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Thread: Fantasy novels that open like this

  1. #11
    Senior Member DragonOfTheAerie's Avatar
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    Jun 2016
    Down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind
    Quote Originally Posted by Steerpike View Post
    I am reading Justine, the first of Lawrence Durrell's acclaimed Alexandria Quartet. I quite like how he opens this novel--I like how he gives us setting, mood, the voice of the narrator, and of course questions, questions, questions! I particularly like the last two lines.

    There is no action to it. I like it for similar reasons that I like the opening to the Gormenghast books, I suppose. SF/F I've read recently open either with action, or with some quite overt hook--some phrase in the first sentence or two that is meant to leap out and engage the reader. I'm curious whether there is any current (say last decade or so) fantasy that starts more like this. If none come to mind, could you open an SF/F novel this way. Would an agent or editor take it? Justine opens thusly:

    The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes...

    I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child--Melissa's child. I do not know why I use the word "escape." The villagers say jokingly that only a sick man would choose such a remote place to rebuild. Well, then, I have come here to heal myself, if you like to put it that way....

    At night when the wind roars and the child sleeps quietly in its wooden cot by the echoing chimney-piece I light a lamp and limp about, thinking of my friends--of Justine and Nessim, of Melissa and Balthazar. I return link by link along the iron chains of memory to the city which we inhabited so briefly together: the city which used us as its flora--precipitated in us conflicts which were hers and which we mistook for our own: beloved Alexandria!

    I have had to come so far away from it in order to understand it all! Living on this bare promontory, snatched every night from darkness by Arcturus, far from the lime-laden dust of those summer afternoons. I see at last that none of us is properly to be judged for what happened in the past. It is the city which should be judged though we, its children, must pay the price.
    This is a good beginning and it has a hook even though there isn't any action. It makes me ask questions: why did the narrator have to escape, and why is Melissa's child with them? What does the narrator mean when they say they came to heal? Why is the narrator limping? Who are the narrator's friends? Why is the city described in such a way?

    All these questions make me want to read more. They all say, "There is a story here. I am telling you a story," The human heart instinctively listens when it senses this.

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  3. #12
    Senior Member Heliotrope's Avatar
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    Sep 2015
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    T.Allan.Smith - Yep, I find all the Nubela winners, and any fantasy published in online publications for that matter, tend to have this literary quality to them. You don't see too many pure "fantasy adventure" style stories up for those sorts of awards.
    Last edited by Heliotrope; 7-15-17 at 12:03 PM.
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  5. #13
    Senior Member Aurora's Avatar
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    May 2017
    Olympic Peninsula
    Lovely beginning! And there is a hook, yes, the children of the city must pay the price. This passage brings hope into my day and the chance of a trip to the library. I've pretty much given up on modern fantasy, which sucks because it's my favorite genre. I've been reading a lot of historical women's fiction of all things because it's more mood setting.

    I'm not one for fancy prose. What I want is story. Right away. This opening has story and mood and setting in a few paragraphs. It's nice.

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