There aren’t many novels with an opening that just grabs me. Some stark image that tells me, immediately, that I will like this book. Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint achieved this:
Snow was falling on Riverside, great white feather-puffs that veiled the cracks in the facades of its ruined houses; slowly softening the harsh contours of jagged roof and fallen beam. Eaves were rounded with snow, overlapping, embracing, sliding into each other, capping houses all clustered together like a fairy-tale village. Little slopes of snow nestled in the slats of shutters still cozily latched against the night. It dusted the tops of fantastical chimneys that spiraled up from frosted roofs, and it formed white peaks in the ridges of the old coats of arms carved above the doorways. Only here and there a window, its glass long shattered, gaped like a black mouth with broken teeth, sucking snow into its maw.
Let the fairy tale begin on a winter’s morning, then, with one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff. And it therefore follows that evil lurks behind each broken window, scheming malice and enchantment; while behind the latched shutters the good are sleeping their just sleeps at this early hour in Riverside. Soon they will arise to go about their business; and one, maybe, will be as lovely as the day, armed, as are the good, for a predestined triumph. . .
That second paragraph is beautiful, in so many ways. Florid, yet not overwrought. Striking, yet not terse. Few works of fantasy even approach the level of wordplay attained by Ellen Kushner in Swordspoint. It is an opening I will never forget, awash in imagery and well-wrought language, and a brilliant novel altogether.
(The first chapter is available at Ellen Kushner’s website, should you wish to explore a little further.)
For closings, however, I lean towards the simple. In this case, a single sentence. The source is The Last Light of the Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay:
End it with the ending of a night.
Sometimes, terseness is wonderful.