Thank you for participating in such a fun contest! Since you're looking for imaginative fantasy, I hope my project is a good fit for your list.
GOLDEN CROWNS, CRIMSON THORNS is a young adult fantasy novel complete at 87,000 words. It combines the fairy tale elements of UPROOTED with the girl power of THE PRINCESS ACADEMY and the betrayal and darkness of SHADOW AND BONE. It was requested by Miriam Weinberg from Tor/Forge at the May 2016 Atlanta Writer’s Conference, and it’s my goal to find an agent before I submit my manuscript to her.
Synne Davies is seventeen years old, a fisherman’s daughter, and--technically--a princess. When she’s summoned to attend Caerwood Academy with three other princesses to save the peace of the four kingdoms, she is, at first, defiant. She’s chosen a life of independence, fishing in a boat made with her own hands, holding her own in a harbor full of men. But when she’s escorted by armed guards to attend the Academy, her loss of freedom becomes the least of her worries. School might not be as dull--or safe--as she thought.
Despite her fears, her initial days at the Academy are filled with etiquette classes, history lectures, and homesickness. She struggles to find common ground with the other princesses, and her only ally is the handsome mathematics teacher who sees potential in Synne despite her rural background. However, the normalcy crumbles when Synne unearths the truth: the princesses were brought to the school to be brainwashed into supporting the wealthiest kingdom of Astun--or, should that fail, as hostages.
Facing a princess rebellion, the teachers use powerful enchantments to trap the girls in the castle, where the princesses face starvation if they refuse to comply. Now Synne has only two goals for the academic year: to resist, and to survive. To do that, she must unite the other girls, uncover some magic of her own, and prepare the castle for siege, knowing failure means more than death--it means war.
I graduated in 2010 with honors and a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts and Culture from New St. Andrews in Northern Idaho, where I read and wrote until I had brain callouses and terrible posture. I've pasted the first 1,250 words below, thank you so much for your time and consideration.
All my best,
GOLDEN CROWNS, CRIMSON THORNS
The fishing net caught the stitches on the back of her hand with a stomach-lurching jerk. Synne bit off a curse and hauled the empty net in, blood trickling down the crook between her thumb and finger. There were only five stitches, but three had torn free, and the puckered flesh was even uglier now. Her mother had stitched it up only the night before, and she kept a tally of the scars on Synne’s calloused fingers. All scars and no ring.
Synne sighed and ignored the school of cod flashing in the water. Swaying in her perch on the prow, she pinched the cut together, wrapped a bit of cloth around her palm, and knotted it.
She glanced to the stern, but, thankfully, Captain Cam wasn’t watching. He didn’t allow her to swear like the crew did, but then again, he was her father. Rough hands were a fisherman’s trademark, but he still fussed over her every time a hook marred her fingers or the ropes burned blisters into her palms. Probably because his wife only gave him an earful over Synne’s marriage prospects.
She picked up her casting net and rubbed the wet fibers between her fingers. Her shadow stretched past the bow and over the waves, and she could look east without squinting. It was the end of the day.
The boat was her second home. She’d spent half of her seventeen years on it. Every knot in the nets, every groove in the deck were as familiar to Synne as the pattern of scars on her hands. The captain gave her a man’s wages, and the crew couldn’t complain. She could mend a net before any of the men could thread a needle. Like an otter in the water, she was the only one who could bring in a stray float or dive to check a snarled line.
Fishing was her birthright.
A cold snout pushed into her bandaged palm. Synne drew it away, reaching around to scratch behind Kip’s ears with her uninjured hand. His stub tail vibrated, but when the scratches were over, he circled back to his resting place in Synne’s shadow, panting beside the full basket of bait fish. Every cast, he twitched like he would follow the net into the sea. But he wasn’t allowed. Hauling him back out, smelly, exhilarated, and thrashing, was a nightmare. Besides, it scared the fish.
Synne rolled her shoulders and brushed a trickle of sweat from the back of her neck. A shout rang out from the stern. Synne dodged the sail and lines, swinging her way towards the men at the rear of the boat. They had pulled the lines in for the night, stashing the gear away. All except one.
Synne’s father crouched down, one brown hand on the line, squinting at a swirl of white water behind them. A sea turtle struggled behind the boat, caught.
“Can’t pull it in without hurting it,” Cam grunted. “Will, fetch it in.”
Will glanced at the captain, uncertain. The turtle was an Ebban Snapper, as big as the one that took off a man’s hand last spring. Only a fool bothered a snapper, even on land. One tangled in a net would be rearing for a fight. And Synne had seen Will swim. He’d either drown or paddle to the turtle just in time for it to take a chunk out of him. It should be her job. If Will got hurt, it would be her fault.
Will was still halfway out of his shirt and her father’s eyes were on the snapper bobbing behind them. She stripped down to her shift, stepped past Will, and dove. Delicious cool surrounded her, the sun’s harsh glare gone. Synne kicked, judging the distance to the turtle. Don’t get too close.
Surfacing, Synne spat briny water and wiped her eyes, waving to Cam. He had one hand on Kip’s collar, his arm jerking as Kip tried to throw himself after Synne. She could just make out her father’s mouth, pressed into a line under the shade of his cap.
“That isn’t a buoy, Synne,” he called.
Cam threw his thumb over his shoulder.
But he was the man who’d taught her to pull her weight in the world. And Synne always did. She gulped, treading water. She should have stayed underwater until she was far enough away to pretend she couldn’t hear him. She pressed her own mouth into a frown, shook her head, and pointed to the turtle. Its slitted yellow eye glared. The captain threw up his free hand and shook his head. Will laughed. Cam smacked him on the back of the head.
Synne grinned, and sea water sloshed into her open mouth. She hadn’t disobeyed a direct order. Besides, there wasn’t much he could do from the deck of the boat. Unless he replaced her with another crew member. And there were rules on the boat. No special treatment.
She struck out for the turtle. Facing it, she felt like she’d taken another gulp of cold seawater. It loomed like a tiny island of rage. Loops of tangled line wound around the wide, spiked shell, and its muscular flippers thrashed the water. She wouldn’t be able to get near enough to do anything. Of course not. She couldn’t exactly ride the turtle back to the boat. She swallowed, the heat of embarrassment warming her numb limbs.
A shout, then the end of a line smacked in the water beside her. Synne swam to the turtle’s side and bobbed out of the reach of its powerful jaws. She tied a noose, treading water with her legs. Bellowing with rage, the turtle craned its neck to spot her, but she drifted behind its flailing tail and looped the rope around the shell.
“It’s all right, you ugly thing.” It snapped its beak at her like it knew what she’d said. Her soothing voice needed work, then.
“Shush, I’m sure your mother loves you very much.”
A vision struck her, of what her mother would say if she lost a whole hand. Or both hands. A desperate laugh bubbled under her ribs.
She kicked and surged backwards. The noose tightened, wedged between two primeval spines. She waved to the boat, and a shout answered. A foaming wake formed behind the turtle as strong arms pulled it in. Synne bobbed in the water, light as a cork. Will was safe and dry, and she was still irreplaceable on the boat, still in one piece.
Flipping onto her back, Synne dawdled in the wake, ears in the water. The world turned to sunlight, cool water, and silence. The silence was important. A lecture waited on the boat. But she couldn’t stay in the water forever.
Her father looked down at her and shook his head before pulling her aboard, his mouth pressed shut, his eyebrows drawn. Good. That meant he was trying not to smile. She was in trouble, but he’d be telling the story at the pub that night. From the looks the crew gave her, they would be, too.
She pulled her dress over her soaked shift. On the deck, three men held the turtle’s shell as it scrabbled deep grooves in the planking, eyes rolling. Will crouched beside it, slashing each loop of line with swift strokes. Synne slid an oar handle under its nose. With a crack, the turtle’s beak clamped down, giving her father enough time to ease his hand between its jaws.