(Slightly More Than) 10 of My Favourite Book Covers

Posted 3rd August 2021 by Sia in Top Ten Tuesdays / 6 Comments


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. Check out upcoming Top Ten themes on Jana’s blog!

This week’s theme was beautiful book covers, and I have spent…way longer than I probably should, picking which ones to feature! Not just because there are so many beautiful covers in the world to choose from, but because I wanted to pick covers that were as beautiful as the stories they stand for; covers that were backed by stories that were worthy of them. There’s something very magical about storytelling, and very magical about creating visual art, and I wanted covers where those things go together. Perfect stories + perfect covers = perfect match.

I ended up finding quite a few.

Raybearer (Raybearer, #1) by Jordan Ifueko
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Representation: Cast of colour, major asexual character, secondary sapphic and achillean characters

Nothing is more important than loyalty. But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

Raybearer went directly onto my Best of the Decade list when I read it last year, and I’m very sure Redemptor is going to as well when it comes out later this month. The artist Charles Chaisson has created freaking masterpieces here – with the added benefit of containing so many gorgeous references to the world of the books! No word of a lie, I could stare at these for hours.

Water Horse by Melissa Scott
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bi MC, M/F/M polyamory/group marriage, M/M, queernorm culture

For the last twenty years, Esclin Aubrinos, arros of the Hundred Hills, has acted jointly with Alcis Mirielos, the kyra of the Westwood, and the rivermaster of Riverholme to defend their land of Allanoth against the Riders who invade from Manan across the Narrow Sea. He has long been a master of the shifting politics of his own people and his independently-minded allies, but this year the omens turn against him. The Riders have elected a new lord paramount, hallowed servant of the Blazing One, a man chosen and fated for victory.

The omens agree that Nen Elin, Esclin’s stronghold and the heart of Allanoth, will fall when a priest of the Blazing One enters its gates. Esclin needs a spirit-bonded royal sword, a talismanic weapon made of star-fallen iron, to unite the hillfolk behind him. But the same vision that called for the sword proclaimed that Esclin will then betray it, and every step he takes to twist free of the prophecies brings him closer to that doom.

I was going to pounce on Water Horse anyway, because I will never not-pounce on a Melissa Scott book – but if I hadn’t been going to, the cover would have sold me! I don’t know if I’ve ever seen painted water that so much looks like it’s in motion – the sense of movement and presence coming out of this is just incredible to me. You can practically hear the water. And this is very far from a one-off: Eleni Tsami‘s work is just spectacular.

You can see the full wrap-around illustration for the Water Horse cover here on Tsami’s insta. It is very worth checking out!

Crown of Feathers (Crown of Feathers, #1) by Nicki Pau Preto
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Representation: Cast of colour, secondary M/M or mlm

I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

From water to fire! The Crown of Feathers trilogy by Nicki Pau Preto unequivocally has some of the most gorgeous covers to ever grace the printed page, and the inestimable artist Kekai Kotaki is the one responsible for those stunning illustrations. Just look at them!!! Even if the books didn’t have an incredible premise (PHOENIX RIDERS?!) I would have bought them for the covers alone.

Elfland (Aetherial Tales, #1) by Freda Warrington
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Minor gay character

Rosie Fox is a daughter of the Aetherials, an ancient race from the Spiral—the innermost realm of the Otherworld—who lives secretly among us. Yet she and her kind are bereft of their origins, because on Earth, in a beautiful village named Cloudcroft, the Great Gates between worlds stand sealed.

Her parents, Auberon and Jessica, are the warm heart of Cloudcroft and of Rosie’s loving family. But on the hill lives the mysterious, aloof Lawrence Wilder, Gatekeeper to the inner realms of Elfland. Tortured by private demons, he is beset by trouble on all sides: his wife has vanished and his sons Jon and Sam are bitter and damaged. Lawrence is duty bound to throw open the Gates every seven years for the Night of the Summer Stars, a ritual granting young Aetherials their heritage, their elders vital reconnection to their source. Lawrence, however, is haunted by fears of an ever-growing menace within the Spiral. When he stubbornly bars the Gates, he defies tradition and enrages the Aetherial community. What will become of them, deprived of the realm from which flows their essential life force? Is Lawrence protecting them—or betraying them?

Growing up amid this turmoil, Rosie and her brothers, along with Sam and Jon Wilder, are heedless of the peril lurking beyond the Gates. They know only that their elders have denied them their birthright, harboring dark secrets in a conspiracy of silence.

When Sam is imprisoned for an all-too-human crime, age-old wounds sunder the two families…yet Rosie is drawn into his web, even as she fears the passions awoken in her by the dangerous Wilder clan. Torn between duty and desire, between worlds, Rosie unwittingly precipitates a tragedy that compels her to journey into the Otherworld, where unknown terrors await. Accompanied by the one man most perilous to her life, she must learn hard lessons about life and love in order to understand her Aetherial nature…and her role in the terrifying conflict to come.

I have loved many books whose covers are illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft, especially the many books of Patricia McKillip, but I first encountered her work on the covers of Freda Warrington’s Aetherial Tales trilogy, so they have a special place in my heart. Not only are they beyond breathtaking, they include so many details that are of vital importance to each story – for example, the cover of Elfland features, in the background through the doorway, a Stonehenge-esque circle of standing stones. I doubt you can make them out at this size – I did use the most high-res images of each cover I could find, but they get shrunk down, alas. I encourage you to google Craft, or follow the link to her website, and study all her magnificent pieces at your leisure.

The Cloud Roads (Books of the Raksura, #1) by Martha Wells
Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bi MC, matriarchy, queernorm culture, M/M in later books

Moon has spent his life hiding what he is — a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself... someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn't tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power... that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony's survival... and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save himself... and his newfound kin.

The first three books of Martha Wells’ Raksura series were actually illustrated by two different artists – The Cloud Roads by Matthew Stewart, who unsurprisingly won a Chesley Award for that piece; and The Serpent Sea and The Siren Depths both by Steve Argyle. To be honest, I really think he should have won some awards too, don’t you?

Range of Ghosts (Eternal Sky, #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Representation: Central-Asian-coded cast

Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather's throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards.

These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

Donato Giancola is the artist behind the mind-meltingly beautiful covers for the Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. I am very sad that I don’t have hard copies of these, but at the same time, kind of grateful I only have the ebooks; would you ever be able to drag yourself away from these covers to read the books inside them??? I think not!

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope by Patrice Caldwell, Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Dhonielle Clayton, Jalissa Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Nicole Davis, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Danny Lore, L.L. McKinney, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, Ibi Zoboi, Danielle Paige
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Black MCs, Black queer MCs

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

Authors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Dhonielle Clayton, Jalissa Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Davis, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Danny Lore, L.L. McKinney, Danielle Paige, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, and Ibi Zoboi.

I absolutely HAD to include the illustration side-by-side with the finished cover, because it’s just glorious, isn’t it? This cover art is by Ashe Samuels, who also created the incredible cover art for volumes 1 & 2 of Power and Magic, which are amazing anthologies of queer witch comics. But give me a minute, I’m just gonna…sit here and stare at this masterpiece for a while.

A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, #1) by Marie Brennan
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Asexual-coded MC

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon's presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one's life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world's preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

If you claim you don’t love the covers for Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series, then you are just Wrong. Todd Lockwood has been creating incredible art for years, and he’s well-known for his dragons, but I think his art style + the Lady Trent premise resulted in something really extra-special. I adore how the covers have been framed as scientific drawings, complete with labelling and size references! They look like they’ve come straight out of a naturalist’s sketchbook – a naturalist who’s also an extremely talented artist. I want prints of these to hang up all over the house!

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1) by Tamsyn Muir
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Representation: Lesbian MC, sapphic secondary character, queernorm world

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won't set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon's sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Although the covers for both of the Locked Tomb books are stunning – and I’d bet hard money that the covers for the rest of the series will be incredible as well – the one for Gideon the Ninth is a stand-out for me. It’s another case, I think, of an amazing artist – Tommy Arnold – having a great concept to work with. But although Muir is the one who came up with Gideon’s sunglasses and swagger, Arnold is the one who brought her to life for the cover, and he did a fucking fabulous job. The smirk! And dear gods, it looks like a snapshot of a battle scene; the sense of movement is incredible. I keep expecting it to come to life like an illustrated gif. I think Gideon would be incredibly pleased with her portrayal!

Kushiel's Dart (Phèdre's Trilogy, #1) by Jacqueline Carey
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bisexual MC, secondary M/M, F/F, queernorm culture

The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good... and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission... and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair... and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel's Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

The Kushiel Universe by Jacqueline Carey is an exquisitely beautiful series, so it’s only appropriate that, when Subterranean Press decided to make extra-special editions of the first trilogy in the series, they turned to Tran Nguyen. Above, in order, are the artworks Nguyen created for Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar; below them are the full wrap-around illustrations. Nguyen has created many, many incredible pieces over the years, and plenty of other book covers, but maybe I’m a little bit biased, because these are my very favourites of hers. And can you blame me?!

And there we are – 10 examples (even if most of them were sets!) of my favourite book covers! Can you choose a favourite out of these? Because I really can’t.


6 responses to “(Slightly More Than) 10 of My Favourite Book Covers

  1. Ooh those Kushiel illustrations are gorgeous, and I adore the cover of Elfland. The Memoirs of Lady Trent series has such pretty covers! I listened to the audiobooks, but one day I’d love to have the hardbacks on my shelves. Great list!

    • Can’t take credit for the art, but I’m glad you liked the post. AND I KNOW. Makes you want to be an author just so you could have covers that pretty!

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