Apparently keeping an ear close to the ground, Orbit Books, the publishers, have written a great big post about how the cover for the US edition of Best Served Cold came to be. The cover has come under fire since being released to the public, so it’s interested to see why Orbit went in a different direction than the UK publisher.

Genres develop certain visual cues, and this happens in all kinds of media — book covers, music packaging, and even websites. Old manuscripts and maps evoke armies and fighting and war. The same way a slick photographic style says urban fantasy. As visual beings we make snap judgements from these cues, and a designer knows these cues and when to use them or purposfully confuse them.

Our approach was to focus on a more character-driven cover, while keeping the grit and dirt and gore of the epic fantasy look. The fabulous Hsu & Associates Design and Michael Turek Photography were put on the case. They did a series of great covers, but they just didn’t capture the raw violence of this book. We had one huge issue — the main character is a woman, and a good chunk of male fantasy readers think any cover with a woman on it is immediately girly urban fantasy fluff. So we kept pushing the texture, and the grit, and we came up with a gorgeous image and design…

Best Served Cold Alternate Cover Best Served Cold Alternate Cover Best Served Cold Alternate Cover Best Served Cold Alternate Cover

We loved this last cover. It’s gritty, it’s character-driven, it’s dark, and the texture is gorgeous. If the main character was a man in a loincloth or armor, let me tell you, this cover would be it. Unfortunately, it’s an ugly stereotyping of the genre (and we here at Orbit are all about challenging stereotypes), but a woman on the cover still reads urban fantasy to a lot of people. We showed the cover to Joe, who thought the cover was great, but he was also concerned about his fans. We didn’t want to alienate epic fantasy readers, and of course we didn’t want to misrepresent it as an urban fantasy book. But we truly felt that it was important to have Monza on the cover — so we decided to combine the two.

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

And after a lot of photoshop and a LOT of playing, we reached a happy medium. It speaks to Joe’s core audience of shields-and-swords fantasy readers, but opens the door for new readers to be interested by the mixed signals of the cover and pick it up. And that’s our goal — getting a person in a bookstore who has never heard of Joe Abercrombie to pick it up. Because if they give the book that chance, read the flaps, read the praise that Joe’s great writing has already achieved, then we have them. Do we expect that there will be some controversy? Of course, I can hear it already. I grew up a girl in a male geekboy’s realm and I am well used to being downplayed, dismissed, and told to “go watch Buffy” (and ogled, but that’s a post for another time). I am female, but I love epic fantasy. I love swords-and-shields AND love urban fantasy. And there are a lot of women like me out there. And there are male urban fantasy readers as well. (Don’t tell me no, who do you think is buying those Dresden Files books, hm?) And this book, which has such a great, strong, female heroine (or antiheroine, if you prefer), is something I would pick up and love. Joe’s writing will succeed on its own merit, and we of course expect he’ll gain new readers through reviews. However, I believe, as a book designer, that a cover is successful if it reaches the same audience that the interior of the book does. And I believe this cover does that. Is it controversial? of course. Is it a mashup of different styles? yes. But Joe is pushing the envelope and challenging readers, and so should we here in the Art Department.

Not surprisingly, it seems that Orbit is attempting to broaden Abercrombie’s market by including a female on the cover. Will it work? Who knows. The cover still strikes me as too Urban Fantasy and misses out on the timeless, adventerous feel of the UK cover. In many ways I think they should have stuck with just having Monza on the cover and completely eschewing the map. People who are going to be drawn in by the map are probably already aware of Abercrombie’s work and are probably also the same who are decrying the divisive nature of the US cover.

The way it is now, it seems like Monza’s on the cover only to sell more copies, rather than to properly represent the novel within. Rather than fully commiting to either design, they settled on something in the middle that fails to do either ‘look’ properly. As other’s have pointed out, it seems obtuse to place a quote from Junot Diaz (a Pulitzer prize winning author) on a gritty, dirty cover like this – again, trying to appeal to the literary crowd with the quote and the lowest common denominator with the leather clad chick. Middle of the road doesn’t always get things down, but that Diaz quote would look much less out of place on the UK cover.

I appreciate Orbit Books pulling back the curtain and defending the cover after all the flak it’s taken in the past day. To be fair, this issue probably would not have arisen, were it not for the fact that there was already outstanding art work out there for the UK edition and if Orbit has simply released this cover into the wild without any preconceptions from the current fans of Abercrombie’s work. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

In the end, though, it’s what’s between the covers that really matters and I’m confident that Abercrombie will deliver in full force. Expect a review as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

Further cementing the fact that American published just don’t get it when it comes to cover art, Pat has unveiled the cover art for the US edition of Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Compare this with the UK edition and you just have to wonder what American Publishers think we want from Fantasy. Couldn’t possibly have a cover without an ass-kicking chick on it, now could we? I much prefer the classic look of the UK edition to the blood smattered mess of the US edition.

What do you think?

Shawn Speakman, one of the bloggers over at Suvudu, has long been a defender of George R.R. Martin. Whenever bellyaching occurs at the Official Terry Brooks Forum (a forum dedicated to Brooks, but home to a lively discussion of other authors as well), he is the first one to jump in and defend Martin against those who think Martin owes them something.

The Terry Brooks forum is far from the only place where people complain about Martin’s ‘slowness’, and Speakman has written a compelling argument about why people should give Martin a break. It’s long, but certainly worth the read.

A Song of Ice & Fire is an extremely powerful story that invokes passion in all who read it.

That passion is a double-edged sword, able to cut an enemy as quickly as its bearer. While the four books and two short stories that comprise A Song of Ice & Fire are universally garnered as being some of the best storytelling ever, animosity swirls around George. The fourth book, A Feast For Crows, took five years to be published and it contained only half of the characters fans have come to love. Upon publishing A Feast For Crows, George posted that he was near to completing the other half of the story, A Dance With Dragons, with the novel coming to bookstores quickly.

That was three years ago and A Dance With Dragons is still not complete.

This has aroused a great deal of anger for many of George’s fans. Five years is a long time to wait for a sequel to arguably one of the best fantasy series of all time, especially when most writers are able to produce sequels between one and three years. But as I’ve come to discover, anger is one of the least logical emotions we possess; it can lead people to conclusions that are not wholly accurate—if not down right wrong. Much of the animosity I see written about George and his lateness is colored by that kind of anger and, while I believe there are two instances where fans of A Song of Ice & Fire are more than allowed their ire, most of it lacks any authenticity whatsoever.

This article hopes to dispel some of those erroneous angry feelings and assumptions out there—or at least give a different side to things that most readers probably have not thought of.

Speakman hits the nail on the head when he alludes to the double edge of the passion wielded by Martin’s fans. It’s that passion, that desire for the world, the characters and the story of A Song of Ice and Fire, that sets Martin’s fans apart from others. Without those passionate fans, Martin’s series would not be at such soaring heights of popularity today and, ironically, he might not be afforded the luxury of taking years to finish each volume. At this point, George certainly doesn’t right for money and clearly wants to put out the best possible novel. That same passion that drives people to be such fanatics of his series is also the same passion that fuels the accusations of laziness, lack of enthusiasm of just plain ol’ football fever that are constantly leveled at Martin by his ‘fans’.
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Garlan the Gallant, a member of the Westeros forums, has put together some pretty cool pixel art based on some better known fantasy series.

Mistborn

Vin Venture
Vin Venture from Mistborn

A Song of Ice and Fire

Sandor Clegane
Sandor Clegane from A Song of Ice and Fire

Jon Snow
Jon Snow from A Song of Ice and Fire

Malazan Book of the Fallen

Kalam Mekhar
Kalam Mekhar from Malazan Book of the Fallen

Karsa Orlong
Karsa Orlong from Malazan Book of the Fallen

The Farseer Trilogy

The Fool
The Fool from The Farseer Trilogy

Being a big fan of pixel art, it’s cool to see such well known characters rendered in an under-appreciated art style. I don’t know if I’m a big fan of the over anime approach, but still have to give one up to the artist for doing such a good job. You can check out the rest of his creations HERE.

Courtesy of award-winning artist John Picacio, we have the absolutely beautiful covers for all three volumes in Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule trilogy.

Chadbourn himself seems to be a fan:

I’m very pleased with what John and my editor Lou Anders have achieved here. The covers really capture the awe and sense of scale I tried to place at the heart of the books.

World's End by Mark Chadbourn Darkest Hour by Mark Chadbourn Always Forever by Mark Chadbourn

As someone working on a novel that involves the same mythos as Chadbourn’s novels, I’m absolutely blown away by these and have to give Pyr a huge hand for getting cover art right. Fantastic.