Favorite lines. Everybody has them. And no, I’m not talking about quips or one-liners (but those are great, too). I’m talking about favorite lines from novels, short stories, etc. — the lines that we love, and the lines that we truly, deeply admire.
And in doing research for this post, I learned something: the question of “which are my favorite lines” is a really tough one for me to answer. Because I don’t have many favorite lines so much as I have favorite books, or chapters, or plots. I don’t even have favorite scenes so much as I have favorite themes, characters, or villains. And I don’t have favorite descriptive passages so much as I have favorite things being described, like China Mieville’s world of Bas-Lag, or the black wastes from C.S. Friedman’s When True Night Falls.
I guess I think in a broad scope.
But, never being one to back down from a challenge, I forced myself to find some truly memorable lines from some of my favorite books, which I shall now foist upon you in the hopes that you, too, can recognize their awesomeness.
— Clive Barker, “In the Hills, the Cities”
Clive always has a way with words, and his multi-volume horror story collection The Books of Blood is chock full of lyrical language.
— John Marco, “The Jackal of Nar”
That’s the first line from the Tyrants & Kings trilogy, and it sucks you right in. John knows how to paint a vivid scene and draw you into the action.
— Tad Williams, “Otherland, Vol 1: City of Golden Shadow”
Another opening line, this time from the Otherland series, describing a soldier in the trenches in WW I. This line has always stuck with me, as does the passage that follows it.
— Tanith Lee, “Dark Dance”
Tanith writes some of the most vivid and efficient descriptive passages I’ve ever read. The Blood Opera sequence is full of languid details like this.
— Cormac McCarthy, “The Road”
The entirety of The Road is one bit of vivid and disturbing prose after the next. The entire novel is filled with fluid and gut-wrenching passages that seem almost more poetry that novel.
— J.V. Jones, “A Fortress of Grey Ice”
Jones’ descriptive prose is some of the best I’ve ever read, and trying to come up with a single line that best typifies her versatile and vivid style is next to impossible. This line is just one of many from her Sword of Shadows series that stuck with me long after I’d put the books down.
In the citadel of black crystal
Beneath skies that burned crimson at the edges
The Prince waited.”
–C.S. Friedman, “When True Night Falls.”
This glimpse of the antagonist from When True Night Falls was presented as something of a poetic passage from the beginning of a chapter later in the book. I’ve always loved the way it literally stood apart from the rest of the novel.
He began to tell her stories about his time in High Cromlech.
He told her the smells of the city, flint dust and rot and ozone, myrrh and embalming spices. He told her about the pervading quiet, and the duels, and the high-caste men with lips sewn shut. He described the descent of the Bonestrasse, great houses looming to either side on ornate catafalques, the Shatterjacks visible at the thoroughfare’s end, spilling out for miles. He talked on for nearly an hour.
“I grew up,” he said, “surrounded by the dead. It’s not true that they are all silent, but many are, and none are loud. Where I grew up, we used to run, the boys and girls of Liveside, pugnacious through the streets past the mindless zombies and a few desperate vampir, and the thanati proper, the gentry, the liches with sewn-shut mouths, with beautiful clothes and skin like preserved leather. More than anything I remember the quiet.”
Steven Montano is the author of Blood Skies, an apocalyptic military fantasy series. He’s a full-time accountant, and a full-time writer. It would seem he uses up a lot of time.