Hi! I wasn’t able to fit all my thoughts into the comments so I’ll finish them here.
1) I really like Keylori. It’s interesting beginning with a character who is already in a position of command. Right now, it almost seems like it’s about to be stripped from her and she’s going to have to find her identity without it. If so, that would definitely be interesting. Despite her struggles with her half-brother she still seems pretty stable. Whatever happens, it has to be big and devastating to make an appropriate shift from the Act 1 world to the Act 2 world.
Her dynamic with her sword is interesting and her strange mixture of reliance and eagerness to break free from him. I think in the initial setup you should go on a little more about her position being restrictive and how she feels about that.
I’d suggest putting in a completely solo scene with her before meeting Anya, where you see her in a more vulnerable state. I’d like to see some weaknesses (her being made to kill is not necessarily a character fault) in her earlier on, some fears and some dreams. Who is she, apart from being a soldier (I really like the moral conflict being set up, but I’d love to see aspects of her that aren’t directly exhibited in her life as a warrior)? What side of her does no one else see? She’s clearly glorified and demonized, but I’d like to see aspects of her that are decidedly inglorious but not dramatically bad either. Since I only know about just her general Heroism (even her disliking of killing isn’t necessarily unique – it’s a basic truth that most soldiers don’t like killing) she seems a little flat, like a person whose entire life is their work (even if it is). Maybe add another layer of relationship and dynamic to Keylori? Maybe a personal struggle, like insecurity about her past? She has an exterior struggle and a spiritual struggle, but nothing really social (does she have any friends?) or emotional (insecurities? fears?).
Sequel scenes should probably solve this problem without bogging down the pacing. If you haven’t read through this post series by Helping Writers Become Authors yet, then I highly recommend it: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-structure-scenes/. It’s one of the best things that have happened to my writing. Where you’re at now, there’s no chance to take a breath. After the first battle, which is long and dramatic and where Keylori is truly being the Nightflame, try taking a breath with a sequel scene. I feel like I know how cool Keylori is (and noble) but not who she is. Though her discussion with Dairenat is interesting, I’d like some time before that to hear her own thoughts. I’d like to see her react to the battle. It could be dramatic (sobbing because she probably slaughtered a hundred men) or more subtle (since she’s done this before, she might be more hardened – or maybe not) but I’d like to see it. The concept is super interesting but I’m even more interesting in how it affects her as a person immediately after. It’s like Marvel movies – what separates the MCU from the (especially bad) DC movies is the fact that the main focus is not on the fight scenes, even though they’re interesting, often hilarious and the choreography is ridiculously interesting. It’s how it affects them. Captain America: The First Avenger is a brilliant example of this. Big spoilers if you haven’t seen it, btw. Skip to the next paragraph if you want to see it and have not. The whole movie is hinged on Steve as a person. When he loses Bucky the scene is definitely sad. However, he doesn’t move on to start doing things right away. He’s a person and given room to react. There’s a sequel right after that, when you see him alone in an abandoned bar trying and failing to get drunk because of his supersoldier serum. You can taste the depths of his despair.
In short, the movie takes time to reconnect with the character after each big thing. I like Keylori (again, she reminds me of Eowyn) but I couldn’t fully connect with her. You could turn her conversation with Dairenat into a sequel but I think I’d prefer just seeing her on her own and/or with her guard down. For some reason I would particularly like to see her have a conversation with someone like her maidservant where she drops her “mighty warrior” mask for a moment, because I feel like I only know only one more thing about Keylori than everyone else (that she’s tired of the killing). Even if it’s just for a few seconds, I think it would draw me into her character a little more. A ready-made “dilemma” and “decision in a sequel (remember: after she has an initial emotional reaction) would be her frustrated with the godlessness of the battlefield and deciding a chaplain might remedy that.
Tl;dr I like her but I need time to connect with her after every scene so I can actually understand what’s going on in her head and what her struggles are and who she is beyond what other people are trying to force her to be (and what exactly she thinks of said people). I think sequels after each scene would do the job.
2) Anya is intriguing, but I found her in media res opening a little too jarring. Maybe take some more time to set up who she is and why she’s there. Not everything, of course, but just enough so I’m sufficiently invested in her next few scenes. I also think you should take some sequel scenes for her (and maybe a slower opening scene) just to establish what she’s like and how she’s feeling and flesh out the setting a little more. She’s launching into a completely different world by approaching Keylori and I’d like to know where’s she coming directly from (not necessarily her past, though a snatch of that might be useful to flesh her out, just her life at the pub because it seems like she’s been working there for a few weeks now). Also, she strikes me as a little old. Not to say she’s too old to be a protagonist, but since Keylori is pretty young (early 20s?) the age gap between protagonists seems really big. Not to say it can’t be interesting and used brilliant, but a nearly thirty year age gap is mother-and-daughter level (especially in a non-modern setting where mothers could be as young as ages 17-19 and people tend to age faster, though I can’t speak for your world). If that’s intentional, great! If not, maybe age her down to 29 or 30. She’d still be worldly but less close to middle age.
3) Try cutting down on the limit of character names and assume your reader will jumble them all together in her mind repeatedly and will have short-term memory loss, because I certainly did. This is especially important with fantasy because it’s just harder to keep track of names in general. Maybe only introduce a new name every 300-500 words? Calling a character “the king’s advisor” for a little while before you finally learn his name is “Bob” helps me keep the names straight and match them to faces and roles. I thought Keylori’s half brother was an old man and Keylori was a slave for most of it because every new character jumbled together in my mind.
4) I appreciate the lack of pages of exposition, but using the names of a bunch of places and people groups I don’t know gives me the impression of being a kindergartener in Calculus. It’s…disorienting. On that note, besides a bunch of place names and the paladin position I don’t feel like I know anything about your world. I don’t know the technology, or if there are any non-humans, or landscape and scenery, or really any way to visualize it besides the skin color of a people from a place whose name I’ve forgotten because it’s not elaborated on. Even Tolkien, who is guilty of this to the highest extent with his obscure Silmarillion references (as much as I love the Silmarillion, the word “Numenor” is meaningless to the average reader), manages to gives a more grounded feel to the world. Everything that’s important is set up and given meaning early on (“Concerning Hobbits”); the extra bits for worldbuilding and history are reserved for later.
5) Themes: I see a big struggle here of convenience vs. convictions, with Dairenat representing the former side, the chaplain possibly representing the latter side and Keylori caught between them. Even though she hates what Dairenat stands for she still lets him control her. It also seems ripe to explore the value of human life – Keylori clearly finds lives valuable but is still letting herself be coaxed into killing “enemies” en masse. I’d like to see her struggle with wondering if she’s doing this because it’s actually right or because she’s afraid of what’ll happen if she chooses a harder path (essentially, weakness – choosing to be weak is super hard and I can see it especially applying to Keylori because her power is all she has and what makes her “valuable” to others).
6) I really, really like it and I’d love to beta read it when you’re ready if you’re interested in having beta readers. I have limited time so the feedback will be less instant and thorough, but I’d definitely love to continue talking about this if you find my insights helpful at all (I tried to stick to discussing content and my experience as a reader rather than pointing out the odd typo). I see a story worth telling and I’d be glad to support you telling it however it needs to be told. If you do want me as a beta reader and my unsolicited writing advice (“do sequel scenes!! it will solve all your problems!!”) is unhelpful, let me know!
I don’t know how you’re doing with beta reading ‘The Lore of Yore’, but I am integrating some of your comments into the second draft. I’m developing Keylori’s relationships with her top officers more– your comment about her not having much of a social life jived with my instincts because I know that people don’t really hold positions of power by their own force of will but rather need a core group of supporters to back them up.
I’m also making sure my writing includes sequel scenes. Anya plays an important role because I want her to become kind of a mother figure to Keylori (hence the age gap) and for Keylori to confide in her after big events.
Hi! I don’t think I ever received the extended version (or I lost it). So glad to hear my comments were helpful! I would love to see the changes you made in the second draft when it’s ready. Until then, I’m happy to wait so I can make fresh comments (instead of saying the same thing over and over again for a hundred pages). Looking forward to it! 🙂