At the risk of being too late to get peer feedback on my query letter, I am posting this anyway...would love anything you can give me before I hit "send" on that email...(thank you!). Here are the salient "guts."
Book-smart but naive, Madeline enters the same small woman’s college her long-dead grandmother went to fifty years earlier, hoping to begin her own happy, coming-of-age story.
Instead, she is forced to face a reality she never knew existed when a terrifying, ancient She-monster, the Greek Sphinx, threatens worldwide chaos and death if Maddie does not find a long-lost map to the Tree of Life, drawn on the back of a famous painting.
A painting she learns her grandmother may have stolen from a Budapest museum while on a college trip in 1930.
Maddie and her new friends race to find the painting through old family letters, journals and first-hand accounts that eventually lead them across time and continents. In their quest, they plunge headlong into discovering a world of secret societies, a dark family legacy of immortality, and worse — that they are at the epicenter of an epic but hidden war between immortals that has been raging for millennia.
This sounds a bit like my current WIP, but in a medieval setting, minus the real-world mythos, and with a nature cult. Let's see if I can offer any helpful suggestions...
I like the "follow in her grandmother's footsteps" quality of the opening, and the "small woman's college" is good — efficiently sets the era (roughly). I wonder though if it should be "small, women's college"
The "coming-of-age story" part has kind of a meta feel to it that I'm not sure I love.
not sure She-monster should be capped
you might just get away with "Greek Sphinx threatens..." and lose the descriptives. The reader will know what that is, and "worldwide chaos and death" already covers the "terrifying" part.
from "drawn on the back..." to the end is awkward, wordy, and a little repetitive. Let's try:
...if Maddie does not find a long-lost map to the Tree of Life.
When she discovers that the map is on the back of a painting her grandmother stole from a Budapest museum, she and her friends sift through letters, journals, and first-hand accounts in a desperate search that leads them across continents and time. Soon, their quest plunges them into a world of secret societies, dark family legacies, and an epic war between immortals that has raged since the dawn of time.
There's a lot of liberties taken in the above. eg, I said her grandma DID steal the painting, even though that might not end up being the case. It just reads quicker and more confidently than "may have stolen", and even if it turns out someone else stole it, it doesn't matter
Standard disclaimer: My suggestions above may be utter nonsense, and the way you have it might be better. Hopefully, this just gives you a data point to triangulate from.
The first 3 paragraphs are each single sentence paragraphs, which is a bit strange. Also, the second is 40+ words, which is a mouthful. Perhaps trim it down (you don't need She-monster) and split it up.
You may not need to mention "her new friends" i the query. The query should be about Maddie's journey, and adding new folk last minute is a bit distracting.
Also, you could put a note as to how Maddie herself grows during her adventures.
P3: Stakes (possible outcomes: bonus if its actually a dilemma)
You want to drop the agent into the inciting event in the first paragraph, but you also don't want her to feel like this stuff is coming at us out of nowhere. Get us from A to B to C. How does the Sphinx come into play? Why is the map on the back of a painting? Why does the Sphinx care about the tree of life? Should Maddie have known this stuff about grandma? (Luckily, you have another 100-150 words to play with here, so plenty of room to deepen this.) You know the details, so you know what would be most salient and interesting.
I love the idea that grandma was an art thief of serious proportions (museums are not easy targets), and I want to know more about that. (You don't have to tell me more in the query, I'm just saying this is a great detail).
The last paragraph reads more like a very short synopsis rather than the presentation of stakes.
Sometimes its just really hard to see the right direction for a query because you're so close to the novel, and everything feels important. I don't usually do this, but I know you outside of QK, so maybe you'll forgive the hubris. I'm going to try to rewrite it (cue the minor chord). Since I don't yet know your novel, I might have to make some stuff up
Though it's been decades since Nana's death, Madeline hopes attending the same college will put her on the other side of all the fascinating stories. The first day doesn't disappoint. She comes to the terrifying conclusion that the stories were neither metaphor nor hyperbole when a monstrous Greek Sphinx interrupts the lecture, pointing a razor sharp claw at Maddie, and demands she return what was stolen.
Prompted by fear, she and a group of friends step into a whole world Maddie didn't know existed, a world of secrets societies and a dark family legacy of immortality, [this phrase is a struggle for me--I don't understand how the ideas relate, particularly since her grandmother is, reportedly, dead. I repeated it partially so I could talk about it] a world where nana turns out to be a big time art thief. One stolen painting, a secret map, is missing from Grandma's collection, but the Sphinx isn't in a forgiving mood.
As word of death and destruction mounts, Maddie and her new friends race the clock to follow letters, journals, and first hand accounts, only to discover that they are at the epicenter of an ancient feud between the immortals. If Maddie doesn't figure out how to finish what her grandmother started fifty years ago, the (big bad thing will happen. I'm not sure that the generic "chaos and death" is sufficient, and I can't think of anything specific without resorting to being silly--just my nature I suppose. But you have to have stakes, and all they did in your last paragraph was discover they were in the middle of something.)
Okay, sorry for my presumption that feedback like this might be of use. Take the structure of what I wrote. Replace my weak, made up stuff, with your accurate good stuff, include the stakes and the end, see what happens. I know the end of the world is the stakes, but you need greater specificity, and it should be what the whole query builds toward.
And certainly flesh the query out with more juicy specifics that bring the idea to life (like grandma the art thief!).
Thanks for all the feedback everyone! Cesar, I didn't see your post before posting my revised version...you have some excellent feedback as well, so I will absorb and rewrite again. Cheers, all, and GOOD LUCK.