The cover illustration for Courtney Schafer’s forthcoming novel The Tainted City was released today (above). The new novel is the sequel to her well received first novel, The Whitefire Crossing, which I reviewed and recommended last year. First off, I’m glad to see the artistic style continued from the first novel (i.e. – artist David Palumbo). Night Shade has done some monkeying with covers between books in a series in an effort to jump start sales/interest and that always bugs me. For example:
Unveiled Art for Courtney Schafer’s The Tainted City
However, I continue to be interested and concerned about how covers are used to attract certain audiences versus what the books contain. In Beaulieu’s series, the The Winds of Khalakovo cover was perfect. It conveys an epic scope, but also understates action and adventure akin to the sweeping epics of the 19th century literature. The second novel, conveys almost the polar opposite. While I haven’t read The Straits of Galahesh yet, I can’t imagine Beaulieu’s style has changed from what is perfectly represented on the cover of Winds. That said, the second cover will certainly sell better than the first, something I touched on in this post from early in the year.
Back to Schafer’s newest cover, I can’t help but code science fiction from it. Not Peter F. Hamilton science fiction, but something dystopian in the mold of Brave New World (Huxley) or Debris (Anderton). The dress of the characters, the textures of the buildings, and the force-field-like-light-show in the background, all call to mind the future. Without closer inspection of the standing character’s hip, and the recognition of a dagger, there’s almost nothing that shows swords/sorcery/horses. Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s a great cover. I love the composition and having read Whitefire Crossing, I know what’s depicted. However, to a new reader looking at the first and second book on the shelf I’m not sure there’s a clear concept being conveyed.
I remember Schafer mentioning at some point that, on Whitefire Crossing’s cover, the glowing red hands were added after the fact to communicate more clearly its status as a fantasy novel. Glowing hands, believe it or not(!), code magic.
Without that, a quick cover glance shows a couple of dudes climbing a mountain, just as Tainted City shows the same two dudes in non-era-signifying robes on top of multistory modern looking building in awe of a force field. If I were hypothesizing, and I am, I would guess Schafer’s cover art has been designed to attract male and female readers equally, and, in the case of the newest cover in particular, a share of the massive urban fantasy market.
Unfortunately, I think that screws with reader expectations. Schafer’s novels are classically fantasy, featuring two male protagonists, lots of magic, and a fair share of pointy weapons and horses. While the cover for Tainted City may attract more readers, are they the right ones? Are they the readers who will love it? More importantly to the publisher and the author, are they the readers that will recommend the novel to others?
I don’t know, but it interests me. What do you think?