What I gleaned about the story: Tristan is in prison for his brother’s murder, though he did not do it. Then a strange woman throws Jedi-mind tricks at the guards and whisks him away to a private school that is starting to feel a lot like Hogwarts.
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Note: It’s a minor quibble, but the combination of indented paragraphs and line breaks between paragraphs is very distracting to me. Moreover, it’s a subtle hint that the layout was not done by a professional.
Analysis: Consider this passage: “You must be Tristan Fairholm.” Her smooth voice was clipped.
To me, ‘clipped’ speech is uttered in a sort of staccato, with abrupt halts between the words or sentences. This is almost definitively opposed to what I think of as a “smooth” voice. This apparent contradiction made me stop to consider the meanings of the words, rather than forging ahead with the story. I decided to press on, but I was still thinking about the issue. Then I hit another.
So far, Tristan has been standing (under guard) at his brother’s grave, and now a strange woman approaches, introducing herself as “Darla Merridy.” For the next page, Tristan’s narration refers to her, oddly, by that full name. Darla Merridy did this. Darla Merridy did that. But then, with no explanation, he shifts to just using “Merridy.” Why the shift? Did I miss something important?
They’re both minor irritations, but since they came one after the other, they teamed up to keep me focused on the language rather than the story.
Analysis: It’s not quite a declarative sentence parade, as there is some interwoven variation in the sentence structures, but there is still a mechanical ploddingness to the prose, which has been preoccupied with relating a series of physical movements. When I stopped to examine the prose and figure out what was missing, I discovered that there was precious little narrative evaluation of the situation. The narrator has been wrongly imprisoned for the death of his brother, and has now been sprung from jail by a very unusual woman using very unusual methods, promising to whisk him away to some glorious new life. And he just rolls with it. Very little inner discussion. Almost zero spoken discussion. The entire thing feels entirely “unnatural,” but in a way that erodes believability, rather than heightening fascination.
Analysis: The trudge I mentioned earlier just kept going. Pages and pages. Eventually, I realized that my problem was that the story was taking me through a long, boring plane ride for no apparent reason. Nothing happened during the flight, except some very minor bickering between petulant teens. We did not need to see any of it, and could have skipped easily (and mercifully) to the tarmac at the end of the ride.
Unfortunately, this glacially paced and entirely adventureless jailbreak took up the majority of the first chapter.