For the first time in an age, my library got a new fantasy for its shelves.
As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.
Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES
Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?
Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:
The City We Became by N.J. Jemisin
But twenty-two pages of prologue? Really?!?
If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.
Okay, that gripe aside, the opening pages of The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin do successfully balance hints at the fantastical while remaining grounded in New York City. Our protagonist, who’s unnamed in the opening pages, hears something breathing and calling back to her whenever she sings or paints the city. It’s a unique balance of active exposition that helps readers see and feel the same unsettled curiosity as the protagonist. The only interaction we see the protagonist has with another human being is Paulo, who seems to have this mentor kind of position of a side character. Paulo is trying to share his own moment of seeing something alive in the depths of the city and knows the protagonist can hear whatever that thing is. But the protagonist doesn’t care about a thing; she cares about getting some food in her stomach and having a safe place to sleep from one night to the next.
So this story is something of a slow burn. I’m not saying that’s bad; Jemisin isn’t shy that this is the first book of a series, so Book 1 will of course be full of dropped seeds and mystery boxes to compel readers to read. And these opening pages do have moments alluding to the fantastical hidden among the everyday grit and grime of the city. Why this had to be inside a huge prologue I don’t know, but for those who enjoy urban fantasy stories, I’m sure Jemisin will not disappoint.
No matter what the season brings, keep reading!
Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!