A note on critiques
The concept of these critiques is two fold:
1. To offer high-level specific critiques to people who are starting out and honing their writing.
2. To use these critiques as a platform for others to learn things about their own writing.
I am specifically picking pieces of writing that have something to learn from them - that might be something that they are doing well, or something that they are not. These critiques are going to be completely honest and constructive. I may be blown away by the writing, but if you aren't ready to be told that your writing needs a lot of work, don't send it to me.
That being said, here's the first one. An extract from a work entitled '2099'.
The wind stirred wisps of sand from the glistening, pale dunes of northern Sudan, as the sun’s endless rays of heat beat down mercilessly upon the sand dunes. The arid desert breeze blows (you've got a tense issue here. You've gone from past in the first sentence to present here.) tufts of sand across the sky, forming long trails of sand, freely floating in the heated air.
Away to the west the sun was sinking into a sea of faint light. There lay the massive, monstrous desert; yellowed, barren, and desolate—with the feared haboobs slowly brought forward by the wind. (This is some lovely description, and the sentence construction complements it well. I love seeing colons and dashes used correctly and effectively in fiction.)
The thundering of hooves split the silence as a lone stallion galloped through the bright, bleak landscape. The hooves imprinted small, circular depressions into the soft sand, like an old rubber stamp.
The flutter of the bright red keffiyeh was like that of the wings of a butterfly: elegant and graceful. The cotton head scarf blew gently in the warm breeze as Aleksandr Ivanovich reined in his horse and waited. The alert, slender-limbed horse slowed down into a trot as Aleksandr eased himself off the worn leather saddle, and placed his booted feet onto the sand.
You've got a potential issue here in that your descriptions, lovely as they are, are somewhat removed from the character. It is always a good idea to try to root your scenes in both place and in character. It's a good couple of paragraphs before we meet Aleksandr and I wonder if he couldn't be brought forward. Have him experiencing heated air and the arid breeze. Have it blow against his skin and get into his clothes. It makes it more palpable, rather than a bit of a still-life painting of scenery. This is something for all writer's to think about - root your descriptions in the character's sensory experience of those descriptions, rather than have them floating unconnected.
Unscrewing the tin lid off his enameled canteen, he had a sip of lukewarm, refreshing water as the sun’s cruel rays latched onto his back. He drew out a small metal pan, poured a generous amount of water onto it, and nudged his horse. The tired horse, upon the sight of clear water, immediately woke up from its dazed state as it drank up like there was never enough. (Small edit: I think the flow of the dependent clause in the middle is clunky. I'd cut it. We know the horse is looking at water.)
Looking at the sun, he thought of the old, pre-war days. (Uh-oh. I haven't read it yet, but this smells of info-dump imminent.) His family had been on holiday in Sudan, where his father had worked as a stockbroker. A complimentary 5 day trip (the conventional advice is to spell out the numbers - i.e. 'five' - for numbers one to nine. Then move to actual numbers above that.) for the entire family was arranged by his father’s boss as a reward for his promotion, which the family hastily accepted.
He conjured up the dormant images of pre-war life. (You've already said he's thinking of pre-war life.) He remembered little, except that his father once served in the St. Petersburg Militsiya in the 2030s, that his mother went by the name of Natalia and was a shopkeeper in Barnaul, and that he had 2 siblings; a brother and sister.
Anatoly was his brother. He knew little of him, (this is the second time you've told us he knew little, before going on to tell us all the things he knows. It's comes across a bit false.) as he was already 12 by the time Aleksandr was born. His parents always told him that he had died in a hunting accident while with his uncle, but Aleksandr knew it was all a white lie. One day while he was clearing out the attic of his old apartment, he found photos; wartime photos of Anatoly serving in the Voronezh front.
However, Aleksandr had more fond memories of his sister Anya. They were twins. Anya, a headstrong, bold and athletic woman, always accompanied him; whether it was playing with him on the playground, walking to school together, or sharing their meals; his family was poor during his early years until his father managed to find a job in the Militsiya as a tank driver.
The reflection is starting to get a bit long and the passage is losing pace. While some reflection is welcomed, it is usually best to juxtapose it against something happening in the present. That way we have a little bit more pace moving us forward. Currently, your character is merely sitting in a desert, thinking. This is not an easy scene to engage with as a reader.
Back then, life was simple. You had structure. The government gave you your rations at your doorstep, as well as your backyard garden seeds and a jerry can of fuel. There was curfew, and you could easily get a job since all the adults went to join the Army.
This is short paragraph is effective - it offers us a tangible glimpse at pre-war life - but it would be more engaging if set against something happening in the present. Perhaps the character is faced with something structureless, or the lack of food, and this causes him to have this thought as a comparison. Remember to keep tying your memories to the present, or you get lost in the memories and they lose their impact.
He looked back down, eyed his leather satchel, and retrieved a bottle of cloudy liquid with a plain white label marked NUBIA ARAQI. Upon opening the bottle, it gave off a oily, yeasty smell, like a strong malt whisky from before the war. Whisky was a rarity before the nuclear armageddon, and doubly so now that the world was falling into pieces. The best whisky was found only in Scotland, where distilleries churned out hundreds, if not thousands of bottles of brown gold. (This last sentence feels very out of place in your current setting. It doesn't really add to anything.)
Aleksandr gulped it down just like a glass of water. (He seems like he drinks whisky all the time.)
His face instantly turned scarlet and water began to run out of his itching eyes. (He seems like he never drinks whisky. It's jarring.)
He looked back at the crimson sunset with teary eyes. The amalgamation of tears and the glare of the sun slightly blurred out the beautiful scene of two paints being mixed into one. He reminded himself of the world right now; a crippling, desolate, barren and dead world. (you describe the world very similarly at the start of this passage. Be careful about repeating descriptions.) What was left of humanity was writhing in sparse sprinkles of settlements and outposts, built on the very bones of their countrymen.
His father once said that sacrifices had to be made in order to progress. In some senses, he was right; after all, Edison experimented hundreds, if not thousands, of times to develop the world’s first working lightbulb. The Chinese had to tear down and rebuild entire sections of their Great Northern Wall to protect themselves against the Xiongnu. The numerous soldiers that had died for their country were what shaped history today.
This is a great example of information about the past being delivered well. It is juxtaposed against the present, unlike your previous reflections.
Aleksandr then proceeded to ask himself one crucial question: “Was this ideal constantly correct?”
(Be careful about how close or distant your narrator is here. In the previous few paragraphs, we have felt very close to Aleksandr's thoughts, but the 'proceeded to ask himself...' distances us. It is jarring. I would cut it and just jump straight into the question without the quotation marks. Embed it in his thoughts.)
Was progress always dependent on sacrifice, or did sacrifice necessarily create progress?
Numerous countries had advocated this type of thinking. For the Soviets, they believed in sacrifice in order to achieve final victory against the Nazis. While it did work, the Union collapsed in 1991, bringing the state of Russia into a fractured nation ruled by a corrupt hegemony from the early 2000s to the 2030s. The American Dream also advocated this, for the mentality there was that you had to work to gain. While it did indeed work for a while, it also started a trend of classism, social division and criminals looking at the American nation as a safe haven for their subversive activities. The drug trade flourished under the policies of the War on Drugs, while xenophobic rhetoric caused a downfall of American reputation amongst foreign populations.
We're getting very info-dumpy again.
And now, humanity was brought down onto its knees with the very tools that it had used to progress further. All that sacrifice was for nothing; the countless hours, lives and experiments conducted. It all ended here, in a desolate and bleak world. (Repetitive description. The reader gets that the world is desolate and bleak by now)
Aleksandr knew the flaws of mankind. When science outpaced humanity’s restraint, it wasn’t long until the world would plunge into an event similar to the previous World Wars. Each war brought forward a new era of military technology; World War One gave the world machine guns and tanks, World War Two rocketry and radar, and so forth.
He took another slow sip of the Araqi. This time his eyes did not rain, and his face did not turn too red. A small bit of warmth filled his face briefly before dissipating like the sunlight. He closed his eyes briefly to rest them out, before closing the bottle and grabbing his rifle. The crackle of his radio suddenly sounded, alerting Aleksandr to the voice on the other end.
“Yeah?” he said dismissively into the speaker.
“Aleksandr," an iron voice said over the sound of the static. “Report back to Abu Hamad for muster. We’ve got a situation.”
He sighed with contempt. Whenever he was summoned back to base, it never ended well. Last time it was an epidemic of dysentery, where the Nubian Rangers were called in to maintain order. The time before that, it was social unrest from food shortages, which were causing massive riots.
He frowned. He didn’t want to deal with a bunch of haggard farmers. He just wanted to go back to Mother Russia and reunite with his homeland and people.
While there are some nice ideas and some instances of really lovely description, I can summarise the entirety of the action of your chapter in one sentence: "Aleksandr thinks about some stuff then someone calls him." This is an issue and it dramatically impacts the pacing of the work. You need to put your reader into a moment and into a place - you start to do this well at the beginning of the chapter - and then you need to give it momentum. A lot of the info-dumping you do should be shown to us over a longer period of time. You need to find a way to help us, as a reader, discover what has happened through the action in the present.
The lack of action is more of a symptom of a larger concern, however. There is no conflict in this scene. Narratives thrive on conflict, whether internal or external. Aleksandr thinking about how things used to be is not conflict. Try to inject some conflict into this scene and the pace and action will flow from that.
The Nubian Rangers were one of the last remaining elite fighting forces in the world. With their origins stemming from the Rapid Support Forces of the Sudanese security services, they were highly revered by the locals of Abu Hamad as fierce warriors who followed a code of honour.
(I'd like this to be shown to us and not told. It has so much more impact if we see their code of honour. Think about the opening to A Game of Thrones - do we need to be told that Ned has a strict code of honour? No. Instead, we are given the scene of him lopping off the head of a deserter himself, because that's the honourable thing to do. It is significantly more effective.)
When Aleksandr and his men stepped into the crowded marketplace, the shouts, chants, and pelting of stones and rubbish died down. Everyone fell silent the moment the large, monstrous men marched into the marketplace, indeed, it was so quiet that it was possible to hear a pin drop. (better showing and not telling, though this implies fear much more than reverence) The anxious unease of the silence then pursued, as worried looks streamed from both the civilians and the Rangers.
As if on cue, a sudden and abrupt explosion was heard. (the passive voice detracts from the sudden nature of this explosion. In fact, the sentence is too long. Don't tell us something sudden is 'sudden', just tell us it. Think about it, what is more sudden for a reader: "a sudden and abrupt explosion was heard" or "the sky exploded"? If it's sudden, keep it short.) A thundering roar resonated through the hot steaming sky, as a sharp light burst overhead like a bolt of lightning. The thundering cry of the unknown entity (strange word choice - doesn't fit the urgency) sent the marketplace into a state of hysteria, as screams from both men and women were heard; children ran followed by the grownups, and all the doors were promptly closed, locked and bolted as the crowd dispersed. (again, when the pace is up, keep the sentence structure short and snappy. Don't let your reader get bogged down in clauses and words. They are reading quickly now.)
In a blink of an eye, the entire marketplace was deserted. Scraps of torn leaflets, posters, banners, food wrappings and plastic bottles were left on the streets, and left littering the small dirt roads of the town. It was empty. (tautology. You just said it was deserted.)
The Rangers could sense the intense stares through the windows, inside the car cabins, and behind the doors as they stood there, motionless and unaware of what was going on.
“Commander Al-Assad. Should we investigate?" stuttered Aleksandr, gripping his AK rifle with increasingly sweaty palms. (This seems to suggest he's unsure of himself and a bit of a novice, but that feels inconsistent with the picture of Aleksandr painted in the last chapter. The way that he is described as a lone ranger -esque figure in the desert implies competence. This doesn't fit with his character.)
Al-Assad grabbed a battered laser rangefinder from a brown canvas bag, with chips of paint flaked off from its worn metal body. He dropped the canvas bag and shook the small bits of sand that had accumulated on the rangefinder vitriolically, as if the sand was their enemy. And in a sense, it was. It was a constant irritant, and no matter how spotless the place was after a through sweep, sand would always find a way in. Whether it was from the door frame, or through the bolted windows, it was torturous to deal with the constant annoyance of sand.
During the occasional haboobs, the sand turns from a powdery particle into a material with liquid consistency. It would rain sand and mud down onto the village, and anyone unlucky enough to be stranded outside would be pelted with painful darts of debris.
There is a time and a place for description. You've just told us that an explosion went off that sent everyone running and sent streaks of lightning across the sky. This is exciting. This is dangerous. You then give us two paragraphs describing sand. We don't need it and it absolutely kills the pace.
“Rangefinder reads 5000 meters. Which is a problem." he murmured, as he shoved the rangefinder into Aleksandr’s hand. “Aleksandr, send out a patrol to recover the remains. I’ll stay back here for storm duty." he said whilst walking back to the rusted anti-riot barriers. “Take Dawud, Fidda and Ghada. Be back before dawn.”
Aleksandr nodded, and then took a quick peek at the laser rangefinder. Through the battered glass screen, a red nixie tube display read a distance of five thousand meters to the West. There lay a burning wreck; it was possible that the wreck belonged to a fighter jet from the New Sudanese Republic in Port Sudan, or maybe the remnants of a wrecked plane that just happened to explode at the wrong time. Upon closer inspection, Aleksandr deduced that the wreck came from a Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet. He knew this form the countless “war preparedness” courses he took during his childhood in Russia, where he was taught how to identify Russian and allied fighter planes, and to cheer for them whenever they flew overhead. (He's suddenly very competent again. But he seemed very unprepared to deal with explosion previously, with his stuttering and shaking.)
“Dawud. Get the truck. Fidda and Ghada, prepare the first aid kit and stock up on ammunition. It’s possible that we’re going to be stranded near the wreck if the haboob reaches us.”
“Yes, comrade." a large Middle Eastern man said as he slowly walked to get the truck keys. His strong muscular body was peering out of his Ranger’s uniform, which was left unbuttoned. A long pink scar stretched along his forehead from his left ear, and several other scars and bruises could be spotted as the wind caused his unbuttoned uniform to flail wildly apart. That was Dawud; Aleksandr’s radio operator. They met each other several years earlier, when a Nubian Ranger patrol picked up a starving, malnourished Aleksandr from the brink of death near the Hala’ib Triangle. He was caught wandering towards a mirage; if they hadn’t saved him that day, he would not have lived to tell the tale.
“Got some bullets, Aleksandr!" a cheerful voice burst out. Zidda, this time a thin, wiry African man, walked towards the Russian with a large smile etched onto his face. In his hands was a small box filled with 7.62 millimeter bullets, and their brass casings created an audible tinkling sound whenever the box swung by Zidda’s long legs. He quickly shoved it into the back of the truck, before lifting himself up to the back and making himself comfortable. “You coming?" he sarcastically inquired, with an almost childlike demeanor. (Oof. This is a lot of description for two words. Pick one - he's sarcastic, he's inquiring, or he's childlike. He's not all three in two words. Frankly, I think you could just have - "You coming?" and let that carry the tone on its own.)
“Wait for Ghada first, Dawud.”
Aleksandr motioned towards Dawud, who was walking towards the car with the truck keys in hand. “Alright, your mission, your say." Dawud casually said, as he entered the driver’s seat and shoved the key into the ignition. The engine immediately flared up, and let out a weak sputter as the entire truck started to rattle. Aleksandr entered the passenger seat just as Ghada, the team’s spotter, walked out of his small mud hut with a first aid kit and his submachine gun.
“Go." (This should be a comma, not a full stop. Please look up rules for punctuating dialogue online. You make the mistake a few times.) Zidda said as he patted on the roof of the truck cabin with a enthusiastic cry. Aleksandr and Dawud briefly exchanged glances, both wondering why Zidda was so excited, before they shrugged it off and drove towards the fiery wreck. They both understood why Zidda, the youngest of the team was so excited for action. He had been stationed at the same spot for weeks, and that spot happened to be the most boring patrol area. Almost next to no one ever bothered to go to Zidda’s patrol area, and his isolation from mankind, even if it was just for two 4 hour shifts each day, was enough to make him crave action.
“He’s gonna regret it, the young one." Dawud spoke out to Aleksandr. “You and I both know it.”
Aleksandr replied with silence as he reached for the glove compartment and grabbed out a small bottle of clear liquid. “Vodka?" he asked, pointing the bottleneck at Dawud’s arm.
“No. I don't drink.”
Aleksandr grinned. He popped open the tin cap, and took a swig of the alcoholic drink. His face turned red for a minute, and a burning sensation overcame his head as he quickly screwed on the cap and shoved it back into the glove compartment.
“Taste good?" Dawud laughed, as he noticed Aleksandr’s adverse reaction to alcohol from his own homeland. He then grabbed the vodka bottle from the firm grasp of Aleksandr, gulped it down like water, and then tossd the bottle out the car window.
“It’ll just take some time to get used to." Aleksandr responded, struggling to keep his eyes from letting out a stream of tears. He had been drinking Sudanese araqi for months on end, and the sudden introduction of the heavy potato alcohol was enough to make him let out a tear. (The araqi also made him let out tears earlier, didn't it?)
Okay, for a first chapter that had a lot of information, this one is surprisingly lacking. I'm unsure what the purpose of the group is here. To keep an eye out for threats? To secure the town? It's unclear. Also, you ended the last chapter saying that they 'had a situation.' What was it? It can't have been the explosion because that was clearly a surprise.
The issue with the last chapter was conflict, but the issue here is desire. I have no idea what Aleksandr wants. This is a problem. Two chapters in and he's a very passive guy, moving from place to place. I have no idea what his crew wants to be honest. Why are they there? Don't keep us in the dark.
The other issue here is pacing. I got a bit excited when the explosion went off, thinking something was about to happen. And then... it didn't. You are in a war-torn dystopian future world in the middle of a war zone with bombs exploding. Make something happen! Give us some action, please.
5 km southeast of Abu Hamad, Sudan [أبو حمد]
The truck stopped amidst a cloud of wispy sand. The 3 (three) Nubian Ranges casually stepped out as they donned khaki face masks and gloves.
Before them lay a wreck---a twisted, charred wreck of a Sukhoi Su-24 jet fighter. The fires have yet to be extinguished, jet fuel from its crippled tanks were leaking into the sand, and the wings of the aircraft have deformed to the point of being bent at a 90 degree angle backwards.
Aleksandr held up his AK rifle at the cockpit, which was shattered open. Cautiously, he crept up to the jet, with Ghada, Dawud and Zidda trailing behind, each with their weapons at the ready.
He knocked on the glass with his left hand.
“Don’t move,” a female voice said slowly in Russian. “This is property of the Neo-Soviet Union.”
Aleksandr turned his eyes right, and saw the pilot of the aircraft hiding behind the wreckage and aiming a pistol at his face. The other three quickly trained their guns onto the pilot, who then drew out a second pistol and aimed it at Dawud’s head.
“Standoff, eh?” he said. “I could do this all day.”
Aleksandr sighed in contempt, before responding in Russian. “Listen, lady, we’re the men of the desert. We saw your plane go down and we’re here to investigate. If you even have half a brain, you’ll know that there is a sandstorm heading this way. If we keep this going, we’ll all die. Alternatively you can come with us, and we’ll ensure your safe passage and potentially escort you to the nearest settlement in Cairo.”
The pilot kept her guns on the quartet, as she seemed to be calculating her options.
“Fine. Lead the way,” she said sharply. (That was quick. They are very trusting for being in a war zone.)
Aleksandr pointed at the truck, and motioned for her to enter. She holstered her pistols into her pilot’s harness, and then paced towards the vehicle.
“Well, I’ll have to report this to Al-Assad,” he whispered. “I don’t know what he’ll think about a female pilot lingering around in Ranger territory.”
Dawud and Ghada nodded vitriolically. “I’m not a fan of her,” Ghada commented. (Keep your dialogue tags to a minimum. Just use 'said'. Commented detracts from the speech.) “Especially not when the person we’re supposed to be rescuing pulls a gun on us.” The other two men chuckled, but Aleksandr kept walking towards the pilot.
The moment he saw her (he's already seen her. Why the delayed reaction?), it was like a spark ignited in his heart. Maybe it was the fact that he rarely interacted with females in the desert, or maybe it was love at first sight. (There's a thing going around twitter at the moment about men writing women poorly, I'd suggest you look at it. Please don't have every woman they come across this beautiful strong woman that they fall in love with. It doesn't come across well.) Nonetheless, he shrugged it off as an inappropriately timed hunch, and entered the truck. In the steel confines of the car, the pilot was sitting on the back seat in a luxurious sprawl.
He approached her, and sat next to her. She took no moment to hesitate, as she inched closer to Aleksandr.
“Where are you from?”
“Erm, St. Petersburg,” he responded. “Why?”
“That’s interesting. Have you heard the big news from home?”
“What news?” he retorted. “I heard no news!”
The pilot grinned. “You’re really far behind,” she continued. “Alright, potato, here’s the sitrep. The big settlements across nuclear Russia voted in Saratov whether or not to establish a new Soviet Union. The vote passed, 49 to 1, and so here we are, with a Neo Soviet Union. You know, I was sent here to negotiate a deal with your commander Al-Assad to purchase some of your mercenary services. ("I'm a a seasoned Soviet pilot who immediately tells her entire plan to the first person that asks me. I'm completely unrealistic and I'm coming across like an idiot.") We’re planning on retaking Siberia and marching down to the Amur River, where we’ve received word that the Chinese Communist Party has survived and still has control over northern China.”
Aleksandr looked in anguish. “Siberia? The last time I went there, I almost got frostbitten,” he mumbled.
He lightly shoved her, before his other 3 companions entered the car. “Let’s go, Alek,” Dawud proclaimed as Ghada placed his hands on the black plastic steering wheel. At a turn of the key, the car roared to life, with its engine sputtering and lights flashing. The truck sprinted along the sand dunes, kicking the golden particles up in a cloud.
The monotone landscape of the desert, with its rays of heat beating down on the truck made the trip last for an eternity. He wondered, like many times before, whether he should go back to Russia or keep serving in the Nubian Rangers. He knew that in Russia, he might have a chance of finding his lost family, but here in Sudan, he lived a life of adventure and excitement.
(This is a better example of dropping in information at the right points, relevant to the present situation. Good.)
The truck finally made its way to Abu Hamad, where the sandstorm was approaching. The sky shone in a light brown as sand started to blow into the faces of the soldiers. The 4 men brought the pilot into a small hut.
The low-roofed hut was windowless. A dim lamp shone on a stained latrine, a creaky wooden table, some chairs, and an aged tiled kitchen. On the kitchen counter sat a fillet of camel hump, slowly marinating in a pot of boiling spices and herbs. A sweet aroma spread throughout the single-room domicile, and seemed to invite the 4 men inside.
Al-Assad was sitting on one end of the table with a rusted steel case on his side. Anna Fedorov, as it turned out, was apparently his great friend.
“Sit down,” he motioned politely, as she obliged. (That doesn't sound like the exchange of great friends.) After an exchange of words, handshakes and papers, she managed to retrieve a kilogram’s worth of silver bullion from the many pockets and holding-bags of her pilot’s uniform, and paid Al-Assad.
“Wow Anna. We’re looking at big numbers here, miss,” he said. “What’s it for?”
“My superiors want to use your Rangers for the campaign in Siberia. I hope it’s not a problem,” she responded nonchalantly while fidgeting with a small silver coin. It’s attractive gleam seemed to take a jab at mankind’s greed and lust for precious metals. Aleksandr stared intently at the silver and reminded himself of the story of Judas, the man who betrayed his mentor Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. It truly demonstrated humanity’s flaw, which was their lack of restraint. (This seems out of place. Are you saying money is a horrible evil? There isn't really much to support this in the passage. She just has a coin.)
“How many?” Al-Assad questioned.
“I’ll take around a hundred. We’ll be shipping them off to Siberia, but my plane’s trashed. Do you have a radio?”
“No. Sorry. I can, however, move them to Cairo. I have a reserve force there, and then have them accompany you through the Levant. You can then cross the Caucasus Mountains, where you can gain access to Russia. Do you have any friendlies there?” he asked, while tapping on the table nervously.
“Yes. They can trek to Volgograd, where I have train convoys waiting for them.”
Both of them grinned, and then approached each other to shake hands.
“It’s agreed, then.”
She nodded with a smile.
“Yes, I suppose it is.”
Aleksandr, Dawud, Ghada and Zidda gently opened the door and exited the room. The sandstorm seemed to have subsided, and the sun was now beating down on the 4 men again.
He opened up his bottle of Araqi liquor, and took a large gulp.
“Well, here’s to the Rangers. Let’s hope we make it there in time.”
Okay. Here's the rundown:
Language - your language use is good. You've got some lovely descriptions and sentence constructions in this piece. There are a couple of small things to proofread for - i.e. punctuating dialogue correctly and writing numbers appropriately - but these are small.
Setting - You build a setting very well. I can picture the post-war desert, the town and the atmosphere. It is visceral and clear. This is one of the strongest elements of the piece.
What needs work:
Pacing - There are large chunks where nothing at all happens. When something does happen, you don't take advantage of it in the way that you should. Your use of long sentences and reflections in the middle of tense moments reduces all of the tension.
Telling - There is a lot of info-dumping and telling going on. Try to contrast and juxtapose your world-building with things actually happening in the plot of the story, in the present. Try to show more of your characters that tell us about them, specifically your main cast of characters.
Character - There are two things every character needs, implicitly or explicitly, and these are desires and conflicts. I have no idea what your main character wants. He is extremely passive and as a result, quite boring. Also, while there is some external political conflict happening, there is very little personal or internal conflict. This is an issue. Your characters lack depth and I'm finding it hard to be interested in them. Why is Aleksandr fighting with this crew? What is he after? What drives him? At the moment, I really have no idea.
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