as the start of a parenthetical aside, but it wasn’t one. It was just an independant clause, set off with an em-dash instead of a comma. To me, this is a bad sign. It says that this book has not had benefit of an experienced editor. And I fear there will be more typographical oddities in my near future.
Analysis: Mind numb Ciardis trailed behind Mags, trying to comprehend how her life had just upended. When she got back to the wash room Ciardis bent over the soapy tub, mind numb as her hands worked mechanically to scrub the red jerkin.
Ignore the missing comma that would have told us that “Mind numb” was an introductory phrase, and not her nickname. The real issue is with the second sentence. See that bit where we are told for a second time that her mind is numb? The second time in the space of two sentences? This is not just an echoed word—it’s a blatant repetition of a thought. It was probably a simple oversight, but as a reader, it always feels to me as though the author doesn’t trust me to have read and understood the point the first time, so I always feel slightly belittled when I read such stutters.