Mar 08 2011

This opening was really solid

Published by at 12:01 pm under Introductions

From The Amulet of Samarkand:


“The temperature of the room dropped fast. Ice formed on the curtains and crusted thickly around the lights in the ceiling. The glowing filaments in each bulb shrank and dimmed, while the candles that sprang from every available surface like a colony of toadstools had their wicks snuffed out. The darkened room filled with a yellow, choking cloud of brimstone, in which indistinct black shadows writhed and roiled. From far away came the sound of many voices screaming. Pressure was suddenly applied to the door that led to the landing. It bulged inward, the timbers groaning. Footsteps from invisible feet came pattering across the floorboards and invisible mouths whispered wicked things from behind the bed and under the desk…


Hey, it was his first time. I wanted to scare him.”


A few observations:

  • The book has two rotating points-of-view, the ancient djinn here and an eleven year old magician.  It was refreshing and brave to start with the character that wasn’t the audience stand-in.
  • I like that the author implies (rather than exposits) what’s going on here.  He never explicitly says that this is a magic ritual, but it’s pretty obvious even before you get to the invisible mouths whispering nefarious things.
  • The atmospherics and sensory details did a really good job foreshadowing the plot and setting the mood.  The description of the magic is a lot more sinister and evocative than, say, the Harry Potter series.  (Quickly distinguish your story from competing works, particularly if your main character is a tween British magician).

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “This opening was really solid”

  1. NicKennyon 08 Mar 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Great book, great series. Very sad ending.

  2. Ghoston 08 Mar 2011 at 12:41 pm

    I agree. Great series and great opening. Although I have to say I found it annoying that the author got me attached to Bartimeus and then made Nathan the main character. Oh well. It was still fun to read.

  3. Contra Gloveon 08 Mar 2011 at 1:34 pm

    It’s a nice opening, but it doesn’t sound like my type of story.

  4. B. Macon 08 Mar 2011 at 5:58 pm

    “It’s a nice opening, but it doesn’t sound like my type of story.” Yeah, I can see how it would not be for everybody. For example, the first paragraph sounds like it’s narrated in omniscient third-person, so it may be disorienting when it turns out that it’s actually first-person narration. That, and the description sometimes borders on too flowery for my personal comfort. (I could see adults getting through it without too much trouble, but my initial impression was that there might be a disconnect between a young adult audience and the writing style).

  5. Ian Thomas healyon 08 Mar 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Not a fan of the adverbs. Also, “The glowing filaments in each bulb shark…” Shark?

    The writing is rich, but the author needs to be cautious not to let it become cloying. It’s not purple quite yet, but it’s got a maroon tint.

  6. Wilon 08 Mar 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Hmm… interesting so this was in first person? For the superhero story I have written and am currently proofreading, I have been trying to find ways to write it in 1st person… properly.

    From the quote you shared I definitely would have thought it was written in 3rd person. Actually, this makes me think of a question which I hadn’t originally intended on asking.

    I know for sure that I want my super heroic narrative to be told in 1st person, since I want to discuss in detail the thoughts and feelings of a person, actually becoming ‘super’. Essentially, allowing the audience to imagine and feel what it would be like to be the superhero, through the first person view point. However, I am running into the common situation where a 3rd person perspective would be useful, such as the main character not being present AND a climactic fight scene.

    How would you approach a situation where the 1st person protagonist is not present, at a very key moment that the audience needs to be aware of? The ramifications of cutting out this scene, is that we lose an introduction to some supporting characters and also lose the ‘motive’ for a future event that takes place.

    Well regardless, I am definitely going to consider picking up this book, that was definitely a great opening as you said.

  7. B. Macon 09 Mar 2011 at 12:07 am

    Ian: “Also, ‘The glowing filaments in each bulb shark…’ Shark?” Ack, my mistake. The word was supposed to be “shrank,” but I mistyped it. Thanks for catching that.

  8. E.J. Apostropheon 12 Mar 2011 at 6:48 pm

    One of my sayings is to grab the reader by the throat and force them to read your story. I like how the opening draws the reader in. The reader wants to find out what this is about. I think the execution was done well.

  9. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 22 Apr 2011 at 9:38 am

    I like this opening, from “Nobody True”, by James Herbert.

    “I wasn’t there when I died.

    Really. I wasn’t. And finding my body dead came as a shock. Hell, I was horrified, lost, couldn’t undersand what the (f-word) had happened.

    Because I’d been away, you see, away from my physical body. My mind – spirit, soul, psyche, consciousness, call it what you will – had been off on one of its usual excursions to find that my body had become a corpse. A very bloody and mutilated corpse.

    It took me a long time to absorb what lay spread before me on the hotel’s blood-drenched bed – much longer, as you’ll come to appreciate – to get used to the idea. I was adrift, floating in the ether like some poor desolate ghost. Only I wasn’t a ghost. Was I? If that were the case, shouldn’t I have been on my way down a long black tunnel toward the light at the end?

    Shouldn’t my life have flashed before me, sins and all? Where was my personal Judgement Day?

    If I were dead, why didn’t I FEEL dead?”

    That’s the first page of my copy. I really like the opening line – I couldn’t stop after that and got through the book really fast.

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