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Five First Lines – Urban Fantasy (#1)

Five First Lines feature image


The idea behind “Five First Lines”

I thought it would be fun to compare and analyze the first lines of five books. Many experts claim that those lines can make or break a book. They are a hook to grab the reader’s attention.

I’ve read forum posts by new writers, agonizing over those few first sentences of their novels. It’s made me wonder if first lines are as significant as people make them out to be. Do they influence whether a reader purchases a book? Do they affect whether a reader reads past the first paragraph? Or, is it just something that writers worry about to appeal to agents and editors? Whatever the answers, I’m curious to see how authors have gone about creating those first lines.


The first “Five First Lines”

For this edition of “Five First Lines,” I thought I’d start with some popular authors in the genre of urban fantasy: Kelly Armstrong, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance, and Jocelynn Drake. I plan to include more authors and genres in future editions of this feature.


Selection 1: Kelly Armstrong – Bitten

Bitten cover


I’ve been fighting it all night. I’m going to lose. My battle is as futile as a woman feeling the first pangs of labor and deciding it’s an inconvenient time to give birth. Nature wins out. It always does.

My thoughts: I like the capitalization of the first line. I don’t know if that was intentional or if it’s just the way it was printed. Either way, it makes it a strong but simple statement. The simile in the second paragraph is very meaningful, especially once you know what the narrator is talking about. I think these first lines are great. They really captured my interest.

(status: read before, plan to read again to review)


Selection 2: Ilona Andrews – Magic Shifts

Magic Shifts cover

I rode through the night-drenched streets of Atlanta on a mammoth donkey. The donkey’s name was Cuddles. She was ten feet tall, including the ears, and her black-and-white hide suggested she might have held up a Holstein cow in some dark alley and was now wearing her clothes. My own blood-spattered outfit suggested I’d had an interesting night. Most mounts would have been nervous about letting a woman covered with that much blood on their back, but Cuddles didn’t seem to mind.Either it didn’t bother her or she was a pragmatist who knew where her carrots were coming from.

My thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this opening paragraph. I like that the author included the location in the first sentence. Additionally, I think the author did a good job of establishing the tone and genre. On the other hand, it kind of seemed like rambling. The only thing in this paragraph that would make me read more is the blood-spattered outfit, because I want to know what had happened to make her like that. She’s rather nonchalant about it, and I’m not sure if that makes me more or less interested.

(status: unread because need to read other books in the series first)


Selection 3: Patricia Briggs – Night Broken

Night Broken cover

The phone rang while I was elbow-deep in sudsy dishwater.

“I’ll get it,” said my stepdaughter, Jesse, hastily dumping two glasses and a fork in my sink.

A werewolf pack that eats together stays together, I thought, scrubbing egg off a plate. Sunday breakfasts weren’t attended by the whole pack–some of them had families just like regular people or jobs they worked on the Sabbath. The breakfasts weren’t mandatory because that would have ruined the intent. Darryl, Adam’s second, who usually prepared the meals, was a hellaciously good cook, and his food attracted anyone who could manage to come.

My thoughts: This is a mundane and boring start to a book. I guess Patricia Briggs didn’t care about making the beginning exciting because this book is so far down in the series and already has so many fans. Or not, I don’t know. I just think these lines aren’t strong enough to pull someone in who hasn’t read the series. The only good things I see in this excerpt are: we know the book is about werewolves, we learn who Jesse and Darryl are, and we learn a little about Mercy. I found it interesting that she said, “my sink,” because if Jesse is her stepdaughter wouldn’t it be “our sink”? Also, I thought it was unusual that she explained who Jesse and Darryl are, but didn’t say who Adam is. You’d only know if you’ve read the series. I’m sure it’s said later, but I think it should have been in these first lines, as long as she was explaining who was who.

(status: unread because need to read other books in the series first)


Selection 4: Karen Chance – Claimed by Shadow

Claimed by Shadow cover

Any day that starts off in a demon-filled bar in a casino designed to look like Hell isn’t likely to turn out well. But all I thought at the time was that a brothel should be more fun–especially one for ladies only that was staffed by handsome incubi. But the demon lovers slumped miserably at their tables, holding their heads as if in pain, and completely ignoring their companions. Even Cassanova, lounging across from me, looked unhappy. His pose was unconsciously seductive–a matter of habit, I guess–but his expression wasn’t so nice.

My thoughts: Like Ilona Andrews, Karen Chance does a good job of creating atmosphere that lets the reader know what to expect. The genre is clearly established. I like that there’s a bit of foreshadowing. The reader knows that things are going to go bad soon. In my opinion, this was an excellent way to start the book.

(status: next book I’m going to read by this author)


Selection 5: Jocelynn Drake – Nightwalker

Night Walker cover

His name was Danaus.

And what I remember most were his eyes. I saw them first by lamplight; a flicker of dark cobalt as he paused a distance from me. His eyes were the color sapphires were meant to be, a grim sparkle of pigment. I stared at those eyes, willing time to slow down as I slipped into those still, stygian depths. But it wasn’t the waters of the Styx I swam in, but a cool lagoon of Lethe where I bathed in a moment of oblivion.

My thoughts: By itself, this excerpt does nothing for me. It’s just pretty words that cast a pleasant image. It doesn’t tell me anything I need to know. I don’t even need to know the name of the person she is speaking of, at least not yet. If I were the type to only read the first few paragraphs, I probably wouldn’t go any further.

Reading further, you learn that she’s been watching him for a long time, which makes the beginning lines even less significant because if she’d been watching him before, wouldn’t she have seen his eyes before then? Also, we learn she’s going to kill him, which really makes this observation pointless. Who cares if he has captivating eyes?

Those are my thoughts, but feel free to disagree with me 🙂

(status: read before, plan to read again to review)


Today’s Winner of “Five First Lines”

In my opinion, Karen Chance had the strongest beginning lines in Claimed by Shadow.

My second choice would be Kelly Armstrong for Bitten.

With that said, I plan to read all of these books. Two of them I have read before, as I noted above. I don’t think the first lines are quite as important as some people make them out to be. But, I can see how they might influence someone to continue reading or not. Personally, I give a book at least a chapter before I decide if it’s worth reading.

What about you? Who do you think had the most appealing or intriguing opening lines? If it’s a weak start, would you read further?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Also, if you want me to continue this feature, it would be helpful if you let me know by liking or sharing the post. Thank you!


Jen Schaper
I am a mom of three kids, a wife, and a wannabe author. For Books That Hook, I review books, create features and discussions, design the website, and do all the administrative stuff.

4 Replies to “Five First Lines – Urban Fantasy (#1)”

  1. This is a fun feature! I agree about Bitten- it feels like you’re immediately in the middle of something intense. The Night Broken one was somewhat interesting to me, but I literally JUST read Moon Called the other week so it’s fresh in my mind- that may explain it. If I had to pick a favorite I might pick Bitten.

    Opening lines are so tough. sometimes it is a weak opening but I really want to read the book so I’ll persist. But yeah if I crack open a book in a bookstore sometimes a lackluster opening will cause me to put it down. So they do matter some I guess?

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