1. I know log lines are forbidden and place names unwelcome, but every time I cut that first paragraph, readers are confused about the setting. Since the conflict revolves around a setting of rival nations, I cannot figure out how clearly convey that without the first paragraph.
2. I have had 8 professional query critiques. Every single one contradicted the previous - on everything from structure to worldbuilding to plot. At this point, I feel like the old man trying to get the donkey to market, and the query's about to drown. Please chomp on it.
This isn't a log line. A log line synthesizes a story by using recognizable comps to create a new image: Jaws In Space; Heathers meets The Shining; Die Hard meets The Berenstain Bears and Mama's New Job. It's a tool used by our film guys to attract attention. It's worse than useless in a query because it forces you to try to look suave in a suit made for someone else.
Start with the story. I don't know who the hell can be confused about the setting here since it's clearly Not Earth. What the hell else do they need to know? It's SF. Run with it.
Allisane struggles to earn the respect of her uncle, the King of Æled. As a Wind Rider, she trains in combat on her personal winged horse, and any lord who disapproves can go hang. Her people's ability to control light and fire vanished generations ago. Training the wild, winged horses is their only protection against the superior might of the flying Volucians.
Did the power to control light and fire vanish or was it lost? That seems to me to be a pretty important distinction. Words are your tools here, and you want to use them with precision.
Damien is common born, struggling to earn the respect of his high-born military commanders. His people fear Æled's control of fire, and every winged horse Æled trains threatens Voluce's very existence. He should follow orders and slaughter the tamed horses - if his conscience can handle it - but flying to war means leaving his family unprotected from a sociopathic nobleman.
Wait wait wait. I read in your first paragraph that the AEled's ability to control light and fire "vanished generations ago" but now Damien's people "fear AEled's control of fire" This seems contradictory. Contradictory confuses me. I don't like to be confused in a query letter.
And how exactly is it that he has "tamed horses" if all they do is kill them? In other words, you've confused me here, and that's not a good thing.
When overzealous Volucian soldiers attack Allisane, mistrust ignites into war. Her kingdom under attack, lives in the balance, Allisane must choose between saving her family or leading her people. When following orders sparks a war, Damien must decide who deserves his protection - his nation, the innocents under attack, or the Æled Princess caught in the fray.
And now I'm just totally lost. How can be soldiers be overzealous if the two countries are at war? You have Damien flying to war in the second paragraph. And how is he flying if he's killing all the winged horses?
Right here is where I'd stop reading and send a form rejection. If I can't follow the query, I don't assume I'm stupid. I assume the query isn't well-organized, and from that conclude the book is probably a mess as well. That may not be fair, or even accurate, but it is the truth. Use that to your advantage when revising.
Remember you can NOT skip ahead chronologically in a query letter. What happens in paragraph two should precede what happens in paragraph three. Queries are too short for any fancy back and forth timing.
I like the mirroring you do with both main characters trying to earn respect. I like horses in any kind of book which means you've got my interest. Then it goes splat. I think you're trying to explain too much.
A query need only to entice me to read the pages you've included in the query. You don't have to do anything more than that.
You've got too much going on here. Pare down.
One wrong choice, and they're all dead
Yea yea yea, that's such a cliche I don't even pay attention. Anything that sounds like a voice-over in a movie trailer should be revised out. We all write this kind of stuff on the first or even second pass. The trick is to recognize it when you're revising and CUT CUT CUT.
ASCEND is an adult high fantasy
Well, for starters, you don't have enough words here. High fantasy is world building at its finest. You need 125K minimum to do that. More can be better. If I hadn't already sent a form rejection, I'd do it here.
I'm MORE likely to reject a query for a book that's too short than too long. I can suggest revisions to cut word length. A book that's too short lacks some essential infrastructure and that's a whole lot harder to revise IN to a book.
Don't put anything like "with crossover potential" in a query. That's like telling me a book has film potential. We all hope for sales to as wide an audience as possible, but how a book is marketed and publicized has a whole lot more to do with the audience it reaches than the content does.
8 professional critiques? Wow, that's a lot. And they're all telling you different things? Not surprising. Any of them from the actual target audience (agents?)
The acid test for a query is whether it gets results. That's the ONLY test that matters. If you haven't taken this out for a spin on submissions, you don't know if it's effective.
I don't think it's effective yet because even though I love love love horse books, I'm not yet tempted to read this book.
Simplify this down to the precipitating incident and resend.