Bleh, this query's first two sentences (split now into about four sentences) have been killing me.
This draft I've focused almost exclusively on the first paragraph (now two paragraphs), that's where almost all of the changes have been made.
Thanks for all the help everyone, I will reciprocate to anyone who has queries out there.
Ohshus is a mediocre Binder—a melder of magical forces—and not one for civil wars. But after being forced to pick sides within his Binding Order, he finds himself on the losing side of one. Too much info, not enough snappy. But I understand what you're trying to do here, and I respect that. It is very hard.
This permanently ends his quiet research, severing Ohshus from the only life he ever wanted to live. And, most critically, he remains far too much of a loose end to tolerate. Now he has to disappear out of his hostile Order’s reach to outrun the new death mark on his back I think you could clarify these sentences by just saying "Considered to have chosen the wrong side, Ohshus is suddenly wanted dead, and must abandon his beloved life of quiet research." Or something like that. . This means fleeing known civilization
by slippingthrough violent lands held by the shuuv—hulking beasts crudely gouged with human features and intelligence. The shuuv restlessly rove the Barren Wastes, each capable of running down and crushing a mount in its jaws.
To survive this, Ohshus must hire and capably lead a band of fighters as desperate as he is. But the real problem is Ohshus is not a capable leader. And he probably never will be Again, you're majorly diminishing stakes when you say this, because it no longer is "can he become a capable leader/take control before it's too late" but "will he somehow stay alive despite his incompetence, or will his incompetence kill him". Which isn't particularly compelling. Not even his arcane skills can hide that. The further their newly formed company strays from civilization, the more Ohshus fears he's losing control of his company. And keeping them together may be the only thing that can keep them alive. Matters spin further out of his grasp when, in a place long secluded, they inadvertently awaken an ancient power that could threaten the world they just left behind. But Ohshus and his company aren’t going to save the world. They'll be lucky if they can save themselves.
THE SHIRK MASTER is a 115,000-word epic fantasy novel. This story is a standalone with series potential.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
This query still resonates with things-happen-to-characters as opposed to characters-cause-things-to-happen. The former can, of course, be a very effective story form, but it isn't a compelling hook/read-more thing! For example, the fact that they awaken an ancient power is fascinating and that they probably can't save themselves, let alone it, intrigues me. But it sounds as if they aren't even going to try to stop it. Which makes me wonder why it will matter. Another example: you say he fears he's losing control. But then nothing shows me that he's doing anything to fix that. So suddenly I'm questioning whether I want to spend 115,000 words with a character who not act, as opposed to a take-charge, try-to-change-my-fate-even-though-I'll-fail-anyway character.