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Archive for the ‘David Eddings’ Category

Are you bothered if you have books within a series that have different style covers? I know of at least 2 people who may be reading this and literally cringing at the thought of that mismatched book shelf!

I quote from an email with a friend:
“Books have to have the same style covers, otherwise it’s illegal.  Everyone knows this.  It makes your bookshelves look untidy.”

Does it matter to you?

Jumping from one style of cover to another does make me want to go out and re-buy the books so the covers all match. Especially as usually one is a far more fitting and accurate style for the book than another in my opinion. And by accurate I think I actually mean deliberately vague! I’ve realised covers I tend to like are the ones which hint at a character, suggest what someone or something looks like, and don’t take the main character and slap a big picture of them on the cover. That image can never match what is in my head, and if it does, then it won’t match what you’ve imagined! Which is exactly why Kingshott has been deliberately very vague about describing his lead, Tristan in The Magic of Prophecy:

“I wanted to avoid describing him too closely as I wanted the reader to create their own image of what he looked like.  I always liked the fact that no two people see the same thing when they read a book and I wanted to leave Tristan as open to interpretation as possible, just to see how different people saw him.”

A successful cover depends a lot, I suspect, on the brief the artist is given by the writer/publisher. I wonder how many artists have actually read the book before they do the illustration for it.

To borrow from Goldilocks – Is it too blatant, too bland, or just right?

Polgara Too blatant?

Here we’ll take the example of Eddings’ Polgara the Sorceress. The American edition has a cartoon-like buxom young woman in a typical medieval dress looking directly out of the cover at the reader. The UK version has a softer image, still of a woman but she’s got her shoulder turned away, it’s just a bit more subtle than the American “look at me, the obviously mediaeval style dress, white lock in hair, owl on arm”. I’m thankful they’ve never tried to draw Ce’Nedra, she’d look like a Disney fairy!

Hobb’s book covers, on the other hand manage to provide examples of both the too bland and the ‘just right’. Sadly it’s the original UK covers that are a good example of a fantasy cover, and the latest reprint which are terribly bland.

Starting with the originals: We have John Howe to thank for these. Taking Royal Assassin as an example, look at the well-balanced mix between hinting at detail without force-feeding a main character’s image in your face (something he slides into in the Fool trilogy later on incidentally, oh and don’t start me on what that red dragon is doing there…). Notice the lovely stone carving in the borders, the little portraits of people in the book, sketched in the corners, not right in your face, and there’s Buckkeep Castle high on the cliffs above the town – it’s clear early on in the book that it’s the castle there on the cover, but it’s still an image viewed from some distance, leaving the reader the time and space to fill in the details themselves. There are no attempts here to portray too much detail, for example, he’s steered well clear of the oft-mentioned, and somewhat tantalising, tapestry of the Elderlings which hangs on the wall in Fitz’ room.

And now, sadly, we have a bland reprint in the UK. It’s like they ran out of time and forgot about the covers, panicked and chose an animal that was loosely relevant to that book in the 5 minutes before it was due at the printers. A Deer. A Dragon. A Wolf. All plonked in the centre of the cover. There’s no intrigue. There’s no detail. There’s no subtlety. There’s no pondering what will happen, who the people portrayed on the cover are (incidentally that was something Josh Kirby was very good at for Pratchett), there’s nothing to entice you into the book at all. If you don’t have the books to hand, can’t remember what the covers are like, or for some crazy reason haven’t read them (why? why?) then you can see an example of the 2 different UK covers, along with the truly terrible US one on Hobb’s own site. (Gah! And I’ve just noticed on the French cover Fitz, who is continually referred to as dark haired (to emphasis his Farseer family links) has gone blond!)

In the modern world where most people’s attention span is only 15 seconds, everything is super size, neon bright, in your face and loud it takes bravery to be subtle, but when considering books it’s the subtle which attracts.  When I’m looking for a book I want a delicate intricate plot with deep characters – and the cover should reflect this.

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Many fantasy books include maps showing the position of towns, coastlines, borders between countries and sometimes even town centres.

I love having a map in a book. It’s something I’ll pore over before starting the book and refer back to during the story. It gives a sense of place to a foreign land, helping the reader picture journeys and locations in their mind. Especially if there are different countries and borders playing a role in the story; for example Hobb’s Six Duchies and Eddings’ Aloria both cross borders and have different nationalities playing a far bigger role than, say, Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind (so far at least)).

Some authors go far further and development geography and weather systems as well. Eddings covered some of these aspects in his Rivan Codex. But Terry Pratchett is the author that mainly springs to mind here. He has created a series of maps of his very well-known Discworld, some spanning the disc, as well as more detailed town maps of Ankh-Morpork; the country of Lancre and even Death’s Domain (there can’t be many authors who have drawn a map of Death’s house and gardens!) Not to mention his books explaining science in the Discworld and “Roundworld” (Earth) – but that’s heading a little off topic.

But is a map necessary for a good fantasy book? A quick discussion with fellow fantasy-fans didn’t result in any books springing to mind that didn’t have a map. Do all (fantasy) authors create a map whilst writing? And do they need to share it with their readers? Is an author better if they can share their ideas of distance, location, layout etc with words rather than resorting to a drawing?

I read an (unpublished) fantasy story a few years ago that a friend wrote. The main character was never described physically in much detail. Deliberately so that each reader painted their own picture. It used to drive me mad asking him for a description and never getting one.

He did sit down and sketch a map of the world though for me. In just a few minutes too, so he clearly had the map in his head even I had the first (and possibly only) drawn version!

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It was during my A-levels many years ago now (well, it feels like many years!) that I first thought about writing some sort of comparison piece about two series of books, set in different mediaeval worlds but with strong similarities in characters by a favourite author of mine. Something along the lines of “Do some successful authors only have one story in them”. I never did write it – and then I changed course from English to German a couple of weeks into the first term.

But it’s always been there, at the back of my mind, never really forming enough of a direction to actually happen. I’m not sure I’ve got that direction now either, but a conversation with someone at work recently reminded me how much I used to enjoy writing. Creative writing, generally fantasy style bulletin board (how mid-90s!) role playing games. I made friends there. I travelled because of the friends I made there. And some of them I’m still in touch with to various degrees.

I digress.

The author in question? David Eddings. An American fantasy writer, (who I believe died a couple of years ago). I first read his Belgariad series when I was in my early teens and it soon became an addiction. I’m slightly ashamed to admit I can (and still frequently do) pick up one of those five tatty-eared, yellowing books with loose pages and open it at random and still know where I am in the story.

Re-reading them now, as an adult, I realise that actually the writing isn’t stunning. It’s a little heavy handed, and I’m sure there are better writers out there, in fantasy writing, and in general. But having read few fantasy books aimed at adults when I first fell in love, then Eddings was my “J.R.R Tolkein”. My base point from which all other fantasy was judged and rated. I fell in love with those characters, Polgara, scruffy Belgarath, Garion and fiery haired (and tempered) Ce’Nedra. They were solid people to me, not just words on a page.

A favourite conversation between my brother and I is picking a topfive authors. Until very recently Eddings was always top. But a couple of years ago he was toppled by Robin Hobb, whose wonderful first 3 trilogies kept me up long past my bedtime for many a night. But I’ll leave talking about her for another time.

And maybe I will get around to that comparison piece sometime too.

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