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Unveiled Art for Courtney Schafer's The Tainted City

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Unveiled Art for Courtney Schafer's The Tainted City

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:

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?

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At March 19, 2012 at 7:58 AM , Blogger RobB said...

I think a lot of things. Regarding Schafer's second cover, the image makes me think, "These characters are seeing some serious shit about to happen," and so I'm intrigued.

At March 19, 2012 at 8:01 AM , Blogger Justin said...

I'm glad one of us is thinking.

At March 19, 2012 at 8:08 AM , Anonymous Brad Beaulieu said...

Boy, I just don't know what to think of it. I really want to like it, because I like Courtney and her writing so much, but it feels generic at the moment. Maybe I'll feel differently once the final design is done. For me, it has a very strong "Return of the Jedi" feel to it, which is kind of messing with my mind. If I saw this in one of those "find its match" sort of puzzles like you get in kindergarten, I would never have drawn a line to Courtney.

I've read the first handful of The Whitefire Crossing, but I'm not sure what this is. Can you tell us without giving spoilers?

At March 19, 2012 at 8:17 AM , Anonymous Anne Lyle said...

I'm not sure why they felt the need for glowy hands in the first cover - to me a couple of dudes clambering around a snowy mountain, in that particular art style, says fantasy all the way. As for the second, maybe you're right and it'll be read (wrongly) as UF - but I'd be...displeased if it were my cover.

Luckily I have an awesome cover designer in Marc Gascoigne, who always knows exactly which audience he's aiming each book at :)

At March 19, 2012 at 8:36 AM , Anonymous Brad Beaulieu said...

Anne, the glowy hands were added because the character with his hands against the tree was drawing strength magically from the tree, but it had been rendered as black. It was too hard to distinguish that something magical was actually happening. So it wasn't a case of them "adding" magic. They simply made the magic more apparent to the viewer.

At March 19, 2012 at 8:44 AM , Anonymous Anne Lyle said...

Ah, I see! That makes more sense. Sometimes you have to make the visual details pop, even if it's not technically accurate. You have, what, seven seconds to capture the reader's interest with a cover?

At March 19, 2012 at 8:48 AM , Blogger Civilian Reader said...

The new cover looks like it could be a panel from Matt Forbeck's new Magic: The Gathering comic...

Haven't read Courtenay's book yet, but I do intend to. The cover of the first, I think, would have appeared "fantasy" without the glowy hands - I didn't actually notice the glowy hands until I read this post. Just goes to show how much attention I pay to covers...

I quite like both of Brad's covers, although I agree that the first is best - but then, how could they have topped that?

And yes, Anne, your book's cover is AWESOME. Really like it. I should get in gear and read that, too... So many books, so little time! :s

At March 19, 2012 at 9:02 AM , Anonymous stina leicht said...

Love the dynamic angles in the image, I have to say. (Great use of comic book art language to depict action in what is a very static scene.) However, I feel the architecture is too bland. It should hint at its cultural origins. All architecture does this -- even this architecture. The edges of the stones are too straight which makes the building look like a NY skyscraper constructed of modern steel with a veneer of granite. There simply isn't enough detail. (That is, the buildings are too Bauhaus.) Maybe when the text is added everything will balance out visually. A lot could shift, depending upon the font used. I don't know. As cover art goes, I've seen far, far worse, but I understand what you're saying. The art is just kind of there, and Courtney's books are *not* just kind of there.

At March 19, 2012 at 9:06 AM , Anonymous Courtney Schafer said...

Yeah, just to clarify on Whitefire's cover: I was the one who asked for some indication of magic to be added. The blackened tree was in fact more accurate to the text...but in the art it was so subtle that it even took me as the author a good few hours to notice when I first saw the art, heh, and when I asked friends, none of them had any clue something magical was going on. I thought it would be good to indicate the book was "magical fantasy" not "historical fantasy," and so Dave P. added the red glow.

On the second cover...I had originally suggested a distant view of the city of Ninavel (with mountains in background), as in the art Andreas Rocha did for my website (, but I think Night Shade wanted to keep the focus on action/characters. Which I am totally fine with, since I figure I know nothing about what sells books.

At March 19, 2012 at 9:28 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

I think the glowing hands indicates to the reader that its fantasy with magic, rather than low or no magic secondary world fantasy.

At March 19, 2012 at 9:29 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

I find it interesting that both your book, and Brad's book, have gone "character heavy" in the imagery in your second book covers, Courtney.

At March 19, 2012 at 9:33 AM , Blogger Salt-Man Z said...

It was totally the red-glowy magic hands that first drew my attention to Whitefire. I would see the thumbnail image on various book blogs and was all, what the heck is going on there?

Regarding the new cover, I'll just ditto what Stina said above. Looking forward to The Tainted City!

At March 19, 2012 at 3:51 PM , Anonymous Mark Lawrence said...

I think good cover art either stuns you with its beauty, awes you with cool, or leaves you with a question. The Tainted City carries a very powerful WTF is going on question. The Whitefire Crossing cover is a good looking one with mountains.

The thing I'd take & agree with from Justin's post is that continuity between covers constitutes a brand and can be useful in promotion I would think. It sounds like Courtney's original thoughts, keeping mountains in the frame, would have done that.


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