So I’ll admit straight away, I’m doing this one wrong. The friend who always tells me what the Broke and the Bookish top ten theme is phrased it as something like “top ten worst covers”, and so that’s what I went and found. ‘Which covers would I like to redesign’ is a rather different idea for me, but by the time I realized I was wrong I’d already collected my covers and my explanations, so instead you get the ten worst covers from books I love, and with them the ten covers I have always liked better.
1. Alanna: The First Adventure – Tamora Pierce
And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.
But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies. (Summary from Goodreads.)
Part of the job of a cover – maybe the most important part – is to get people interested in the book. More specifically, though I really shouldn’t have to say this, to get people interested in the book whose cover it is, to offer a taste of what’s going to come. I suppose on some commercial level it doesn’t matter if 80% of readers buy a novel based on a cover and then abandon it five pages, sales are sales, but if we’ve devolved to the point where that’s the only thing that matters, I don’t think I want to live in the world anymore.
Not only is the left hand cover a mediocre image at best, it also tells a reader nothing about the spirit, much less the plot, of the novel. Ooh, redheaded violet-eyed probably-female person has a hood. The sepia tone and conservative nature makes me more inclined to suspect some kind of piece about pilgrims than an epic adventure of a young girl who becomes a knight.
2. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
“So this is a story about a girl, right? In the 20’s?”
“Yes, she’s Sherlock Holmes’ apprentice. Tall, long blond hair down to her waist, usually braided. Boyish figure, wears her father’s clothes. She’s an academic, and they spend a lot of time in cities being threatened, occasionally blown up, and generally mysterious.”
“Awesome. Thin blond girl in the 20’s. Got it. What were you saying about bees and the English countryside?”
This time it’s not actually a bad cover. Again, though, it’s so very far from being an appropriate cover for the book in question, I can only imagine the person in charge of the design was never actually told what they were supposed to be doing. In contrast, I really like the series that was released some time in the mid 2000’s. While the woman is too old to be accurate on the first cover, the housecoat and the pipe and the book all provide a nice air of Holmesian mystery that feels apporpriate, and the subtle changes from book to book (housecoat design, the image behind her) look very nice and cohesive set side by side.
And yes, this book made my list again. It’s one of my all time favourites, so while I may to change things up a bit every now and then by leaving it off, I doubt it will ever be gone for long. Hey, at least Sanderson’s not here this time!
3. Captain’s Fury – Jim Butcher
This just makes me hurt. Poorly-placed Roman soldier man fights poorly-photoshopped hyena things, in front of a poorly photoshopped castle thing. In fact the entire first edition of the series is like that, with an awkward-looking legionnaire facing off against some weird, uncomfortable looking elemental animal or other, with whatever other background elements they could find. I may not have any idea what the weird symbol is on the newer edition cover, much less why it’s so prominent, but at least the thing has a bit of dignity.
4. Definitely Dead – Charlaine Harris
I hate these covers. I hate them so much. I could have picked any of them for the list, but then it would have been more “why I hate the Southern Vampire Mysteries covers”, so I’ve just picked my least favourite of many horrible choices. They all look like they’ve been put together by an elementary school class, and sometimes they don’t even make sense with the plot. This one technically does, I guess, since there is indeed a vampire, a tiger, and a blond girl … but why exactly was it necessary to dress her in a horrid pink nightgown and then put her on some sort of weird shadowpuppet stage? Steamy supernatural romance it is not.
There really aren’t any good covers for this series, but the blood splash covers have the advantage of being simple, not actively lying to the readers (so many of the SVM covers imply that Sookie is a vampire) and don’t look like the product of an enthusiastic teenage girl’s afternoon on photoshop.
5. Fionavar Tapestry (The Summer Tree) – Guy Gavriel Kay
I’ll own up here: I’m biased. I bought the omnibus edition of this trilogy, the one with the epic crystal dragon and mountains and glorious colour … So when someone I know posted about this book she was reading, it honestly didn’t occur to me to connect the weird wood-print style cover with the weird dude on the flying unicorn and the lonely little wolf with the same novel. The left cover looks like someone with only the barest knowledge of fantasy heard some key points about the book and just slapped them all together wherever they’d fit. It may contain more literal truth, but it makes me way less inclined to read about it.
6. The Hand of Oberon – Roger Zelazny
I hate old sci-fi and fantasy covers, I’ll make no secret of that. But as bad as the posing men and fireballs and mountains are in general, this is even worse. There’s no white horse in this book, and I’m not sure there’s a lightning storm. I’m not sure who the man standing to one side is, and the weird UFO galaxy thing just … no.
In fact, every single one of the covers I could find for this were horrible in some way, so my nomination for the best option here goes to the cover of the audiobook. It may not be interesting, but at least it’s not hurting my eyes.
7. Knife of Dreams – Robert Jordan
“So there’s this awesome scene, right, where Rand is fighting this awesome creepy chick and she throws a fireball at him, and -”
“Mhmm, right, right. But what about the one where Perrin spends an hour talking with minor characters?”
8. The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
I’m often a little astonished by what an impression the cover of a book will make on me.
I know, I know, don’t judge.
I first met this particular book wearing my cover of choice, there on the right. It spoke to me immediately – a tight, tangled city that lies half under water, a figure poised to stand guard or maybe take advantage of hidden weaknesses. Coupled with the title, the cover painted a picture that proved remarkably accurate.
And then I saw the purple thing, and I was sad. As with so many on this list, it’s not actually a bad cover, but it gives me the impression of some quiet philosophical text, an open expanse of dove grey with a graceful tower above, doves or pigeons or soothing leaves swirling in the sly. It does almost nothing to capture the dark, seductive, broken setting, the tricks and nuances of the character, the sinister merriment. In short, it is quite a pretty cover, for the wrong book.
9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J. K. Rowling
The American covers are horrible.
Like, across the board.
I didn’t love all of the Canadian/European ones, but damn do they not compare to the Americans. PoA is not the happy story of a red-cheeked ten year old and his grinning girlfriend joyriding some giddy eagle-pony. Also, I only just noticed this, but the weird angle/perspective makes it look like they’ve been shrunk down to the size of sparrows and I need to stop talking about this before I get too upset and explode.
10. The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman
Compared to my red-washed fury at number nine, my complaints about this one are really fairly trivial. Really, it boils down to the fact that even when I was a child reading these books, I always thought that the cover looked sort of … boring. If I hadn’t known what the previous book was about, I might think this was the adventures of a pair of siblings who liked cats – although what that has to do with knives, subtle or not, I cannot say.
My cover of choice now is based on admittedly more adult design sensibilities. There’s another fairly serviceable one in shades of green, with the cat watching from on high, and I think that might objectively be a better cover to attract younger readers. The point of this was not to propose the ideal cover for any given market – in fact, ‘versions of the cover you like better’ wasn’t even in the brief in the first place, so I will not apologize for my adult biases.
I feel it worth noting that while some covers of these books irritated me, all of the books themselves would be on my recommended reading list, for one reason or another. Go forth, ye the people! Read and enjoy!