I skip weeks where the prompts don’t excite me, but this week the theme is Books Written Before I Was Born. So here are ten of my favourite books older than I am – and I thought it would be fun to show their original covers on the left, and their most recent covers on the right! Just to see how times have changed!Birth of the Firebringer (Firebringer, #1) by Meredith Ann Pierce
Jan, the prince of the unicorns, is high-spirited, reckless-and the despair of his mighty father, Korr. Reluctantly, Korr allows Jan to accompany the other initiate warriors on a pilgrimage. Soon Jan's curiosity leads him, along with his friend Dagg, and their mentor, the female warrior Tek, into the greatest dangers-deadly gryphons, sly pans, wyverns, pards, and renegade unicorns. Yet time after time they are rescued, leading Jan to wonder: Am I the heir to a special destiny?
I always pitch this series to people as ‘Watership Down, but unicorns’. It’s surprisingly mature in its themes (DESPITE THAT APPALLING ORIGINAL COVER THAT WAS PROBABLY DRAWN BY A 5-YEAR-OLD, OH MY GODS) with impressive societal worldbuilding re the unicorns, while at the same time tapping into some classic tropes – like a chosen one born to reclaim his people’s ancestral homeland.
…I don’t actually need to say anything about how much greater the modern cover is, right? Right.
The heart of the story is a journey made by two outcasts: Caitlin, a wild girl-child accused of witchcraft and sentenced to exile in the Abbey of the Ninthstile; and The Badger, a disapointing ward of the Abbot of Thirdmoon See, who has been ordered to escort her. As they travel through the Thirteen Kingdoms, they are pursued and observed by a myterious man with red hair who seems to defeat them at every turn and by Caitlin's own dark visions, which haunt her with the fearsome destiny they predict. The answer to it all seems to be Spellkey; finding it and solving its Mystery may mean destruction for the cruel rulers of the Pentacle and a solution for Caitlin an The Badger, who need one desperately since they are falling in love...
I couldn’t find a ‘modern’ cover for this, because…they never reissued the omnibus, and even the individual books all have the same covers now that they did back when they were first published. ??? This is a strange, gorgeous trilogy, that has the dreamy style of fairytales while sounding like no fairytale you’ve ever heard. I love these books dearly, and I really wish someone would publish them as ebooks so I could carry them around on my e-reader forever!Those Who Hunt the Night (James Asher #1) by Barbara Hambly
on 12th November 1988
Alternate Cover Edition can be found here.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a former spy is called into service to hunt down a vampire killer...
Once a spy for Queen Victoria, James Asher has fought for Britain on every continent, using his quick wits to protect the Empire at all costs. After years of grueling service, he marries and retires to a simple academic’s life at Oxford. But his peace is shattered one night with the arrival of a Spanish vampire named Don Simon. Don Simon can disappear into fog, move faster than the eye can see, and immobilize Asher—and his young bride—with a wave of his hand. Asher is at his mercy, and has no choice but to give his help.
Because someone is killing the vampires of London, and James Asher must find out who—before he becomes a victim himself.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Barbara Hambly, including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
This one probably has the least-terrible original cover, although the modern cover is completely useless at telling you anything about the book at all. Basically, it’s historical fiction plus vampires, but what I love about this series (besides Hambly’s exquisite writing) is that the vampires here actually feel like not-human, alien monsters – not just prettified bad-boys with particular dietary needs. I reread these books almost every year, and if you have the slightest interest in vampires I encourage you to give them a go!The Door into Fire (The Tale of the Five, #1) by Diane Duane
on January 1st 1979
Herewiss is the only man in centuries to possess the Power of the blue Flame, but he can't use or control it -- not even to help his dearest friend, Freelorn, exiled prince of Arlen. Herewiss does have a talent for more mundane sorcery, and (aided by the unearthly creature Sunspark) he uses it to rout the armies besieging Freelorn. But now Herewiss faces a devastating choice.
His time to master the blue Fire is running out. Should he join Freelorn in his fight to regain his kingdom? Or should he seek out the ancient keep in the Waste where doors lead into other worlds -- perhaps even the door whose use will teach him to control the Power that he must master or die?...
…Honestly, I’m gonna say it: both these covers are freaking awful. Which is a shame, because this is the first book in a series that pretends (for about 3 seconds) to be Very Traditional Fantasy…except it’s in a queernorm-world where polyamorous relationships and group marriages are totally normal, and also, this series has what is probably the coolest take on dragons ever.
But wow, there is no getting around the fact that both those covers are terrible. In different ways. But. Wow.War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
on 1st July 1987
Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk-and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.
War for the Oaks is a brilliantly entertaining fantasy novel that's as much about this world as about the imagined one.
The book that invented Urban Fantasy!!! Ahhhhhhh, this is so good! The Seelie and Unseelie Courts go to war, but to ‘make it count’ they need a mortal, and the one they choose is a singer-songwriter who kicks ass. There’s a shapeshifting puca who is the most lovable sweetheart, really gorgeous writing, and a blending of the fantastical with the urban that I’m not sure any other Urban Fantasy has ever matched (except, of course, Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift series).
I mean, I hate both of these covers, but the book is jawdroppingly amazing, and if you haven’t read it, you really must. As in, it’s mandatory, go and get yourself a copy right this minute.Unquenchable Fire by Rachel Pollack
on 15th August 1988
It's uncomfortable to be chosen for Great Things. A lot of fantasists admit that, but Pollack's Jennie Mazdan shows us just how uncomfortable it can be. This is suburban fantasy, reminiscent of Philip K. Dick's suburban SF, and the protagonist is a nice suburban middle-class person who, in a recognizable America informed with rational, non-Christian divine powers, copes with supernatural imposition on her life. Perfectly balancing the anchoring familiar mundanities against her brilliant, fascinating Living World---surly bureaucrats at the National Oneiric Registration Agency, tourists photographing the Founder's Urinal shrine in Poughkeepsie---Pollack tells Jennie and Valerie's story of transformation, acceptance and triumph. Potently stocked with archetypes, yet down-to-earth and even funny, this is great fiction and great fantasy.
Unquenchable Fire is SO WEIRD. SO. WEIRD. It’s modern North America if miracles and a very brain-twisty magic were commonplace, and what happens when a perfectly normal woman is Chosen to carry and give birth to the messiah? It’s pretty great at showing how awful that would be, actually – just being Chosen, not getting a say in the matter at all – and the worldbuilding is just. Completely bonkers, honestly, but in this really fascinating way??? It’s not coded for Christianity or anything like that, by the way; it’s not religious fantasy, except in the sense that the world of the story has its own religion that this all ties into…
And no question, I VASTLY prefer the newer cover. Don’t even ask me what’s going on in the original. A Virgin Mary cat-lady on the phone, I guess???Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
on 1st September 1992
At a club in Missing Mile, N.C., the children of the night gather, dressed in black, looking for acceptance. Among them are Ghost, who sees what others do not. Ann, longing for love, and Jason, whose real name is Nothing, newly awakened to an ancient, deathless truth about his father, and himself.
Others are coming to Missing Mile tonight. Three beautiful, hip vagabonds - Molochai, Twig, and the seductive Zillah, whose eyes are as green as limes are on their own lost journey, slaking their ancient thirst for blood, looking for supple young flesh.
They find it in Nothing and Ann, leading them on a mad, illicit road trip south to New Orleans. Over miles of dark highway, Ghost pursues, his powers guiding him on a journey to reach his destiny, to save Ann from her new companions, to save Ann from her new companions, to save Nothing from himself...
Vampires again! Honestly, Poppy Brite’s horror is just about the only horror I can handle, which is hilarious because Brite is gory as hell. But the writing is so beautiful I get sucked in anyway??? Even more hilariously, I guess they really didn’t feel like changing the cover up that much. (From what I can tell, there were several different intervening covers, but the most recent? Is the same as the very first. With some extra text on the front. All right then.)Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners by Ellen Kushner
on 24th February 1987
On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless- until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead a of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye . . .
In the highly stratified world of Kushner's nameless old city, the aristocrats living in fine mansions on the Hill settle their differences by sending to the thieves' den of Riverside for swordsmen who will fight to the death for a point of someone else's honor.
Young Lord Michael Godwin is so taken by these romantic figures that he studies the art himself until challenged by the best of them.
Master of the Sword, Richard St. Vier is picky in his contracts and precise in his killing but he nevertheless becomes embroiled in the nobility's political, social and sexual intrigues. When his lover Alec is kidnapped by Lord Horn, St. Vier must take drastic action.
Urgh, I hate both of these covers; the first one is just, what, but the modern one is that particular flavour of Generic Fantasy But Maybe Historical Fiction Who Knows??? that I despise. At least the first one has some kind of individuality.
But if you’re not familiar with Swordspoint, it’s the first of the Riverside books, which are queer fantasy without the magic. I think it’s called fantasy-of-manners. Kushner’s writing is poetic and lovely and the series is a must-read for baby queers.The Silver Crown by Robert C. O'Brien
Ellen awakens one morning with a mysterious silver crown on the pillow beside her. What magic powers it possesses she has not yet discovered, but the sudden changes in her life are unmistakable: her house is burned down, her family has disappeared, and a man in a dark uniform is stalking her. Can Ellen ever find her family? Can she use the power of the silver crown to thwart the powers of darkness? What diabolical force hides inside the mysterious castle in the woods?
The Silver Crown has a special place in my heart because of the circumstances surrounding how I got my copy…which does not have the right-hand cover, although I think that’s quite pretty! (I like the cover of my version better though). The original cover…why so green??? What???The Little Grey Men by B.B.
The last four gnomes in Britain live by a Warwickshire brook. When one of them decides to go and explore and doesn't return, it's up to the remaining three to build a boat and set out to find him. This is the story of the gnome's epic journey in search of Cloudberry and is set against the background of the English countryside, beginning in spring, continuing through summer, and concluding in autumn, when the first frosts are starting to arrive.
First published in 1942 by Denys Watkins-Pitchford under his penname "B.B.," readers young and old alike still cherish Watkins-Pitchford's classic.
Like The Silver Crown, this is a children’s book, about three little gnomes who might just be the last gnomes anywhere in England! It’s a really sweet little adventure story of them going on a journey together to try and find one of their old companions. I’m not in love with either of these covers, but if I had to choose one I’d probably go with the original one on the left. The one on the right is that kind of scribbly etching-style that I’m not fond of. But I very much recommend the book if you’re looking for some really sweet, whimsical little adventure story.
Aaand, that’s a wrap! I really enjoyed comparing the covers of all these – I don’t know WHAT cover artists were smoking way back when, but I’m glad they’re off it now…!