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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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