Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Best Of | Beginnings

How many times have you started a fantasy that began with this sort of thing?

"Prologue: In the beginning, the Great God Vsfdghkj created... blah... great evil... blah..."

While thankfully that shouldn't be too many, once is enough - especially since most authors have a problem with the tone of mythology, so this sort of opening sounds cliched rather than poetic. Thankfully, most novels begin more originally - some more than others. This post is dedicated to those 'some'. And, of course, to providing you with a few choice examples... Well, without further ado: my (as always, subjective) picks!

The Chronicles of Amber
Author: Roger Zelazny

Amnesia is a staple of fantasy - characters lose their pasts with astonishing regularity - so you might be a little surprised that such an opening is one of my picks. The Chronicles of Amber, however, is an exception in that respect: Corwin not only attempts to recover his memories, but bluffs without them. Without knowledge of whether those he's pretending to his memories with are old allies or old enemies, it's a dangerous, amusing, and very entertaining opening. Corwin is a very active protagonist, and the Chronicles of Amber shows him at his best: piecing together the clues without letting anyone else in on the fact that they're missing. Not to mention the mysteries that surround said clues are engaging by themselves. Because they suggest that Corwin's family is - well - a little unusual. Not to mention homicidal.

Memories of Ice
Author: Steven Erikson

...In which Steven Erikson proves that a distant-past prologue can be done well - in fact, brilliantly. While the first section is merely foreshadowing, the second is as nearest as fantasy comes to the real, not the common, use of 'awesome'. A burning continent crossed by three Elder Gods? Sounds good, yes. Well, said Elder Gods meet with Kallor, the High King who chose to burn rather than lose his empire - upon which a god has just been summoned and broken, just to kill Kallor. The Elder Gods curse Kallor - then he curses them back. Subverting our expectations utterly, and showing Kallor, one of the series' antiheroes, to the full. It's a truly awesome moment: well-written, unexpected, and part of what gives the Malazan Book of the Fallen its deserved reputation. Honestly, who wouldn't read on after that (well-deserved) first impression?

The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Okay, so maybe I've espoused Rothfuss before. But regardless of his other virtues - or flaws - Rothfuss' first page of The Name of the Wind is one of the finest in fantasy. Poetic, striking, and compelling, it merely relates Kvothe's presence in the inn he's made his home - and the home of the titular 'silence of three parts'. It doesn't sound interesting, I know: and in content, it's not. But Rothfuss' writing is what's compelling here, and this is one of the most compelling openings I've read - melancholy and hinting at Kvothe's pretense at normality... As well as how said pretense is becoming reality. However, the beginning of Kvothe's story proper, within the frame story, is also engaging - and amusing. Kvothe's intimate style of narration is quickly made apparent, as he quickly skips over the rest of human history to the only story, as he says, of any real importance: his. Heh.

Well, those are my picks - but what are yours? Comment and tell me below!


  1. I concur with your Rothfuss / Zelazny picks. I've not read that Erikson book.

    I'd add a couple of unique openings:

    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke, which opens with a meeting of amateur magicians, a scene that concludes when Mr. Norrell makes the stones of York Cathedral speak, one of the finest and most memorable scenes in all fantasy literature.

    Secondly, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan begins with a horrifying scene of incest and abortion (in a YA book!) that sticks vividly in the reader's mind long after the last pages have been turned. Don't let that scene dissuade you, though. It's an incredibly beautiful, magical book.

  2. Interesting picks, and I can definitely back up your recommendation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - it's a fantastic historical fantasy, and matches the period in tone and style as well, which is even more impressive. Strange's military career would have made an excellent novel just in itself...

    I haven't read Tender Morsels, though it sounds interesting. Sounds pretty horrible, though not necessarily offputting - Martin has (I don't know how similar) graphic scenes, and he's one of the best authors in modern fantasy.

  3. How about The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch? I'm a huge fan of that book in general, and it starts with a boy who's a little too good at pickpocketing and theft.

  4. Yes, Lies of Locke Lamora is another great one - Locke's escapades-gone-too-far with the thieves living in the graveyard are amazing. It take a little to get into it, though, so I'm not sure it's as much an opening as a series of flashbacks... But that's just semantics.

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