Query Kombat Rond 1: GIRLS CAN BE PRINCES, TOO v. KAZA

Nickname: Girls Can Be Princes Too
Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: 60k Own Voices because of black/brown and queer characters, and of course, the being raised by fairies part. 
Eighteen-year-old Cal is no stranger to tragedy or secrets. Assassins murdered her father and brother when she was seven, leaving her kingdom without an heir. To avoid a civil war, she agreed to shed her identity as Princess Calliope and become Prince Cal. Being raised as a boy had its perks, including access to a throne otherwise denied her, but it also left Cal isolated and burdened by the weight of her secret.
A secret Cal isn’t so sure she can keep anymore.
For the past two years, tradition has forced her to participate in the Choosing, a ceremony intended to find the perfect wife for the prince. With the help of her mother, Cal set impossible standards that no matches could possibly meet, but she can stall no longer. If she doesn’t choose a bride soon, the council will become suspicious. Her mother, the queen, wants to choose someone easily manipulated to hide the truth, and Cal agrees…until she falls for Averi, an outspoken girl raised by fairies in the Enchanted Forest, putting Cal’s crown—and her life—at risk.

First 250:
On the morning of the Choosing, I sat in an oak tree watching the sun rise over the Enchanted Forest. This was my favorite time of day. Most everyone except Cook and the scullery maids were still asleep or at least too sleepy to bother me. I could come out here and catch a few minutes of solitude. 
This wasn’t just a retreat though; I was visiting my twin’s grave. The headstone marked Calliope lay just beneath this oak tree. Everyone had wondered why I didn’t choose a less ordinary tree or better yet, bury my twin in the graveyard with the rest of the royal family. I, however, wanted to be able to visit my twin in peace and everyone knows that oak trees are the best climbing trees. I knew that my twin wasn’t in the ground. My twin was somewhere among the clouds by day and the stars by night. Even at seven, I wasn’t stupid. 
Now, I stared up at the morning sky, wishing I could speak to my best friend. I needed my twin more than ever today
“It’s Choosing day again,” I breathed, “My most dreaded day of the year. You know, if you were here, it wouldn’t be so dreadful. It’d be great fun. We’d laugh at the poor hopefuls instead of dread them. I think you would have liked the spectacle.”
I wrapped my right arm around the branch next to me like I was looping it through my twin’s arm. 
Title: The Tsar’s Heir
Nickname: Kaza
Word count: 110, 000K
Gendre: YA fantasy
The Willed shall rule the Unwilled. This is the first law of Kaza, an empire where Will is the magic that gives one man the strength of twenty.
Sixteen-year-old Olesya is the tsar’s only child, whose strong Will and sharp mind makes her despise the customs that forbids women from fighting or ruling. When the tsar hosts a tournament to determine his successor, Olesya thinks her chance has come, that her father will finally recognise her potential and choose her as his representative. Instead he picks Russ, a commoner from the street, as his champion.
Russ walks into the court with nothing but the clothes on his back . . . and a secret; he’s not the beggar he pretends. He’s been sent by an underground organisation to win the tournament, assassinate the tsar, and abolish the laws of Kaza, that have enslaved Unwilled people for centuries. His simple task becomes complicated when he gets to know the tsar, a brilliant, yet lonely leader, who sees Russ as the son he never had. And when Russ falls in love with the tsar’s defiant daughter, he’s tempted to abandon his mission and betray those who sent him.
Olesya has plans of her own. Blind with jealousy to see her father lavish attention on a stranger, she does what no woman has ever dared; challenge the tsar’s champion to a battle of Wills. But Russ may be more than a match for her, and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t deny the growing attraction between them.
When the tsar is murdered before the tournament ends, he leaves behind an empty throne and an empire on the brink of civil war. Caught at the heart of the conflict, Russ and Olesya are forced to pick sides, and ultimately choose between love, loyalty, and ambition.
First 250 words:
The sunset reflected off the snow and white limestone, making the open-pit mine look like a great basin of blood.
An apt resemblance, I thought as the gong echoed through the quarry, signalling the end of the working day.
One by one the Kazich left their charcoal fires, tugging the whips from their belts and flogging Ryba into orderly lines. They didn’t touch us; the last law of Ryba law forbade it, and even Kazich feared death. Markov said it was the one law we could love, while we hated all the others. But in the fifteen years of my life I had found little comfort in that restriction. Kazich didn’t need hands to hurt us. When their whips failed there was Will.
I let the brick slip from my frostbitten fingers and crouched for a moment, savouring the strain leaving my arms. The ache in my back dulled as I took slow, deep breaths, a cloud of vapour forming before my face. The snow blanketing the stone beckoned me to lie down, close my eyes . . .
“Snow is a grave, not a bed,” A voice whispered in the back of my mind. The memory of a frozen corpse made me surge to my feet.
The mine was shaped like a giant bowl, cupped in a seam of limestone, the staired walls on either side evidence of over a century of quarrying bricks.
I found Alexei on a ledge near the centre of the pit, curled up beside a rusted shovel.
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    • Girls can be princes

      Um. I need this one now. An own voices intersectional love story with fairies meets the Selection? Yes, please!

      The query is very well done and easy to follow. I don’t know how Averi would put Cal’s life at risk. Can you make that a little more clear?

      I love the 250, too. My only question is about the Choosing. Is it only one day a year? That was a little unclear.

      Also, you may want to clarify that it wasn’t really Calliope who died, it was her brother, unless you make that clear a little later. Yet, I would think seeing a fake grave for a very real person would invoke strong feelings worth exploring.


      I love the concept. 110,000 seems a tad long for a first book. I know some agents get scared away by anything over 100k.

      It took me a couple of reads to understand Willed versus Unwilled. I wonder if you want to rework the first couple of sentences., or just start with The first law of Kaza is that Will is a special magic etc.

      Otherwise, I think it’s very well done in terms of what each character needs and what’s at stake.


      Hmm. I assume the narrator is Russ? Is the story dual POV? Because the query reads as if it is either third person or it is Olesya’s story. I’d add Russ’s name to the top if it is dual POV. Otherwise, I’d take a look at switching the paragraphs of the query so Russ’s story is above Olesya’s.

      Very intriguing and a great start!


    • Girls Can Be Princes Too

      Query: Good job with this one. Some suggestions: I think it’s important here to mention that her brother was actually her twin brother, and that what happened was her taking his place and assuming his identity (at least that’s what I’m getting from the 250). The last paragraph I think needs a little strengthening. You say she’s set impossible standards, is that still true this year? Is Averi one of the few who meet her requirements? Is Averi one of the choices who’d be easy to manipulate? Or does she fall for her against better choices? I’m also curious what the big picture conflict is here. Do the fairies play a part in it? Would Averi out Cal and put her life at risk?

      250: Consider renaming the Enchanted Forest, I feel like this term has been used quite a bit and has lost its punch. Overall this is a decent opening, but it falls a little flat for me. We’re starting at the very end of your query so I’m wondering what happens in the meat of this story. Especially since it’s only 60k which is on the short side for Fantasy. What’s the true conflict? I’d love to see more emotion from Cal as she’s sitting at her brother’s grave. Is it surreal to see her own headstone even though she’s alive? I think starting at the grave could be great, you just need to amp it up a little bit more.


      Query: Off the bat I’d cut the entire first paragraph. I don’t really think that you need it. Next paragraph it should be either “customs that forbid” or “custom that forbids.” I’m a bit confused about his need to choose a representative. If it’s a tournament, would he be choosing the contestants or would there just be requirements? And if women aren’t allowed to participate, why would Olesya be confused about him not picking her? In the next paragraph you then go on to mention an underground organization sent him which confused me. Was it the organization or her father who got Russ involved? Overall, I think I get a really good sense of your story but right now the query is lacking voice which keeps it from reaching that next level.

      250: My first thought reading this was, wait, Olesya is working in a mine? Then I figured out we’re starting with Russ. The way your query is structured made your opening jarring since we’re expecting Olesya. If this book is dual POV and has to start with Russ, I’d suggests opening with his POV in the query. If it’s only from his POV I’d trim a lot of the information you have about Olesya from the query. The very first sentence gave me an odd image, and “open-pit mine” reads a little awkwardly, but I love the sentiment in the third paragraph. I think there’s a bit too many terms introduced right away (Kazich, Ryba, Markov, Will). Yes, I realize Markov is a person, but with all of them together it’s a bit much. Since Will is also a name, maybe say their Will? I also need some clarification on what/who Ryba is. I’m assuming another class of citizens? Law of Ryba confused that for me a little. Love the line, “snow is a grave, not a bed.” Fantastic. The next description of the mine is a little repetitive of the opening, maybe you could combine? Honestly I’m really enjoying the writing here, I think the biggest thing is to remember not to overload readers with too many new terms too quickly.

      This is a really tough matchup. Kaza seems a bit on the long side while Girls is the opposite. In the end I felt I connected more to the writing in Kaza so, VICTORY TO KAZA!


      Query: Most of your query is backstory, but I like how it clearly informs the problem she’s facing. Perhaps it could be slimmed down to just two or three sentences, leaving more room for the current conflict? It’s also unclear to me whose idea it was for her to become Cal…I would have assumed the council, but they seem like the villain in the last paragraph…so her mother? (Does the mother become an antagonist?)

      250: Very lovely! The only line that gave me pause was, “Even at seven, I wasn’t stupid.” I had to re-read the query to remember how old she was and that the twin died at seven.


      Query: I get a clear sense of the two characters and what’s at stake, though it’s a little long. I think you can delete the first paragraph (and the other references to Willed/Unwilled with a bit of tweaking)…the plot and world-building still make sense. Russ’s paragraph could also be streamlined, something like, “Yet his simple task becomes complicated when he gets to know the brilliant, lonely tsar and falls in love with the tsar’s defiant daughter.”

      250: Ahhh is this Russ? I was very puzzled why the tsar’s daughter would be working in a mine. The query makes it seem like Olesya is the opening character. I would identify the narrator (or switch opening chapters if possible).

      This one is so tough, and I want to keep reading both!



      Your query is really solid. The very first sentence didn’t grab me immediately, as unfortunately losing a father and other family is alarmingly common in YA fiction. However, I was hooked on the gender swapping and especially that you pointed out her isolation. I was impressed how smoothly you set up the central conflict as both grand (duty) and personal (loneliness).

      Overall, I don’t have much to add. It sounds like Cal’s mother is in on the ruse and if it was her idea, maybe introduce her in the first paragraph. It sounded like no-one knew her secret, but then suddenly her mother does, so it diminished the weight a bit. Maybe make it clearer just how isolated she is – who knows, who doesn’t. And maybe hint at her relationship with her mother if it is important to the story.

      The first 250:

      This read well. I got a sense of who Cal is and how she sees the world, but there could be more. I think you could describe the setting in richer detail as a chance to enhance the emotions she’s feeling. What does the Oak tree look like? How big is it in comparison to the rest around her? Same goes for the enchanted forest. In fantasy it’s all right, and usually recommended, to take a moment and set the scene a bit more. Make us feel the setting. Especially if she visits it often, she probably knows every detail down to the smells and the bugs.


      This is a tricky query, because it sounds like you have two main leads and give both of them equal attention in your story, which I like for a book, but not for a query. Depending on who you start with (Is it Russ in the first 250?), I would center on them. Both Olesya and Russ have enough story for the query, and since they’re tied together, you don’t need to leave the other out, but the third paragraph caused a bit of whiplash.
      Also, the first sentence is a bit unruly because Will is also a name, and so far we don’t have a main character, so for a second I thought it might be someone named Will. I’d recommend starting with a character. If you want to set up the world first, tie it directly in with your main protagonist. World building is important for fantasy, but especially for a query, our entry should be a character.

      The First 250:

      You have sort of the opposite first page than your “Kompetator”. I like the vividness of the language, however, as I alluded to earlier, I’m not sure who we’re following here. There are a lot of names thrown out. It sounds brutal, and the person is 15, not 16, so I’m assuming we’re with Russ here, but I honestly am not sure. This is where clarifying the query could help.

      But your story sounds pretty epic and with lots of action. I like the idea of the Tsar’s daughter wanting to prove herself in combat. Also, I’m no expert on YA, but the word count sounds a bit high, even for fantasy, at least for a debut.

      Fantasy is my genre, so I know how hard it can be to write a good sparse and clear query. So good job to both of you.


      -Outer Space Potato Man

      Query: Seriously….I read your query and GASPED at the whole “find the perfect wife for the prince”. Totally hooked and was ready to dive into the first 250. As far as feedback about your query, I’d suggest adding into the first paragraph that the Queen helped her shed her identity. Even though the opening clearly states only dad and brother were killed, I was thrown off for a beat when I read that the Queen is also in on it to help make sure it goes according to plan (like, “Oh…yeah…the mother IS still around!”). You have the word count space to do it if you choose.

      First 250: Damn you, making me gasp again. Her brother was her twin!? And he died when he was 7? And HOLY CRAP…it all shifted into place because losing her identity meant DYING (others are probably going to say, “duh…how did you THINK that was going to happen?” but honestly, it didn’t dawn on me at all!!). My only suggestion would be to rework the first sentence. It’s not terrible at all, but it’s repetitive with a few lines down saying “It’s Choosing day again…”. I love the idea of being in the oak tree and watching it, but I’d consider removing the first few words. Otherwise, nicely done!!

      Query: Another great fantasy entry–this one with romantic elements (another thing I’m a sucker for!). The goals/stakes are clear, the conflict is evident and intriguing! My only suggestion would be to combine paragraphs 3 and 4 of the query (no word editing, just remove the space to make it 1 paragraph). I’m also on the fence with the tag line at the start–but this may be something specific to fantasy queries, so I’m not saying you absolutely have to remove it, but as a non-biased 3rd party who doesn't write fantasy, I can tell you the query reads fine without. Of course, it’s your call.

      First 250: First 250: From the query this is a dual POV novel, correct? If so–you need to denote who is speaking here. If this isn’t a dual POV novel, you can pass over this feedback portion. If this is, I know it can be hard in these pitch contests to list it like you have it in your MS, so I’d put “Russ’ POV”. Even though we may figure it out in the premise of the contest, l’d still include it. Otherwise, great visual (the “snow is a grave, not a bed” is my favorite line!), the opening scene puts us right into the action. Nicely done.




      I like the premise, the stakes and the twists! I do think there are a couple of things that could make the query better: First off, I wouldn't lead with a trite phrase like "no stranger to." It weakens the punch of your opening. Also, I had a hard time thinking of a 7yo "agreeing" to changing her identity–at that age, it's parents/guardians really making all the choices, especially in the case of a royal kid. Maybe just change the wording?

      First 250:

      This does a good job of introducing us to your world and your MC. However, I found the repetition of "my twin" a little distracting. I know you're probably trying to hide the sex of the MC and the twin at this point, but since we know nothing about them yet, I don't think you'd lose anything by using a pronoun to cut the repetition a little bit.



      Very intriguing and fun query, and one in which the dual POV works well, IMO. It does a good job of showing who both MCs are and the stakes for each of them. So kudos there, the only thing that bothered me was that I never got a clear sense of what Willed vs. Unwilled actually meant. What does it mean to have a Will? I know it's hard to convey world-building in a query, but I think that having a bit of a clearer idea of what it means to be Willed would go a long way in your case.

      First 250:

      Good, voice-y and well-written. I'd caution against introducing too many new words all at once (i.e., Ryba and Kazich). Maybe it's because I've been reading entries for too long and my brain is mush by now, but I found myself tripping over the terms, trying to figure out what they meant. (Bear in mind that a tired agent might have the same problem, though, FWIW).

      Yet another tough choice!


      Query: Wow, I want to read this. The only thing that I would like to know about is how Averi is a danger to her crown and life? You do have room to expand there. We get a sense of her stakes, but what will happen if she gets with Averi? Are the fairies evil in this story? We need more to better understand what Cal will lose.

      First 250: This opening is pretty heavy but in a good way. I pulled me in almost instantly. Thought, I did get pulled out with the mention of "Even at seven, I wasn't stupid." I know what you're trying to say, but I don't think it's being conveyed the way you intended. Watch out for minor typos (period missing after "today") and I'd change the comma after "breathed" with a period. Overall, fantastic!

      Query: Ohhh, this sounds awesome! And I really like the special magic is called Will. The only part that was sort of confusing is why does Olesya's Will cause her to hate the customs? And if custom forbids women from ruling or even fighting, why would she think the tsar would even consider her to be his representative? This might be explained somewhere, however, it may need to be cleared up in the query.

      First 250: It took to almost the end of the first 250 to realize this was not Olesya's POV. I don't know if it's possible, but weaving in some sort of description of Russ so we know instantly whose POV we are in. You don't want to confuse your reader in the first few paragraphs. Otherwise, once I knew what POV I was in, it understood and followed the imagery better. The voice is great!

      This is really hard to pick one—I liked them both and both were very strong. Soooooo I'm going to go with my preference…
      Victory to: KAZA

  1. Girls Can Be Princes Too:
    Great query with clear stakes. Unfortunately, the 250 start at the third paragraph of the query, and the query should start where the story does. I will say that 60k seems a little short for a YA fantasy so an agent might have concern about the world building.
    As for the 250… Enchanted Forest makes me think fairy tales and there might be too much world building in that 2nd paragraph, slowing it down a little.

    The Tsar's Heir:
    I've read a lot about how agents shy away from a first MS that's over 100k. And the query isn't too long, but it feels long when I read it.
    The 250 are good, very descriptive. They remind me a little of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when Indy's watching the creeps underground.

  2. From Catattack

    Query: I think you need to include that Cal’s brother was her twin in the query. Also, I wasn’t clear why the assassins wouldn’t somehow spread the word that they’d killed the son, not the daughter. I like Cal’s willingness to break the rules re: ‘traditional’ roles. The crown portion of the stakes are clear but it wasn’t as clear why Cal’s life would be at risk. Is it because she’d be viewed as a pretender to the throne – or is her sexual orientation the issue — or is it because she's consorting with fairies?

    250: Suggest re-ordering and trimming the following: ‘(I could come) Out here, I could catch a few minutes of solitude.’ Suggest looking at trimming filler words like just and that, and word repetitions in close proximity, i.e., ‘just’ is used in the 1st and 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph. The shift from past to present tense jarred here: ‘…and everyone knows…’ suggest knew. Also, to avoid repeating know/knew and trim out a filtering word, perhaps change to: ‘(I knew that) My twin wasn’t…’ The ‘Even at seven’ line was confusing. I’m assuming this refers to Cal making the decision to bury his brother in this spot back when he was seven, but this makes it sound like she’s still that age. Also suggest sticking with ‘said’ for speaker attributions as it’s more transparent. Lovely closing line.

    Query: Sounds like another great story with a character who refuses to be hemmed in by ‘traditional’ roles. Suggest breaking the 1st sentence of the 2nd paragraph at ‘only child(,). (whose) Her strong Will and…’ Also suggest rephrasing ‘Blind with jealousy (to see) at her father lavishing attention…’ Suggest a colon rather than a semicolon here: ‘…no woman has ever dared: challenge…’ The stakes and set-up are clear, but after reading the 1st 250, suggest including something about the story being dual POV or moving Russ’ paragraph before Oleysa’s (though the query as is has a nice flow).

    250: Lovely prose. ‘The mine was shaped like a giant bowl, cupped in a seam of limestone’ is a beautiful description, but it felt repetitive since the limestone and basin shape were mentioned in the opening line. Perhaps revise one of them? I think the opening does a good job of introducing us to the hardships of Russ’ world and a glimpse of his determination, as well as an understanding of why he’d want to fight back against the role he’s forced to play.

    Two wonderful entries and another difficult choice.


  3. Girls Can be Princesses, too: I loved this query, was easy to follow, clear and made me want to read the excerpt, so job well done! I like your ease with words, they read fluidly and simply. I think you could possibly show the setting a bit more to make the forest a bit more enchanted. Show the sun lighting the leaves or something and show her feelings a bit more about being at the grave. Other than that, I LOVE this entry. I love her perspective on where her twin is, it really shows who she is. I'd read on!

    Kaza: Oooh, love the opening line of the query, it really pulls me into the world! And the rest is pretty sharp, too! Really great premise and stakes set up well. I got a little confused with all the terms introduced early on. I reckon this would become clearer as we read on, but just a thought to space them out a bit so it's easier to digest. Your prose it lovely, too! Also a quick mention about who's POV we're in. Overall, I love your writing, the story is intriguing, so easy fixes for a bit of clarity! Great job.

  4. Princess and the Peace

    The first paragraph of your query is strong. It clearly shows the complicated dynamic in assuming the identity of a sibling, especially one that is another gender. I would mention that they were twins here.

    I thought the fact that she falls for a girl interesting, because this could totally be another She’s the Man or Just One of the Guys (among others) type story where she likes a guy. I would just make sure that her feelings didn’t arise just from her being raised as a boy. Maybe make references to her always being attracted to other women, not men. I’m very curious how this will end with Averi, because if Averi likes Cal as a man, that’s going to come with some interesting conflict. While she might not share Cal’s secret, I worry that they wouldn’t have a happily ending together.

    The first 250 words were very good. I liked how she spoke with her brother and looped her arm through the branch like it was his arm. It showed that they had a strong bond. I agree with one of the other commenters that Enchanted Forest is overused.

    The Tsar’s Heir

    I must admit, I got lost in your query. I didn’t quite understand the Willed, especially in the ways it was used throughout the query and first 250 words. Maybe do more to clarify that in the beginning of your query. You reference Russ’s task as simple, but winning a tournament, assassinating a tsar, and abolishing laws doesn’t sound simple at all. I would find a different way to describe it. Maybe you are trying to show that Russ is very capable of doing these tasks, but it almost diminishing how difficult the tasks must be. The stakes at the end were good, I liked the last paragraph of the query.

    Also, your word count is high, especially for YA.

    In your first 250, I didn’t really know what was going on. Kazich, Ryba, Markov, and Alexei were all mentioned and I wasn’t sure who was narrating. In the query, you talked about the law of Kaza, but here you talked about Ryba law. Where they competing laws or factions of people?

    I also didn’t understand the sentence “When their whips failed there was Will.” I thought Will was a designation of people, but here it seems like some kind of punishment, or even a person.

    The writing was good and I liked the description of the quarry. I think maybe introducing the people/races at a slower pace with some description as to who/what they are would be very helpful.

  5. GIRLS CAN BE PRINCES: I think your query is very clear and easy to follow–and I love this concept. I just want more! Is there more you can share about what will happen when Cal falls for Averi? What are the stakes putting her life at risk?

    The first 250 – I LOVE the last line of your 250 words. The rest of it feels a little on the nose… or something. Stating it's the most dreaded day of the year–I feel like Cal's best friend (living or not) would already know that Cal feels that way. Is there something more insightful Cal can say instead?
    Good luck!

    KAZA: I definitely want to read based on the query! I understand how the situation and characters you have will make a great story. I'm a little confused by the Willed and Unwilled, and wonder if you need it in the query.

    The first 250 is confusing to me, mainly because I don't know who is speaking. You introduced two protagonists, and I don't know who this is or what's going on.
    Good luck!

  6. Fellow Kombatant here, winding up her lunch break!

    Q: Awesome historical root here – posing as a male for political sake, only to fall in love. Ah, I love the premise. I did feel that unless I had the "stats" listed for me at the beginning as they are in the contest, I'd have been thrown off by the mention of the fairies at the end of the query. I also wanted to know more about what would happen if Averi and Cal got together – is F/F romance forbidden here? Or is it just because Cal's a prince? Also – Cal "agrees" to masquerade as the prince. With whom does she make this agreement?

    250: In the first 250, we're ready for the Choosing – this is a great choice. One minor flaw here is the reference to "my twin" – I see this language repetitively here. Is this because you're trying to keep the switcheroo a secret from the reader, to start? If so, I think you'll have to be careful with how much "my twin" is in here. Instead of the tell about the "favorite time of day," I also recommend showing this for us – I think you follow up that line with reasons why, too. Overall, though, I'd read on.

    Q: I'd strike that first line from the query, I think. The "where Will is…" made me think the character was going to be named Will. Instead, you can wrap it in to your opener: "Sixteen-year-old Olesya is the tsar’s only child, whose strong Will — the ancient magic that gives one person the strength of twenty…"

    I'm thrilled by the premise of this piece – the love between two opponents is always a tricky little device. I think it could be tightened a bit more (a judge referenced the 1st line of your current 2nd para above for a good example of this).
    250: You have some wonderful imagery here – the sunset as the bowl of blood, for instance. I don't think you need to double-reflect on the limestone in the first 250 words, though, since you're trying to fit in as much as you can about your MC to pique the reader's interest. That said – I'm not sure WHO the narrator is here! Is it Russ, or Olesya? Is it dual? If so, I'd recommend tweaking the query to reflect this. If it's Russ's POV in particular – his quest will be a lot different.

    Awesome ideas put forth here. I don't envy those judges one bit!

    This is a nifty premise that would be right up teenage-Me's ally (and today-Me's, let's be honest). I do think you have room to add some voice to this query. What are the other perks Cal likes? I was confused about the Council not knowing she was switched, and I spent a good bit of time trying to figure out if I'd read something wrong. (Oh, and OF COURSE raised by fairies! Lovely!)

    The first page clears this up somewhat–when one child died, they had to make the switch before ANYONE could know. I would consider introducing the council earlier, as adversaries. Presumably they would be divided in a civil war. That's good tension. The first page strikes a sweet but poignant note.

    Another concept that would make my teenage heart soar. I think the only thing missing is why the tsar picks this random commoner to be his champion. Is Russ' Will exceptional? Did he do something extraordinary? I can see why Olesya would resent him, but some specifics would make her resentment even sharper.

    The query gave me the impression that Olesya was the primary figure, so I find it surprising that we're starting with Russ. This might not be so disconcerting in a full presentation where you might start with chapter with his name to signal that it's his POV. This scene is evocative, but it doesn't have action. There's a lot of description that I think could be moved to a later page, so something more gripping could be moved up. Who is Alexei and why is he curled up when he should be working? Is he sick, or dead? I have questions, but not quite the urgency I want to have for "Yes, I must turn this page!" I would consider whether this is the right place to start, especially if Olesya is meant to be the primary.

    These are both books my Tamora Pierce-loving self wants to read. I hope I get to one day!

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