Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Opening Lines

Posted May 26, 2020 by Nicky in General / 26 Comments

This week’s prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is “opening lines”, and I definitely have some favourites to share, ranging around my shelves! I’m sure I’ve done a favourite first lines before for TTT, but it’s been so long — and I have some new answers.

Cover of Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles Cover of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

  1. Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers: “The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.”

    This one gets me every time — it’s funny and playful, and though the mystery at the heart of this book is rather sad and pathetic, there are some amazing bits playing Peter and Harriet off against each other for wit and banter, and I adore it.

  2. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, by K.J. Charles: “I am, my friends agree, a fairly easy-going sort of chap, not quick to anger or to fear. Thus, when I came to live in Caldwell Place, I paid no mind to the screams in the night, which could well have been foxes or cats (never mind that they sprang from the empty air of my bedroom). I scarcely objected to the muffled moans, which could have come from a neighbour’s pleasures (if the house had not stood alone, with no neighbour for a mile to either side). But I did feel it was a bit much when the walls began to bleed.”

    Bahahaha. This is not technically quite the opening lines, but shush.

  3. A Darker Shade of Magic, by 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.”

    Had me at hello.

  4. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

    It’s not just that I love the book, but also that I love the story of that opening line (scribbled on a student’s exam paper during marking) and I love the way it immediately begs a whole bunch of questions.

  5. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell: “The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God.
    They meant no harm.”

    Technically not the opening lines, but from the very brief prologue, and a complete oh shit what — …which the book amply lives up to!

  6. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

    I will never be over this book, though it’s been a long time since I read it. “Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.” Opening and closing lines are burned into my heart!

  7. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente: “Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her, and flew to her window one evening just after her eleventh birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds, in the shanty-towns where the Six Winds live.”

    Whimsical and fairytale-like and yet also with unusual details. Sign me up!

  8. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells: “I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”

    Murderbot, your style speaks to me from the very first moment.

  9. The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”

    I still haven’t read this book properly, but this opening line still sticks in my head.

  10. The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff: “From the Fosseway westward to Isca Dumnoniorum the road was simply a British trackway, broadened and roughly stalled, strengthened by corduroys of logs in the softest places, but otherwise unchanged from its old estate, as it wound among the hills, thrusting further and further into the wilderness.”

    This is perhaps a more personal choice than the others: not the most compelling opening for someone who doesn’t know the delights that lay ahead (Marcus! Cottia! Cub!) — this book is a window into my childhood, when this was one of the books I read to bits, and one of the ones that has stood up best because of Sutcliff’s careful sketching in of the Romano-British world as she understood it. I have no visual imagination and yet there are some scenes in this book I could almost draw.

Cover of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith Cover of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente Cover of All Systems Red by Martha Wells Cover of The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin Cover of The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

So there you go! What are your favourite first lines? Did you do something different for this week’s theme, if you joined in? Link me!

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26 responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Opening Lines


    …in retrospect, I should not be surprised that we share a love for this book (but let's not talk about the Hollywood rendition of it, when you can watch ludicrous Centurion instead without trying to reconcile yourself to Romans having American accents, however appropriate it may be as a demonstration of modern cultural imperialism).

    All Systems Red and The Fifth Season are tremendous ways to start a book. I really need to go finish the Broken Earth trilogy, but if I leave it a teeny bit longer it will also be an excuse to reread from the top, so.
    imyril recently posted…Six Degrees of Fantasy Separation: traversing a genreMy Profile

    • We tried to watch The Eagle and I don’t know if it was because we had bad colds at the time but as far as I’m concerned it was a fever dream.

  2. My mind is so swamped by so many famous opening lines (Call me Ishmael — It was the the best of times — and, yes, In a hole in the ground) that it has wiped out any which I might regard as favourites. I suppose I tend to think of favourite novel in their totality as big warm hugs…

  3. I loved that opening for Murderbot as it made me smile AND relate totally! Harry Potter had a similar effect on me as I was amused by Uncle Vernon’s behaviour!

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