Note: This is a series of old posts from a site I used to write a weekly blog/article for. Since the site is now down, I’m putting up a number of my favourite posts back up on my site!
“So,” the Eyeless Priest said, “that was just the very first night of your association with my very own windfall mystery bargain boy.”
“I’m gratified that you’re starting to take a possessive bent to the little cuss, Chains, because it only gets more colourful. I don’t know quite how to put it. I’ve got kids that enjoy stealing. I’ve got kids that just tolerate stealing because they know they’ve got nothing else to do. But nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever been hungry for it like this boy. If he had a bloody gash across his thigh and a physiker was trying to sew it up, Lamora would steal the needle and thread and die laughing. He… steals too much.”
“Steals too much,” the Eyeless Priest mused. “Steals too much. Of all the complaints I never thought I’d hear from a man who trains little thieves for a living.”
“Laugh now,” the Thiefmaker said, “here’s the kicker.”
If ever you wanted to look at a good novel hook and a prologue that works, I’m pulling apart the prologue for The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch to analyse why it works for me.
A few things leap out at you, even from this short passage. This world has a priest, or at least a so-called priest, who deals with the criminal sort and buys children like pieces of clothing. Windfall mystery bargain boy indeed! Then there’s the Thiefmaker, who we learn trains thieves for a living—it’s mentioned in another part that he sells them to the gangs later, and that’s how he makes his money.
We’re placed in a gritty underworld with intriguing rules, where unexpected figures barter lives between them. Looks like the setting’s going to be very interesting indeed.
Right off the bat, we have two characters (one of which never appears again after the prologue) and they have unique voices. There’s the Eyeless Priest, who has a grimly wry sense of humour, and the Thiefmaker, who describes Lamora with his colourful vocabulary—“I’m gratified that you’re starting to take a possessive bent to the little cuss” speaks volumes about his character. It also gives the reader a heads up on what the tone of the book will be like.
Tolkien this ain’t!
We already get a lot from the voices of these two characters. But it also paints the picture of someone who isn’t present in the prologue—the protagonist of the story, Locke Lamora. He’s clearly done something bad enough for the Thiefmaker to want to wash his hands of him, no matter the price. The Eyeless Priest has raised a verbal eyebrow at the boy he’s considering purchasing.
Locke Lamora is clearly no ordinary boy. And for that reason alone, even without the deftly sketched characters we see in the prologue, I want to keep reading.
“He… steals too much.”
This coming from a man who trains thieves and is clearly loose with his morals? Already I want to know more. What is it about this Locke Lamora that even someone who has been surrounded by thieves all his life would say such a thing? And then Scott Lynch reels us in with the promise of an explanation at the end of the scene: Here’s the kicker.
What makes a good hook is simple: The reader wants to read more. They want to keep going, to know more about the world and the characters the author has presented them with. To me, Scott Lynch’s prologue. It sets the scene and leaves you wanting more.