Three SFF Opening Lines and Why They’re Intriguing

I’m excited to share with you this new series for 2021! It focuses on the all-important first line of a novel; the sentence that shapes the tone and very essence of the novel that follows those words. While a first line doesn’t have to shock you to your core, it should intrigue you enough to want to keep reading.

This mini-review will include the first line and—depending on if I’ve read the book or not—either my opinion on how this first line sums up the novel or my first impression and predictions of what the vibe of the story will be. First up, we have Illuminae, The Hobbit, and The Hunger Games.

books on bookshelf

Illuminae (Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)

“So here’s the file that almost killed me, Director.”

How does it sum up the book?

I’d say pretty well. Illuminae is unique in that it’s told in dossier format through IMs, medical reports, emails, and more. As such, we get a bit more information even before we read the first line, as the first page is an email from “Ghost ID” to “Executive Director Frobisher.”

This first sentence gives us a peek at the conflict (what did the narrator have to go through to get these files?) and at least two characters (the Director and the Narrator), in addition to the stakes (if it almost killed the narrator to get this file, it must be important). 

I read the book over a year ago but remember it well and can confidently assert this line encapsulates the book’s ensuing chaos and rollercoaster of emotions well. 

blue and purple galaxy digital wallpaper

The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien)

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

First Impressions/Predictions

Though I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and seen all the Hobbit and LOTR movies multiple times, I’ve never read The Hobbit

While deceptively simple, this first line gives the reader pause for two reasons: what is a hobbit and why do they live in the ground?

At this point in modern society—even if you haven’t read any of Tolkien’s work—you probably know what a hobbit is. You may not know why they live in holes in the ground, though, or that those holes aren’t real holes. They’re decorated to be cozy and comfortable; the very peak of hospitality. 

I think this line does a good job of describing Bilbo’s current life. On the surface, it’s simple and content to exist as it is. When you dig deeper, though, you find a complex world full of things you never imagined.

brown and black wooden house with garden

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”

How does it sum up the book?

I wanted to say “terribly,” but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. The entire series is centered on Katniss protecting her sister. Sure, Collins throws in a revolution or two and a plot to overthrow a corrupt government, but Katniss’s first and main priority throughout her character arc is ensuring Prim’s safety. This first line tells us Katniss shares a bed with someone (who we assume she’s close to) and she’s concerned about their whereabouts. 

I think, at the very least, this line makes us want to read on to discover more about both the narrator and the person with whom she shares a bed.

brown wooden bed frame with red bed sheet

Next Time on Opening Lines…

My next post will include Nevernight, Radiant, and Kingdom of the Wicked. Have other books’ first lines you’d like me to comment on? Drop them below and I’ll add them to my list!

As always, thank you for reading. Have a wonderful day!

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