Top Ten Tuesday: fantastic beginnings

Text only: top ten TUESDAY

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. I’m going off-topic today to look at some awesome ways fantasy books have got started…

There are three ways for a book to sink its claws into me: a stunning cover, an enticing blurb and getting off on the right foot. Arguably that last is the trickiest thing, because there’s no formula for getting it right and every reader will have very different ideas about what works best for them. Today, I’m focusing on books whose opening sentences, paragraphs or scenes were just too enticing to resist.

The ten I’ve chosen – maybe because I’m a bit flighty, restless after weeks of low-key anxiety, maybe because I’m trying to choose things other people might be just as intrigued by – tend towards the funny or the provocative. It’s just as easy to ensnare me with beautiful prose, but that really is very subjective.

Book cover: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro - KS VillosoThe Wolf of Oren-Yaro – KS Villoso

They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me.

Well hello yes, tell me more. I want to know all about this woman.


Rivers of London (Midnight Riot) – Ben Aaronovitch

Book cover: Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch (a snarkily contextual map of London, with a suggestively bloodstained West End)It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the East Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden. Martin, who was none too sober himself, at first thought the body was that of one of the many celebrants who had chosen the Piazza as a convenient outdoor toilet and dormitory. Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the ‘London once-over’ – a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport – like base-jumping or crocodile-wrestling. Martin, noting the good-quality coat and shoes, had just pegged the body as a drunk when he noticed that it was in fact missing its head.

I don’t usually like comic fantasy, but this is so on-the-nose about London – and so very English with Martin noticing the corpse’s clothing before its missing head – that it was irresistible.


Book cover: The Library of the Unwritten - AJ Hackwith - Titan Books UK editionThe Library of the Unwritten – AJ Hackwith

Books ran when they grew restless, when they grew unruly, or when they grew real. Regardless of the reason, when books ran, it was a librarian’s duty to catch them.

…what bookworm could resist this?


The Ninth Rain – Jen Williams

Book cover: The Ninth Rain - Jen Williams (a blue-grey eagle against a silver background)Will we get into trouble?

It’s less the opening line – although that’s good, straight into a Situation – than the scene it introduces that had me at hello. If you’ve read it, then you know what happens – if you haven’t, I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say it took me by surprise and – judge me, it’s fine – won me straight over to #TeamHest. She’s awful. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Book cover: The Fifth Season - NK JemisinThe Fifth Season – NK Jemisin

Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.

Wait, what, hang on. What? Wow. Yes, okay. I’m ready now, you can continue. Friends, I was not ready. And by the end, I was certainly not okay.


Book cover: The Privilege of the SwordThe Privilege of the Sword – Ellen Kushner

Nobody sends for a niece they’ve never seen before just to annoy her family and ruin her life. That, at least, is what I thought.’

I don’t really need to say more, do I?


Book cover: To Kill A Kingdom - Alexandra Christo (tentacles clutching a jewelled dagger)To Kill A Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive. There are seventeen hidden in the sand of my bedroom.’

…I mean, this is the first line of a retelling of The Little Mermaid. It’s brilliant – it changes everything. Bring on the murdermaids.


Book cover: The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott LynchThe Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.

Fantasy Capitalisation aside, in one entertainingly snark-laden scene Lynch established that Locke Lamora, seven-year-old orphan thief, is too much trouble to live. Of course I wanted to know what the little shit was capable of.


The Summer Tree – Guy Gavriel Kay

Bear with me, this is a tale in two parts. First, a prologue:

Book Cover: The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry)After the war was over, they bound him under the Mountain. And so that there might be warning if he moved to escape, they crafted then, with magic and with art, the five wardstones, last creation and the finest of Ginserat. One went south across Saeren to Cathal, one over the mountains to Eridu, another remained with Revor and the Dalrei on the Plain. The fourth wardstone Colan carried home, Conary’s son, now High King in Paras Derval.’

I’m not sure I can convey how many punches I took – take – from the opening paragraph of this prologue. I grew up on Tolkien and Garner and Narnia and everything here pushes those buttons: the rhythmic prose, the casual yet deliberate world-building, even the names. It slides neatly into my heart through a backdoor created by years spent in adjacent worlds.

And then there’s chapter one.

In the spaces of calm almost lost in what followed, the question of why tended to surface. Why them?

This would have worked for me all by itself, of course. You can probably see the patterns by now. I can’t resist a clever tease.


Book cover: Hold Back The Tide - Melinda SalisburyHold back the tide – Melinda Salisbury

Here are the rules of living with a murderer. One: Do not draw attention to yourself. It’s pretty self-explanatory – if they don’t notice you, they won’t get any ideas about killing you.

I haven’t read this yet, but damn straight I want to after that!


An honourable mention goes to Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone for ‘God wasn’t answering tonight‘ – which is a hell of an opening line, and the scene that follows is as curious as it is intriguing.

What are some of your favourite starts to a book?