What I gleaned about the story: Cyassay is riding to town, but the town is not there. And her horse is afraid.
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Note: When the cover on the Kindle page doesn’t match the cover in the book file, I get a slight vibe of low publishing standards.
Note: Furthermore, presenting a square cover for a novel immediately suggests children’s book. If you want your work to be perceived as a novel for grownups, you really need to be closer to a portrait-oriented rectangle. Something approximately in the 6:9 ratio of standard novel covers. This “picture book effect” is even more apparent with the cover that was included inside the book file, which I’m including here to illustrate the point.
Analysis: In the opening paragraph, a young woman rides toward Aralia with a rising sense of dread. At the bottom of the opening paragraph, we get:
Now, even though she was barely out of the dense forest and still more than fifteen leagues from the city, she could smell blood and smoke on the air, which worried her. The usual sounds of a busy city would have drifted to her even from this far away, yet she could not hear anything save the whispering of the lonely wind as it flew past her and over the long, lush prairie to Aralia.
If the wind is blowing past her, toward the city, how is it she can smell the blood and smoke coming from there? The wind is blowing in exactly the wrong way. This is a small detail, granted, and one that many reader may not pick up on, but I did and it conflicted with my sense of logic strongly enough to pop me out of the story. Remember, in the first paragraph, a reader’s radar is usually on high alert.
Note: Again with the hyphen instead of em-dash, and the unbalanced spacing. Is there another regional standard out there that I’m not aware of? When a dash is followed by a space, that usually signifies an interruption, not a simple aside.
Analysis: The sorceress pressed her knees against his flank- Elves did not use saddles- and barely managed to keep her hold on the reins until the horse dropped back to the ground.
This is the second time in a week that I’ve encountered this style of punctuation: a hypen in place of a dash, and with unbalanced spacing. I am aware of no editorial standard that punctuates a parenthetical aside this way. In my experience, this signals an external interruption to the speaker. Either another speaker breaking in, or some surprising event that cuts him off. So when I encountered this, I tried to parse it as an interruption, but it just didn’t work that way. It’s clearly intended to be a parenthetical aside. But the real point is that the effort to reconcile the typography here broke my immersion.
Analysis: The woman approaches the city with her frightened and reluctant horse, described thusly: As they neared where the city was supposed to be, the horse reared backward, nearly throwing Cyassay from his back. But then the next paragraph begins with: A gasp caught in her throat as she ascended the ridge that hid the city from view…
The phrase “where the city was supposed to be” implies to me that she now knows it is no longer there; that something horrific has happened to it. But she has no reason to leap to such a cataclysmic conclusion because, as is clearly stated in the next sentence, she couldn’t even see the city at that point.