This week’s topic for Top 10 Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) is centred around quotes pertaining to a central theme. After discovering that a previous topic I had missed involved favourite opening lines to books, I thought why not use that as my quote theme for this week. Now, I’m playing it a bit loose with the whole ‘opening lines’ idea to cover more than just the first sentence in some cases but my blog, my rules!
I went through SO MANY books to find entries for this list. Finding ones I loved was harder than I though. As it turns out, books I’ve adored have not always had the strongest openers, and others which I didn’t enjoy as much came out of the gate stronger than I remembered. For the purposes of this list, I’ve stuck only to books I’ve read (or read part of), and because 10 seemed a bit limited for this topic, I thought I’d extend the number of entries somewhat.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.
Well, if this opening doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what else would. The dramatic tension contained within it is just fantastic. We know that someone is dead, our narrator, and people associated with him, are involved somehow, and the situation at hand has occurred in an unexpected way. But, why did this occur? How did it happen? What will they do in response to their grave situation? So many interesting questions to answer!
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.
I find this a really strong opener – short sentences, blunt sentiment, and a sense of contrast created by the dichotomy between peace and war. We immediately understand that our central character is someone who feels he has been forced down the path the novel is to take, that he’s not the ‘bad guy’ in this scenario. It’s also just a super dramatic and badass start to a book.
It – Stephen King
The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.
According to King, he has on many occasions spent months trying to write the perfect opening line to his books and IT’s is definitely one of his best. This first line gives the reader an instant sense of the gravity of the evil the characters in the book will face. It then contrasts it against something so innocent and innocuous as a floating newspaper boat. It’s jarring and eerie, but perfect.
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.
I’ve actually only read part of Red Sister but still, this opening gets a entry here on shock value. I mean, come on. How could you not want to read on after seeing an line like that? ‘Killing a nun’??? And that’s something which requires a large army? You immediately think: ‘I’m missing something here, and I need to find out what’.
Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
In the myriadic year of our lord – the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! – Gideon Nav packed up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.
I love this opening because not only does it give you really quick insight into the type of character Gideon is, it also hooks you with so many intriguing questions right from the get-go. Why is Gideon escaping? What is the House of the Ninth? And most importantly, how the hell has the king managed to reign for ten thousand years??
Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor
On the second Sabbat of the Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky. Her skin was blue, her blood was red.
This is another book opener which really draws the reader in with questions – what is the city of Weep? Why is a girl falling from the sky there? And why is her skin blue? It creates a striking and vivid image in your mind almost immediately – you can see that bright red blood against the blue of her skin and track her falling towards the ground. Shocking and memorable.
Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
A classic literary opener. I’m sure this one is included on many people’s lists. Why? Because it so flawlessly sets up the novel. For characters such as Mr Bingley and Mr Collins, it’s very much true – they have money (or money coming) and, therefore, believe they should have a suitable wife. Then, in the case of Mr Darcy, it’s just a social construct – he is wealthy and thus society believes he should be interested in finding a wife. However, in reality, at the beginning of the book he’s entirely disinterested in doing so. Very clever.
Beartown – Fredrik Backman
Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.
Backman’s Beartown is another example of a novel kicking things off with a bold, dramatic moment which we’re suddenly desperate to understand the why and how of but can’t. A sneak-peek of events to come. It’s particularly shocking because not only do we have someone shooting somebody else but that someone is a teenager. It really drives home from the very first line that this is a story which will deal with the loss of innocence.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.
The opening to The Heart’s Invisible Furies is great because I feel as though it perfectly establishes the kind of book it’s going to be – a wonderful blend of humour and woe. Sure, as far as first sentences go, it’s on the wordy side but you’re immediately intrigued both by what has happened to reach this moment and what will happen next.
The Hobbit – J RR Tolkien
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
I really enjoy how easy-breezy the world building is in these opening lines to The Hobbit. Within moments we already know that these strange fantasy creatures, Hobbits, live in warm, cozy homes in the ground and that they love food and comfortable furniture. It’s such a lovely image and you can’t help but immediately develop a degree of fondness for them.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
This is such a simple opener to a book that’s considered a modern classic. But unlike quite a few other classic novels, with Rebecca I actually understand why the first line is so famous. We question where Manderley is, why our narrator is dreaming about being there, and why she isn’t physically there. More so, this isn’t the first time she’s dreamt about it, so what is it about Manderley that’s causing it to haunt her dreams? The more you think about it, the eerier it sounds.
A Darker Shade of Magic – V E Schwab
Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.
I adore the charm of this opening to Schwab’s ADSOM series. It’s so simple, talking about a piece of clothing, but we’re immediately introduced to the magic and mystery that this world is going to offer us. Kell’s coat is a significant element of his character and from page one we’re already able to identify him as someone different and special, purely by the fact that he owns a coat which is impossible even in the context of his own universe.
Scythe – Neal Shusterman
We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill. And as I see it, they’re all innocents. Even the guilty.
I’m drawn to these opening lines because they so clearly state the moral dilemma of all “good” Scythes. If you were given the power over life and death, who would you deem innocent enough to spare? Who would be bad enough to kill? And among those bad ones, how terrible do they have to be for you to be able to kill them without feeling some kind of distress or guilt? As a reader, you’re instantly drawn into why our narrator is killing people and within what social context. It’s a strong start to a great read.
The Martian – Andy Weir
I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked. Six days into what should be one of the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.
Okay, this opening’s here because it’s funny. Like, the dude has literally been left behind on Mars. What else is he supposed to say? This aside, it also quickly shows the reader that our main character is relatable and that despite this being a science based story, it’s going to be an approachable one.
Emma – Jane Austen
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to united some of the best blessings of existence, and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. . .
Yes, another Austen. I know. You must think I’m a crazy Austen fan at this point, but honestly these are just two books with fantastic openers. I really like this one because with the way our narrator describes the leading lady, you can’t quite tell whether Austen wants us to like her or hate her out of pure jealousy of her perfectness. I also love how it so clearly suggests that there are plenty of vexing things due to come Emma’s way some time soon.
What are some of your favourite openings to books? What was it about them that grabbed you?