Hi Stephen. Thanks for posting your first chapter. The nerves are just what we all feel when we first offer up our babies for the world to see and remark on! I'll try not to be too devastating! 😄
I really liked it. It held my attention throughout, and I would have read on eagerly had this been the whole book. The prose (mostly) flows nicely and is easy to read. You conjure the places and the characters successfully, the action and dialogue complement each other well, and the pace is good.
There's some lovely world-building, and the 'back-story' is nicely hinted at with the glimpses we get of the 'pre-apocalypse' world before the advent of the Cloud.
There are some general points which, in my opinion (which is, don't forget, only one opinion!) would make it even stronger and more compelling as a book.
The biggest is the 'psychic distance'. The book is written in the first person, but much of the description and action is strangely 'distanced', as if Micha's telling the story without that much emotional involvement. I think there's scope to inhabit his head much more closely so that we're experiencing directly what he feels and thinks as well as what he sees and hears. A description of an action - 'I walked up the steep hill towards the cliff edge' is much more powerful if that experience is filtered through the sensory and mental experience of the narrator - 'My calf muscles cramped with pain and my breath came hard as I stuggled up the last few feet of the steep incline. Sweat trickled down my brow ridges. This climb had better be worth it. The cliff edge came at me suddenly, like a revelation, and the valley stretched away below, the view its own reward.'
There are a couple of quite length 'info-dumps', mainly to do with the layout and set-up of Micah's village and its inhabitants. Again, this would be stronger if we learned this through Micah's own interactions with both the geographical layout and the people he meets. Less 'travel brochure' and more 'autobiography'.
Watch out for repeated sentences beginning with 'I'. There were a couple of moments where that became a bit intrusive for me, and I think a quick look through to spot those and re-jig the order of the sentence would really help.
There are also a few other repetitive sentence structures - 'It's a beautiful creature. Its flight something no mundane elk could ever achieve. It’s hard to believe the Cloud could create such a wonder. It usually brings only chaos and death.' Again, hopefully, a quick change to make.
I loved the idea of the Cloud, and its effects, by the way, and I thought it was really well set up as an ever-present background threat that permeated every aspect of Micha's culture. Really good, powerful world-building. I also liked the hints of the past world - the stained glass windows were a particularly evocative moment.
There's an occasional odd moment when a bit more detail might be needed to really immerse the reader. For example, the blacksmith, Shinna, is first seen like this:
'In front of the meeting hall, the Elder listened to an easily recognizable man.'
This rather begs the question ' in what way is the man easily recognisable?'. When we want to describe someone we don't tend to say they're 'easily recognisable', we describe what exactly it is about them that's 'easily recognisable'. It might be their 'stocky build' or their 'soot-black hair' or their 'piercing blue eyes' or even their 'air of barely suppressed fury'. But it's usually concrete rather than the abstract 'easily recognisable'.
When we learn more about Shinna in the following paragraph he comes to life a bit more. But even here, Micha describes him in quite objective terms; I wonder, given that there's a degree of enmity between them, whether Micha would be more personal and emotional? We really only get Micah's feelings about him in that last line, 'I thought him a pompous fool'. Then he comes to life for us through Micha's emotional reaction to him.
Enough nit-picking! I really think you've got a great story beginning here. I loved the world, the characters were all appealing and their relationships were set up really nicely in terms of the apparent conflicts and alliances. The 'dragon' is a great McGuffin at this point, and I really wanted to see if my initial assumption as to its true nature would be right! What's not to love about a team of adventurers heading off on a quest towards an potentially dangerous unknown! I definitely want to learn more about Micha and his world.
Great work, hope the above wasn't too devastating(!) and thanks again for posting this. I'll look forward to reading more of your writing in due course!