Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Beginnings: Recent Samples

My Kindle is sure filling up with samples – and, yes, full novels – but certainly lots of samples. Sixty-eight samples at the moment. Let’s take a look at the ten titles most recently added to my Samples folder and see if any look particularly promising from the very beginning – or the reverse: if any look like they ought to just be gently discarded without any further investment of time.

1. Buffalo Soldier, Maurice Broaddus

Desmond Coke pinched a clump of chiba leaves from his pouch and rolled it into the fine pressed paper. He was down to his last few leaves, perhaps enough for one or two more sacraments before he’d be down to stems and seeds. He sat alone underneath a cotton tree, lit his spliff, and dreamt of home. Exhaling a thin cloud of smoke, he leaned against its gray trunk. The dried brown vines draping it crunched beneath his movement. Under the strange western sky, the dark and loathsome trees crowded the hillside. Before bedtime, his mother used to tell him stories of how duppies danced among their branches or hid among the caves. If he’d been particularly troublesome that day, she’d tell him of the powerful spirit, Old Higue, and how the creature would hang her skin along the branch of a cotton tree before she went about her grim business. The tree reminded him of home, but he was far from the shores of Jamaica. They both were.

Grim-ish. But evocative. I don’t know if I’ll wind up liking it, but I will certainly go on with it.

2. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays. He ran until he nearly reached the hedge by the footpath, then turned and ran until he nearly reached the hedge on the other side of the field. Then he turned and crossed the field again. Each crossing of the field brought him nearer to the farm. The wind was against him, and he was tacking up against it to the farm, where at the gate his patient mother was awaiting him. He could not run straight against the wind because he was a sailing vessel, a tea-clipper, the Cutty Sark. His elder brother John had said only that morning that steamships were just engines in tin boxes. Sail was the thing, and so, though it took rather longer, Roger made his way up the field in broad tacks.

Well, now, that’s horoughly charming. I’m very pleased Pete kept mentioning this one in the comments until I finally picked up a sample.

3. Lonen’s War, Jeffe Kennedy

Oria squinted into the heat shimmer rising in the distance beyond the high walls of the city. Maybe if she looked long and hard enough, the weapons of the clashing armies would give off a telltale glitter or the shouts of the men would echo back. But even though her high tower gave her one of the longest views in Bára, she remained blind and deaf, stuck in her chambers, remote from the battle underway. Just as she’d lived most of her life isolated from the rest of the world.

Despite the lack of other evidence of war, the hot wind seemed to carry an unfamiliar smell to her rooftop garden. Layered among the scents of sand, the brackish bay, and distant ocean came something new. Something like roasting meat, redolent of rage, despair, and determination. An unsettling combination unlike anything she’d ever experienced. But until this, no one had attempted to Bára in her lifetime. Not for a long time before that either, according to the histories.

This one really doesn’t stand out for me. Part of the reason is that metaphors are iffy when you just start a SFF novel. Is the protagonist actually blind and deaf? The emphasis on scents almost makes it seem like she might be. I am mildly peeved at this confusion. Also, nothing about the smell of roasting meat suggests rage, despair, or determination to me and I don’t really see how it could suggest such things to anyone. I’m mildly peeved at this description as well. Offhand I would kind of expect to delete this sample, maybe without even finishing the full sample (depending on how long the sample turns out to be).

4. Mirrors, Lazette Gifford

I tried to block what I felt from the world – from both worlds – while my fingers brushed across the ancient harp’s strings.

Bright music filled the small room as I played “Carolan’s Ramble to Cashel.” Plants trailed flowers at my shoulders, half-masking the front window of the upstairs apartment. The semi-opaque curtains formed a veil between me and the troubles in the world beyond my sanctuary.

I’m not a good musician, but playing helps when I’m troubled. Today I sensed subtle changes in the air and tried to ignore the growing apprehension those changes created. I listened only to each bell-like note in the near silence of my home.

Somewhere else a car honked and people argued, but not here in this plae. I created a sphere of peace and tranquility and played, content for at least a few minutes more.

No one else sensed the trouble in the air.

Not particularly drawn in, but I would go on with this and see how the story develops.

5. Dancer, Lazette Gifford

Devlin stood beneath the high woode benches and tried not to wince every tme she heard a creak or groan from the wood. The last set of bleachers had collapsed ten years ago, killing more than fifty people and maiming others. Safer now people assured her, but she didn’t believe them. Devlin didn’t trust low-tech work on backwater worlds.

And she didn’t think much of Forest anyway.

Devlin’s plans hadn’t included coming to see the show today. She’d watched one bear dance and found the show a disgusting display of brutality. Pitting a human against a local animal was barbaric and she didn’t know how these people could watch.

Devlin couldn’t decide whether anyone would send someone of her rank and tech abilities to such a low tech world. Someone from the office could have filed these reports. She’d enjoyed working on Caliente better than her and she’d despised that world. Forest might be a lovely planet, but she hated the people. Hated them all and knew she’d lost her objectivity.

Same as the other one by Gifford; not especially catchy but I’d go on with it.

6. Song of the Summer King, Jess E Owen

Fresh morning air lifted clouds and gulls above the glimmering sea, and drew one young gryfon early from his den. Too early, just before sunrise when forbidden darkness still blanketed the islands.

The sun rose unhurriedly from the sea, and Shard strained against the steep sky, breathing deep, challenging himself to the highest possible dive. The sea spun below him. His mind flickered lighting in the thin air and he shoved down panic. Some would call it too high.

His wings drew in and flapped out sluggishly, feeling separate from his body. He had to bank, to get lower, breath the deeper air.

Night sparked at the edge of his mind. His dreams flocked up from the night before. Nightmares of the impending initiation hunt.

Ah, a young, impulsive, possibly idiotic protagonist. Redeemed, however, by being a gryfon. I’d go on with this because hey, gryfons.

7. Thieftaker, DB Jackson

Ethan Kaille eased his knife from the leather sheath on his belt as he approached Griffin’s Wharf, the words of a warding spell on his lips. He had sweated through his linen shirt and nearly through his waistcoat as well. His leg ached and he was breathing hard, gasping greedily at the warm, heavy air hanging over Boston on this August eve. But he had chased Daniel Folter this far – from the Town Dock to Purchase Street, over cobblestone and dirt, past storefronts and homes and pastures empty save for crows and grazing cows – and he wasn’t about to let the pup escape him now.

The western horizon still glowed with the last golden light of day, but the sky over Boston Harbor and the South End shoreline had darkened to a deep indigo. Hulking wooden warehouses, shrouded n a faint mist, cast deep elongated shadows across the wharves. Clouds of midges danced around Ethan’s head, scattering when he waved a hand at them only to swarm again as soon as he turned his attention back to his quarry.

Possibly too gritty for my taste, though it might work for me – I’d have to go on with it to see. Also, I recall a commenter’s warning about the protagonist killing a dog. I’m willing to go on with it, but rather cautiously and if the rest of the sample doesn’t really grab me, I’d let it go.

8. Enchanted, Inc, Shanna Swendson

I’d always heard that New York City was weird, but I had no idea just how weird until I got here. Before I left Texas to move here, my family tried to talk me out of it, telling me all sorts of urban legends about the strange and horrible things that happened in the big bad city. Even my college friends who’d been living in New York for a while told me stories about the weird and wonderful things they’d seen that didn’t cause the natives to so much as blink. My friends joked that an alien from outer space could walk down Broadway without anyone looking twice. I used to think they were exaggerating.

But now, after having survived a year in the city, I still saw things every day that shocked and amazed me but didn’t cause anyone else to so much as raise an eyebrow. Nearly naked street performers, people doing tap-dance routines on the sidewalk, full-scale film productions – complete with celebrities – weren’t worth a second glance to the locals, while I couldn’t help but gawk. It made me feel like such a hick, no matter how hard I tried to act sophisticated.

Take this morning, for instance.

And then she describes a girl with butterfly wings. Well, the style is not all that appealing, but it’s not bad either. If I were in the mood for a light UF kind of story, I’d try this.

9. Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

At Kell Academy, and instructor had explained to Cheris’s class that the threshold winnower was a weapon of last resort, and not just for its notorious connotations. Said instructor had once witnessed a winnower in use. The detail that stuck in Charis’s head wasn’t the part where every door in the besieged city exhaled radiation that baked the inhabitants dead. It wasn’t the weapon’s governing equations or even the instructor’s left eye, damaged during the attack, from which ghostlight glimmered.

What Cheris remembered most was the instructor’s aside: that returning to corpses that were only corpses, rather than radiation gates contorted against black-blasted walls and glassy rubble, eyes ruptured open, was one of the best moments of his life.

Five years, five months, and sixteen days later, surrounded by smashed tanks and smoking pits on the heretic Eels’ outpost world of Dredge, Captain Kel Cheris of Heron Company, 109-229th Battalion, had come to the conclusion that her instructor was full of shit. There was no comfort to be extracted from the dead, from flesh evaporated from bones. Nothing but numbers snipped short.

Grim, grim, grim. But this one has certainly gotten all the buzz this year. I’d certainly go on with it on that basis.

10. Strange the Dreamer, Laini Taylor

On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.

Her skin was blue, her blood was red.

She broke over an iron gate, crimping it on impact, and there she hung, impossibly arched, graceful as a temple dancer swooning on a lover’s arm. One slick finial anchored her in place. Its point, protruding from her sternum, glittered like a brooch. She fluttered briefly as her ghost shook loose, and torch ginger buds rained out of her long hair.

Later, they would say these had been hummingbird hearts and not blossoms at all.

They would say she hadn’t shed blood, but wept it. That she was lewd, tonging her teeth at them, upside down and dying, that she vomited a serpent that turned to smoke when it hit the ground. They would say a flock of moths came, frantic, and tried to lift her away.

That was true. Only that.

Grim also, but this time in a surreal kind of way. As it happens, I prefer poetic-surreal-grim to gritty-ugly-realism-grim. I like the moths. I think I like the moths. Not even quite sure. I’ll have to be in the right mood for this one, that’s for sure

***

Okay vote for your favorite! Mine is easy:

#2, Swallows and Amazons. That delightful opening paragraph makes me smile. After reading just this bit, I pulled it out of my “Samples” folder into the general clutter of unread ebooks, where it is now resting right at the top of my electronic TBR pile.

As it happens, I’m making an effort to whittle down the physical TBR pile right now. But yep, I’ll definitely be getting to this one sometime relatively soon.

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5 Comments Beginnings: Recent Samples

  1. Evelyn Hill

    I’ve been hearing about ‘Swallows and Amazons’ for years and never gotten around to picking it up. Based on that sample, I’d like to read it.

    I read the ‘Enchanted’ novel. I liked it/didn’t like it/liked it again. Very light, yes, but mostly good. I think the reason I’m so iffy is that it shaped up like one of those series where the heroine spends several books wobbling between two different potential love interests. Janet Evanovich killed any tolerance I have for this kind of book. Pick one and stick with him, or kick them both to the curb for pity’s sake.
    I just picked up ‘River of Teeth.’ I think I’m in love. A western where they ride hippos?

    The start:
    Winslow Remington Houndstooth was not a hero.
    There was nothing within him that cried out for justice or fame. He did not wear a white hat — he preferred his grey one, which didn’t show the bloodstains. He could have been a hero, had he been properly motivated, but there were more pressing matters at hand. There were fortunes to be snatched from the hands of fate. There were hors d’oeuvres like the fine-boned young man in front of him, ripe for the plucking. There was swift vengeance to be inflicted on those who would interfere with his ambitions. There was Ruby.

  2. Elaine T

    I also tried Buffalo Soldier and it was ok, interesting, but not quite enough for me to add the whole thing to the TBR collection. I’ve kept it around, though, to try again later.

    Most of the other samples here read either too gritty or just clumsy. The grphon one actively puts me off as too badly written. (having lived through years of the Teen going on about how flying works for varieties of winged creatures (real and mythical) undoubtedly has a great deal with do with it.

    I read a bunch of the Arthur Ransom series back when I was more or less the target age, and remember them as just ok, nothing all that special. I am clearly an outlier as so many loved them very much.

    I tried the hippo one. My suspension of disbelief precipitated out pretty quickly and I don’t know that much about hippos and Louisiana. It might be a case of I don’t know what I don’t know, though.

  3. Pete Mack

    I need to recuse myself from this poll. The Ninefox Gambit sounds interesting, of the books I haven’t read, however.

    FWIW, there’s not a whole lot of dithering in Enchanted Inc. (roughly one book’s worth), and the outcome is obvious from the start. Plus there’s a brief relapse where the heroine feels she’s too much of a target as a potential hostage. I won’t remotely pretend it’s great literature. But I enjoyed the sight gags and one liners.

  4. Andrea K

    Going on with Swallows and Amazons is definitely a good idea. It’s charming. [Though I will always blink at what it’s better to be than a duffer.]

    I enjoyed Ninefox Gambit. Once you get through the terminology wall, it’s engrossing (though the core plotline is far from original). The primary pull is the interaction of the two main characters.

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