Booklife Contest: Princess of Asylum, Update

So here goes… I’ve entered my unpublished novel, Princess of Asylum into the Booklife Contest.   It’s a legit contest.  All the entries get a professional review, which you can use, or bury forever in a lead lined vault, depending on how the review turns out. Some of them are pretty scathing, I gather, looking at previous comments (complaints).  After the initial round there’s the quarterly finals, the semi-finals and then a First prize of $5000.00.

Anyway, I got my review back….

Blurb: A fast-talking actress makes her scrappy way across the wasteland, surviving by her wits — and shaping empires with her lies. Imagine a vivid high fantasy, full of beasts and sieges and cults, narrated with the wit of Anita Loos.

Plot: D.G. Valdron’s bold, funny, fast-moving fantasy The Princess of Asylum follows quick-witted actress Dae Zea Lors after the destruction of her city. Dae survives in the wasteland by improvising a series of increasingly outlandish lies and personae, convincing bandits and orgus and more that she’s, variably, a princess, or an expert in jewel magic, and eventually a priestess. The story’s scope is epic, with airships and military sieges galore, but its tone is light and its perspective intimate, always tied to Dae. Inevitably, the hero’s lies make her a leader, and she’s surprised to discover herself caring about people beyond herself. The novel opens as a picaresque, with Dae bumbling from encounter to encounter, but by the end, as the plot takes shape, readers will actually care for Dae’s world and companions. The sense of urgency that powers the novel’s final third, though, is sometimes missing in the book’s middle, especially in the occasional cases when the balance between comedy and fantasy storytelling proves uncertain.

Prose/Style: Valdron excels at both the narrative perspective of his protagonist, a savvy actress who finds being on a fantasy adventure something of a comic imposition, and at the demands of epic fantasy storytelling. His worldbuilding is memorable and unique but communicated to readers in Dae’s offhand observations; his descriptions of the fantastic or terrifying are quick and powerful. Much of the novel is driven by dialogue, as Dae improvises new selves and lies to stay alive; at times, the characters she’s hoodwinking, such are written as if they’re willing participants in a comedy routine, such as the tyrant who apologizes for scheduling conflicts with her upcoming execution. The novel’s pleasures and occasional problems rise from the same source: the tricky balance between the comedy of Dae’s improvisations and the threatening reality around her. For the most part, though, Valdron aces that balance.

Originality: It is rare for a fantasy novel to center on such an exciting new character and idea. Besides the strength of the premise and Dae’s general delightfulness, the world of The Princess of Asylum is itself original, wrought with care, and revealed in tantalizing glimpses.

Character Development: There’s no doubt about it: Dae is a character readers will love, and her wit and sensibility drive the book. She faces hard choices, makes surprising sacrifices, and movingly comes to care about more than her own life. At times, especially in the novel’s middle, the complaints and patter of Dae’s inner monologue cut against the narrative urgency, especially when she’s joking or crabbing about the book’s cast as if they’re all in a play together rather than continually facing their own deaths. At such moments, she seems not to have grown during her adventures, reverting to being a comic type rather than a fully-shaped protagonist. That makes the novel feel long, even as it’s entertaining: If she’s not taking the situations seriously, readers will be tempted to join her. The saps, villains, monsters, and occasional upstanding folks she encounter also prove memorable, driven by their own coherent but interesting motivations.


  • Plot/Idea: 9

  • Originality: 10

  • Prose: 9

  • Character/Execution: 9

  • Overall: 9.25

Report Submitted: September 28, 2020

You are welcome to use this Critic’s Report as promotional copy or as a blurb to promote your book. Please note: When attributing quotes from this Critic’s Report, you must credit The BookLife Prize


Anita Loos?   I love references that I don’t understand.  It makes me want to look them up.  It expands the world a little bit.

Anita Loos (1888 to 1981) it turns out, was a smart, sexy, funny, brilliant woman who was  a major playwrite and script writer in the early days of Hollywood.  She was there for the silents, she was there for the rise of the talkies.  She worked with D.W. Griffith, William Randolph Hearst, Irving Thalberg, Samuel Goldwyn.  She made John Barrymore a star, and discovered Carol Channing and Audrey Hepburn.  She was an astonishingly prolific, vivacious, talented writer, an inveterate partygoer, one of those people who just blaze away in the firmament, elevating our idea of what a human being can be.


Right now, I’m shopping Princess, and her sequels, around to agents.  So maybe this review might do me some good.  Yes, I know that professional publishing is a giant shit show right now, but sooner or later Covid-19 will be over, and who knows.

Thing with being a writer, is mostly it’s a pretty solitary thing.  You’re off on your own writing, and hoping like hell its good.  You can have a lot of confidence, but really, deep down, you can never quite tell for sure. Maybe you just think it’s good.

The other thing, when you’re a writer, is you deal with failure and rejection a lot. The fact is that there are an awful lot of writers out there. In comparison, very few agents, very few publishers, very few magazines, very few spaces in bookstores.  So you send your beloved child out, and it comes back with skid marks on the face, you learn, in this trade, to eat pavement a lot.

So you know, a bit of positive feedback like this, that’s kind of nice.  It’s a good review, fair, and it’s insightful enough, to identify possible weaknesses an give me an idea as to where to go and what to tweak and polish.

I’ve scored 9.25 overall, with individual scores between 9 and 10.   What does  that mean?  Who the hell knows.?  Is it the grading criteria used for advancing to the quarter finals?   Who the hell knows?  Maybe they use that.  Maybe they use some other internal scoring or referral system.  Maybe the Editorial staff just ignores the reviewers and looks through the submissions on their own.  Although thinking out loud, I’m pretty sure they need some sort of screening system, and the reviewers are probably it.
I have no idea what the competition is like, or how many 9’s and 10’s are awarded.  I have the impression that reviews are at least somewhat genuine, given the complaints of other writers about brutally harsh reviews in the past.  But who really knows.
Then there’s words like ‘bold,’ ‘funny,’ ‘fast moving,’ ‘memorable,’ ‘delightful,’ ‘unique’….  That’s got to be positive.
I’d like to think that a 9.25 score gets me into the quarter finals, and that I’ll make it at least to the semi-finals. We’ll have to wait and see.
For now, I’m still in the running.
Wish me luck.