Okay. Hmm. This isn't bad. You've built the world in one nice succinct sentence (actually a single clause, if I remember my eighth grade English), and you hint at a probable inciting incident, but I want your opening paragraph to slam me in the chest a lot harder than this.
I really love this story, and I want to see it on the shelves at the bookstore, so I'm going to have to kind of go off in this critique. Prepare for long windedness.
So - although the world of ATR is a really rich and well painted one, and the unique elements of its religion and culture really make for an engrossing read, like every single story ever written, what actually drives this tale more than anything else is CHARACTER.
Lea is - she's just fucking awesome. There, I said it. In the beginning of the story, especially, she has a naivete and innocence to her, that while she isn't stupid by any means, sort of endears you to hear as a reader, because by the end of the opening scene, you're presented with this incredible dichotomy of personhood in which a sweet, not completely innocent, but perhaps too trusting girl also turns out to be a stone-hearted killer, and not only any old assassin, but one of the very best in her world.
Now, I know that took a while to say, but my point is that even though your world is incredibly strong in the story, and that's certainly a selling point you want to make clear in the query, I still think you need to begin with character. Everything always starts with character.
That said, you don't actually have to lose the world building in your opening hook to include more character. I would suggest you keep the first clause about the Kingdom, but instead of going into the revenge or the Da Vias, introduce us to Lea in a way that we understand her dichotomy, and we care.
Then you can get to the inciting incident right away in the next paragraph.
The list of things Lea can count on in her life has never been long: her mother will try to poison her to make Lea a better assassin, she can beat her boyfriend Val in a fight, (Oxford comma) and her bone mask will keep her safe from the angry ghosts as she
Okay. This is so hard. You've got a lot of great elements here. Lea's character is revealed against the backdrop of her family, and that makes for both great drama and characterization, but ... I'm not sure you need all this.
For one thing, if you change your opening hook to introduce Lea sooner and more fully, you're not going to need to do so again in this second paragraph. You do want to work the bone mask detail in, because that's just so damn awesome, but you could easily include that in the line in which you introduce Lea, and then that would give you room to make this second paragraph all about the inciting incident.
I for one think it's important to know that the Da Vias invaded the Saldana stronghold, in what at least at the time seemed to be a power-grab, and Lea was forced to watch her entire family die a horrible fiery death. It's a pretty big deal, and motivates Lea's actions through the rest of the story.
So, in other words, if you lose the detail about her mom's penchant for poisoning (it's awesome, I know, and I hate to see it go, but you need the room) and the detail about her being able to beat Val (introducing her in the opening as the best assassin implies this already, along with making sure it's clear his family is also assassins), then you'll have plenty of room to expand on the inciting incident.
Now there’s only one thing left to do: make the Da Vias pay.
The only problem is, the Da Vias have gone to ground and the one person who can find them is her missing uncle, banished from the
I don't think you need these last two sentences. We can already infer both of these questions from what we know of the story that's already presented to us.
But when the Da Vias kidnap her uncle, Lea has a choice: use him as a distraction to finally kill the Da Vias, or trust Alessio and save all that remains of her family.
This though, is killer. One of the best sadistic choices I've seen.
ALL THAT REMAINS is a YA fantasy novel complete at 102,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING trilogy and Leigh Bardugo’s SHADOW AND BONE. I've always read that the titles of published works should be in italics, not in ALL CAPS, like the working titles of unpublished manuscripts, but I know you've done your research. I have a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota, served as the fiction editor for 2003 Wayfarer, the literary magazine of the U of MN, am a SCBWI member and have been accepted into the Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (January 2014). My young adult horror short story “Smothered” appears in DARK MOON DIGEST YOUNG ADULT #1.
Otherwise, this is all money. Congrats again on getting in to Hamline, by the way. I have so many friends that were undergrads there.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
So, in summary: I mean, there's not a whole lot to add. I already went off about what I think. The thing is, this query is already really good. The story and the world and the characters are all very strong, and that comes through already as written. But ... it could be a little better.
I really do think that if you change your hook so that it's world clause followed by awesome character clause, and then you spend the second paragraph describing the inciting incident in more detail, you'd be in great shape. Except for the details I pointed out, the ending is great.
Man. That was hard as hell. I hope it helps, Sarah! What do you all think? Anyone want to take a stab at writing a new opening hook example?