Anyway. Let's get to work. This time we have Neil's query, along with my feedback, in blue.
An oath designed to protect the weak and powerless may have instead doomed them all for eternity.
This is vague. I'm guessing you'll explain it in a moment, but if so, then why include it? Epic fantasy can often break a lot of rules, even when it comes to queries, but if you're gonna break rules (in this case, the rule would be open with Character, and a sympathetic one(s) at that) make sure you do it on purpose, and that it works.
Rhymar, a reluctant prince on a quest to prove his mettle and worthiness for the throne, This would make a much better opening line. This is actually a great intro. I like this guy already. Reluctant is actually one of my favorite characterization words (I've used it myself in a query, because it says so much in one word). struggling to fill the boots of his lost (missing?) and far more adept older brother, discovers the evidence Of the Oath being doom? This is where you get into trouble. You need to build your world quickly in a query, and while the opening line does make this phrase here make some better sense, we still can't understand exactly what any of this means. deep in an ancient city in the mountains. A mage of unequaled power is not bound by the Hart’s Oath—a spell all mages must bind to their gift before they are trained in the arcane. Okay. Now it makes sense. But ... consider rewriting this whole opening so that things lead logically to each other. I'll try to share an example after this paragraph. The Oath prevents them from using their magecraft to harm any other. But this nameless, unbound mage lives in secret beyond the mountains to the east, gathering his forces, and consolidating his power. He plans to sweep over the lands unopposed and rule all of Ureth for himself. And because of the Oath there is no one who can oppose him. Well, no mages anyway.
Okay. Let's talk about standard query format for a bit. Usually, in a query, or at least in the important part (the plot summary), you want to briefly summarize a manuscript so that it entices an agent to read pages. That's really all you have to do. Normally, that's handled in under 250 words, in such a way that you introduce a sympathetic Character, who experiences an inciting incident that leads to a clearly defined Conflict, which then escalates into a situation in which the character must make a sadistic Choice.
So that's Character, Conflict, and Choice. All in 250 words. This can be really hard. Especially when your manuscript is set in a secondary world that has rules that must also be explained. So let me try to show you an example opening that might hopefully include all of this:
"Rhymar, a reluctant prince on a quest to prove his worthiness for the throne, struggling to fill the boots of his far more adept elder brother, discovers evidence of a broken oath deep in an ancient city in the mountains. Hart's Oath--a spell all mages must bind to their gift before they are trained in the arcane--has been (circumvented, broken, bypassed, sundered--I'm struggling to think of a better voice appropriate word here) by a nameless unbound mage who is gathering his forces beyond the mountains ..."
See how, while still totally imperfect, and a bit wordy, this gets all the important details across to the reader without the unnessecary additions, and while also starting out with a bang by using your biggest assest: Character?
Except, perhaps Delaney—
After his entire honor guard is slaughtered by vile creatures not seen on Ureth for centuries, Rhymar and his few remaining companions must now protect this rude and unruly girl and escape the ancient city
Okay, I'm going to summarize here, because the rest is just nit-picky details.
Basically, this query is actually pretty damn good. You've got some awesome details here that will probably entice agents who represent adult fantasy to ask for pages. Even if you didn't change anything, I could see you getting some requests.
But you want to put your best foot forward, right? That's why you're here.
So, the main thing I think you need to do is fix the opening so it really hooks the reader. You want to punch them in the chest, you know?
So start with your character, prove your world is unique, and get right to the conflict. You don't need a bunch of minute detail to get this across. Remember, you want the agent to skip ahead to your pages as soon as the query looks like something they might like.
So all that said, I think you've got everything you need already here. Cut a few extraneous phrases and details, word your opening so that is progresses logically still, but much quicker, and then decide exactly what you want to do about Delaney and the middle. I expect it all works perfectly in the story, but in the query it's a bit out of left field, and it breaks up your pacing and tension. I'm not sure you can cut her all together, but maybe trim how much you say about her so that she doesn't take over the whole thing so much.
A STORM FROM THE EAST is a 140,000 word epic fantasy novel in the tradition of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series
This one was a lot of work, but I like that. I think we all together learn the most from the hard ones. And that doesn't mean this query is bad either, I actually think it means the opposite.
What do you all think? Can you suggest an even more succinct opening hook? Can anyone who reads fantasy confirm or deny my concerns about comparing Goodkind to Salvatore?
Otherwise, have a great weekend!