My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.
Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.
Larzo’s life was decided for him the moment he shape-shifted into a panther.
He and his parents are members of the king’s secret force, using their enhanced abilities to monitor the governors of the outlying provinces. For nineteen years, he’s never questioned his parents’ decision, or his path. Above you make it seem like the shapeshifters don't have a decision to make though, like being a shifter means you are automatically part of this secret force - is that the case?
While on a routine inspection, Larzo catches three men attacking? an innocent woman in the forest. For the first time in his life he follows instincts instead of orders, and leaps from the shadows to save her, injuring two men before they can escape. Only then does he realize he’s thrown himself, his parents, and his king into a boiling conflict in the Southern Province. How so?
For as long as she can remember, Aydra’s Is Aydra the girl Larzo saved? home has been a sanctuary for children targeted by the governor. Why are they being targeted by the governor? But two years after her own parents’ execution, she’s reached her limit. At age seventeen, she’s the sole provider for nine children, and the reluctant leader of a rebellion against the governor’s ban on education, all while maintaining a run-down bakery to make ends meet. Why would education be banned? When you say earlier that her home is a sanctuary I picture a hidden place, but it sounds like she's in plain sight?
In thirty days, the governor will remove the children on counts of negligence. Remove them to where? Negligence in this case means what? Aydra’s spent her life fighting tyranny and physical signs of force. She doesn’t know how to navigate the legal aspect of the governor’s edict. With no time or money, she’s forced to accept Larzo’s help in exchange for room and board. How does he know how to navigate the legal aspect? To her surprise, he also helps her makeshift family, healing the trauma they’d experienced under the governor’s rule. Physical, emotional, mental trauma? How does he help?
Aydra believes that Larzo’s connection to the king will stop the governor, but when the governor attacks closer to home, she realizes the king doesn’t care. Unless she can find a way force him to respond, she’ll watch the governor destroy everything she’s built. What has she built, exactly? You say she's the head of a rebellion, but I have no idea what that means or entails. And if Larzo can’t find a way to intervene, he’ll lose the closest thing he’s ever had to a real family.
The ORPHANS OF JADOX is a young adult fantasy. Complete at 72,000 words, it’s told from four points of view: Larzo, Aydra, and Larzo’s parents. Having adult POV in YA is possible, but difficult. Also, if his parents are that important they need to be in the query. Your query already leans long, and leaves a lot of questions. You've got to pare down a bit. A lot of the info you have here is more of a synopsis and less of a query.
The rustle of leaves broke through the stillness of late afternoon. Larzo froze, waiting for the creature to present itself, the fur on his tail prickling as though on cue. Narrowing his eyes, it only took several seconds several seconds is actually a pretty long time to pinpoint the offending bush. Twice the length of the thick trunks around it, and almost as tall as the lowest branches, its large size made it a perfect hiding spot for man or beast to hide. A bit too much description of the tree here. We know people can hide behind trees without knowing it's a big tree.
With paws spread, Larzo crept closer, keeping his body close to the moist earth. The rain from the morning’s shower kept the ground damp, silent under his approach. Everything smelled green, from the leaves scattered on the forest floor to the moss clinging to the crevices between bark.
The direction of the breeze shifted, bombarding Larzo’s senses with garlic, blood and sweat. His eyes watered, and he blinked, unable to see through the onslaught. Onslaught of tears? smells? Humans. At least two, by the smell of it. Unable to control himself, Larzo moved closer, rolling the muscles in his shoulders. A tantalizing blend of flavors. His stomach growled, the rabbit he’d eaten hours earlier a distant memory. So he's thinking about eating them??
“Keep still,” a man whispered.
His sharp voice shook Larzo from his approach. This was no time to think with his stomach. These men didn’t belong here. Wait - so if the DID belong here it's okay for him to think with his stomach? Not after Larzo’s father and the king spent so many years reinforcing the idea of haunting spirits. Like they've tried to convince people the woods is haunted? Why? Expand on this a little more. We need to know why Larzo is out her in the first place. I she actually hunting? Is he just scaring people off? Guarding something?
“I thought I heard something.” A second voice whispered. “They say demons live here.”
“Shut up!” The first man’s words released in a hiss, barely audible above the wind sneaking through the foliage.
Larzo blinked. Two. Because he used the plural "humans" above it indicates he already knew there was more than one. And through a speckling of light escaping through the dense canopy overhead, he detected another figure in the bush to his right, for a total of three.