Ask any author and they’ll likely tell you that coming up with the perfect opener is difficult. How do you introduce the reader to the world? To the characters? And what will keep them engaged with these strangers enough to turn the pages? Every book has a different approach, but no matter how the author chooses to tackle their opening, we know a good one when we read it.
We found the best fantasy novel opening examples that show how to write an intro readers won't be able to resist.
"He was an easy mark."
The City of Brass
For being so short, this opening is doing a lot of heavy storytelling. We don’t know who the narrator is yet, but we learn a lot about her here. She’s a hustler of sorts, identifying people by how easily they can be taken. While we don’t know where we are or when, we know that this is a world full of predators and prey. What is he an easy mark for? And will she succeed in whatever she’s marking him for?
Those questions hook us, pulling us into the world in only five words. As far as openings go, this one is spectacular.
“Locke Lamora stood on the pier in Tal Verrar with the hot wind of a burning ship at his back and the cold bite of a loaded crossbow’s bolt at his neck.”
Red Seas Under Red Skies
Executing a brilliant plot twist in the middle of a narrative is hard enough, but Lynch manages to pull one off in a single sentence. This second book in the Gentleman Bastard series starts off with immediate stakes. Why is the ship burning, and who is holding a crossbow at Locke’s neck?
After everything Locke survived in the first book, this is the kind of line that makes you hitch your breath, anxious to find out exactly what kind of trouble this crew is in again—and how they’re going to get out of it.
“Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78.”
The Library at Mount Char
In this single sentence Hawkins manages to convey character, setting, and stakes. It’s a quiet first image in some ways, and yet the blood-drenched feet and empty highway hint at more ominous threads to come.
This opening immediately sets the tone for a story that is many things all at once. Part horror-fantasy, part thriller, this book blends the familiar with the strange, and firmly establishing these key dynamics is important.
This first sentence delivers on all of these different aspects with a confidence that encourages readers to continue walking with Carolyn, no matter where she goes.
“In the myriadic year of our Lord—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”
Gideon the Ninth
Everything you need to know about Gideon Nav is captured in this opening line. She’s defiant, rebellious, and full of snark. Who packs dirty magazines in their getaway bag? Gideon does.
Muir weaves in those tiny but important details throughout the novel, taking sharp observations and creating penetrating character insight. There is a lot to distract and dazzle in the story—lesbian necromancers in space, after all—but the heart of who Gideon is remains steadfast from the first sentence on.
“Today he would become a god. His mother had told him so.”
It’s quite a statement to become a god, but Roanhorse makes this even more profound by then shifting the focus of the first sentence to the narrator's mother. In many ways, this sleight of hand prepares us for the rest of the book.
Black Sun is a story with shifting perspectives and complicated mysteries. Maybe we know what’s happening, but maybe we’re relying on the assurance of another. We’re thrust into a world filled with magic, prophecy, and political intrigue, where everything depends on what you believe and who told you to believe it.
This is a masterful introduction to the world that immediately grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go.
“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.”
A Darker Shade of Magic
All you have to know about the world Schwab is introducing is in this opening. It isn’t really about Kell’s coat, although the coat is intriguing. It’s that the world is not what it seems. If the coat is peculiar, what about the place it came from? We know right away that nothing is impossible and that things in this world aren't quite what they appear.
And through the coat, we learn a bit about Kell as well, since someone wanting a coat with several impossible sides is a certain type of person. This opening intrigues readers, sparks our imaginations, and shows subtly that we’re about to embark on an adventure filled with unexpected surprises.
“Knives. Knives everywhere. Coming down like rain.”
The Court of Broken Knives
If the title didn’t make it clear, this book is filled with knives. It doesn’t matter if the imagery is meant to be literal—is the world actually raining knives?—or describing a battle so intense that blades feel like rain. Either way, this efficient opener tells us we're entering a violent world.
This isn’t a story that wanders or meanders. It cuts, and the first blood is drawn in these sparse lines.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson is a master storyteller, and we get the full force of her talent in this remarkable opening. Every word does double time, describing the house and creating a thread of foreboding.
This is a story where the house is more than a place, it’s a thing. We feel that here, even though Jackson only tells us of the floors and walls, of wood and stone. And whatever it is, it’s something we should be wary of. It’s not sane. It holds darkness. And if you enter, you’ll enter alone. Who would dare trespass after such a warning?
And because we know the story continues, we know someone does, and we are compelled to find out who—and why.
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
One of the most iconic openings in fantasy, the imagery in this single sentence is stunning. We don’t know who the man in black is, or why the gunslinger is following him, but we immediately want to know why.
But there’s a lot more to this sentence than two men in pursuit. By telling us they’re in the desert, King indicates there’s danger in their chase. Deserts aren’t meant to wander recklessly through. They’re deadly environments, and whether this desert exists in our world or somewhere else, we already sense that this chase is important enough to risk their safety.
No matter what unfolds from this moment forward, we’re entrenched in the drama of the moment and the intensity of the setting, and all we want is more.