Take My Breath Away: Analysing (Some of the) Beautiful Covers We’ve Been Blessed With Lately!

Posted 2nd July 2020 by Siavahda in Let's Dig In: Thoughts, Analysis, Essays, Queer Lit / 1 Comment

We have had some ridiculously gorgeous cover reveals in the last little while – so pretty I just had to showcase them! It doesn’t hurt that these are all from my most-anticipated list, as well!

Cover artist: Christophe Young
A Dark and Hollow Star (A Dark and Hollow Star, #1) by Ashley Shuttleworth
on 2nd March 2021

The Cruel Prince meets City of Bones in this thrilling urban fantasy set in the magical underworld of Toronto that follows a queer cast of characters racing to stop a serial killer whose crimes could expose the hidden world of faeries to humans.

Choose your player.

The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.
A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge.
A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne.
The prince’s brooding guardian, burdened with a terrible secret.

For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world.

Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way?

Wish them luck. They’re going to need it.

Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I realised that A Dark and Hollow Star‘s cover reminded me of that stunningly iconic moment from the last season of the Game of Thrones!

I mean…look, I wasn’t a fan of the show, but the clip of that moment went viral online – which I’m glad of, because it’s beautiful.

But the positioning of the wings in the book cover – as well as the angle of the girl’s body – makes me think that A Dark and Hollow Star trumps GoT by having those actually be her wings! (Which is obviously a vast improvement of a badass woman only appearing to have fabulous dragon wings. Wings > the illusion of wings, always!)

There’s been an improvement, the last few years, in fantasy girls not having to be in quite such painful poses – in the name of looking sexy – as they used to. The girl’s pose might be slightly provocative, if you’re feeling puritanical, but it’s a pose that wouldn’t hurt to hold, and there’s no cleavage or anything! In fact I think the cut of her shirt-thing is actually a necessity, to give her wings full mobility. I don’t think anyone could argue that she’s being sexualised; she’s got her sword, is in the act of drawing it, and is staring right at the viewer like she’s ready to gut them. I love it!!!

Cover artist: Sam Schechter
In Deeper Waters by F.T. Lukens
on 20th April 2021

A young prince must rely on a mysterious stranger to save him when he is kidnapped during his coming-of-age tour in this swoony adventure that is The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

Prince Tal has long awaited his coming-of-age tour. After spending most of his life cloistered behind palace walls as he learns to keep his forbidden magic secret, he can finally see his family’s kingdom for the first time. His first taste of adventure comes just two days into the journey, when their crew discovers a mysterious prisoner on a burning derelict vessel.

Tasked with watching over the prisoner, Tal is surprised to feel an intense connection with the roguish Athlen. So when Athlen leaps overboard and disappears, Tal feels responsible and heartbroken, knowing Athlen could not have survived in the open ocean.

That is, until Tal runs into Athlen days later on dry land, very much alive, and as charming—and secretive—as ever. But before they can pursue anything further, Tal is kidnapped by pirates and held ransom in a plot to reveal his rumored powers and instigate a war. Tal must escape if he hopes to save his family and the kingdom. And Athlen might just be his only hope…

This one is much brighter, suggesting a much lighter tone than A Dark and Hollow Star. It’s all pinks and purples and golds, and check out those smiles! Those two look like such adorable dorks, and they look like such adorable dorks for each other. I’m guessing the romance is a central aspect of the book – or at least, the marketing department wants us to think it is. But even if I wasn’t excited by the thought of a cute, light-hearted shipboard romance (and I am!) the fact that this is an interracial couple has me hopeful there’s some meat under the spun-sugar. It’s still way too common for fantasy authors to default to white-and-handwavey-Medieval, and it looks like Lukens hasn’t done that. I’m excited to see her worldbuilding, and kudos to the publisher for being willing to put brown skin on a book cover (more common these days, but still noteworthy. Remember all the whitewashed covers of the 2000s?)

Without the blurb, it might be easy to mistake this for historical fiction, or alt-history, rather than fantasy – there’s nothing obviously magical in the illustration. But I think most of the readers who will pick this up because rapiers and cravats and pretty boys smiling dopily at each other will be happy whether it’s purely pirate!fic or fantasy. Or both!

Some books just give you that glittery happy feeling as you read them, and this brightly-coloured cover seems to promise to be that kind of story. I guess we’ll see!

Cover artist: Tara Phillips
Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
on 9th March 2021

In this charming debut fantasy perfect for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Girls of Paper and Fire, a witch cursed to never love meets a girl hiding her own dangerous magic, and the two strike a dangerous bargain to save their queendom.

Tamsin is the most powerful witch of her generation. But after committing the worst magical sin, she’s exiled by the ruling Coven and cursed with the inability to love. The only way she can get those feelings back—even for just a little while—is to steal love from others.

Wren is a source—a rare kind of person who is made of magic, despite being unable to use it herself. Sources are required to train with the Coven as soon as they discover their abilities, but Wren—the only caretaker to her ailing father—has spent her life hiding her secret.

When a magical plague ravages the queendom, Wren’s father falls victim. To save him, Wren proposes a bargain: if Tamsin will help her catch the dark witch responsible for creating the plague, then Wren will give Tamsin her love for her father.

Of course, love bargains are a tricky thing, and these two have a long, perilous journey ahead of them—that is, if they don't kill each other first..

Look, I don’t know nearly enough about art to use any technical terms, but I freaking love this style – soft edges, but realistic, but still an illustration? *happy sigh*

The lighting here makes me think the writing style in this one is going to be really beautiful – I can’t put into words why it makes me think that, though.

What’s kind of interesting is that it’s not immediately apparent that Sweet & Bitter Magic is a fantasy book – although to be fair, with that title, it maybe doesn’t need to be. It could be historical fiction, maybe. But there’s that beautiful smoke that echoes the ribbons around the two girls’ necks, which is probably intended to be a visual representation of magic. And, like I said, there’s the title. Not every book with ‘magic’ in the title is a fantasy, but I think title + smoke makes it clear enough.

Now for the girls. Their pose could be that of friends or sisters, and I have to admit that’s a little disappointing – will a queer teen in a bookshop know, from this cover, that this is a queer story? I don’t know. I think the clasped hands have something very soft and intimate about them, but I’m not sure I’d look at this and think ‘sapphic’ if I didn’t already know A Sweet & Bitter Magic is f/f. I don’t think it’s an accident that the girls are wearing matching ribbons around their necks, but… It’s fairly subtle.

Is that a bad thing? Teens who are forbidden from reading ‘those books’ can carry this cover around openly. That’s a very good thing. If you’re looking for queerness, you’re probably going to notice those hands, and get your hopes up. Is that enough? Does it need to be more obvious?

And personally I think it’s a good thing for cis-het people to pick up books they don’t know are queer, and get ‘exposed’ to the idea of it when they might not otherwise. I mean, some bigots will put such a book straight down, but some won’t, especially if it’s a good book. You can win a lot of hearts over that way.

Besides, the cover of A Dark and Hollow Star gives no hint as to the queer content whatsoever (but that maybe suggests romance isn’t a big part of the plot, as it probably is in these other two books?) and I think In Deeper Waters‘ cover has…plausible deniability. Like, it’s not queer-baiting, but if you don’t really look at it…I could have sneaked In Deeper Waters past my dad when I was a teenager, is all I’m saying.

So the cover of Sweet and Bitter Magic is quietly there for people looking for queer stories, and draws in those who aren’t by being so damn beautiful. That’s pretty win/win, surely?

And whether it’s overtly queer or not, I do love the pose of these two girls back to back, them against the world, kind of quietly defiant. That colour palette, and the softened edges…I really can’t wait to pick this one up!

Regardless, these are all freaking GORGEOUS covers, and I hope the trend of illustration-style covers for fantasy books doesn’t go away any time soon!

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