Top Ten Bookish Beginnings

  1. God’s War – Kameron Hurley. I have written before about how much I love Hurley’s first line – “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert” – but the opening of the novel in general is a thing of mastery, punchy and stereotype-smashing, plunging you right into a world that’s culturally and technologically alien and leaving you to flounder around figuring it out.
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien. The hobbity bits of The Lord of the Rings have always been my favourite: they make Middle-earth seem so much larger and richer than the rather laboured world-building later on does. The Long-Expected Party is funny, touching and tinged with a perfectly-judged hint of menace.
  3. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The narrator’s dream, which opens this famous Gothic novel, is so densely packed with foreshadowing and imagery; it’s a fantastic example of how to set up atmosphere.
  4. Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake. The opening of the Gormenghast trilogy is just a little strange, in that the first chapter is essentially narrated by a minor character who we never see again. But it’s a strangeness that works extremely well to introduce us to the byzantine, dysfunctional world that is Gormenghast castle.
  5. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski. This is as much a function of book design as it is storytelling, but as you move through the strange paratexts (title page, copyright disclaimers and edition notes, contents page, foreword, and finally, before the Introduction, that unsettling statement: “This is not for you”) the sense grows that you’re in for something…different.
  6. Saga – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I love that this series begins with a birth (“it feels like I’m shitting! Am I shitting?”) and a woman breastfeeding: that just encapsulates the brash confidence with which it smashes stereotypes and taboos and drives straight for equality in representation without even looking round to check you’re following.
  7. Lords and Ladies – Terry Pratchett. In general, I’m a fan of how Sir Terry opened his books: he has a knack for contrasting the ridiculous and the cosmic in a way that’s fond and humane rather than ridiculous. Lords and Ladies gets the prize for its summary of the Big Bang: “There was nothing, which exploded.”
  8. Jack Glass – Adam Roberts. The first couple of pages of this self-avowed SF mystery are full of the most fantastic, precise, witty, buoyant prose. The rest of the novel is pretty good, too; but that opening is one I want to read again and again.
  9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne Valente. Valente’s prose is consistently wonderful; but her MG fairytale appears here because Fairyland has customs officers, which is exactly right in a way that’s very, very hard to achieve indeed.
  10. Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter. Our introduction to Carter’s heroine Fevvers couldn’t be better: she’s larger than life, unapologetically real, snaring Our Narrator, all unawares, in her utterly present femininity.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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