To tell the truth, I hate it when books take forever to get good. And there are several amazing stories I would have missed out on if my mom hadn't been making me read them. Lysbeth, a Tale of the Dutch by Henry Ryder Haggard is a story that starts out by describing Lysbeth's physical appearance and station in life. I persevered because it was a school assignment, and found that I liked it very much. I am currently reading The Children of the New Forest by Frederic Marryat for school, in which the majority of the first chapter is about the history of the time period the book is in; King Charles, Oliver Cromwell, etc. Once you get past the beginning, you find a wonderful little story about some orphans surviving in the New Forest, learning to hunt and farm and cook and all sorts of other things.
An opposite example is Red Rain by Aubrey Hansen. It begins by saying that it had been six months since anyone had been killed for refusing to go to school. I definitely wanted to know more after that. Starlighter by Bryan Davis begins in the middle of a tournament. My sister has said several times how this caused her to be hooked from the beginning. Honour of Savelli by S. Levett Yeats begins with someone insisting they would not eat with a thief. When I read that, it intrigued me and made me anxious to know what was going on.
A book doesn't have to start in the middle of action. Indeed, there are arguments for why it should not. But it should start by getting the reader's attention and making them want to know more about the story. I don't know how well I do this myself, but I do try.
This is the first line of my book Across the Stars: "Tell me I'm not crazy."
Does it pass the test?