Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

I wasn’t too impressed with the cover for Words of Radiance, the second volume in Brandon Sanderson’s mega-series, The Stormlight Archive. Despite being a big Michael Whelan fan, the cover felt phoned in, like it had gone through the ringer with the most vanilla focus groups ever.

I was doubly disappointed when the book released with a gorgeous painting from Whelan featuring Shallan, who features most prominently in the novel. Even the usually hyper-masculine /r/fantasy sub-reddit agreed. Why wasn’t that the cover? Sanderson answered that question today on Reddit’s /r/fantasy sub-forum: it wasn’t created until the cover was finished.

“Michael Whelan, the artist, is one of the few in the business who likes to read every book he does a cover for, if possible,” Sanderson explained. “In this case, he had to start working on the illustration before the book was actually done. So I sent him a description of the ending sequence, and he started sketching out the scene that eventually became the cover.”

However, Whelan wasn’t done with the book. “A few months after he’d finished the cover, however, he called Tor and said he wanted to do a different illustration, and would they like to have it for an end page?” Sanderson revealed. “He painted the Shallan piece because he too felt that there should be some nod to the fact that this was her book.”

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

[Whelan] has no problem choosing female figures to be the center of covers he does.

Many people, myself included, assumed that the choice to featured Kaladin on the cover of a novel that Sanderson himself described as “Shallan’s novel,” came down to marketing forces determining that a tough-looking male character would sell more copies of an epic fantasy than a woman holding a book.

“If you look back through his years of illustration, you’ll see he has no problem choosing female figures to be the center of covers he does,” Sanderson pointed out about Whelan’s long and stories gallery of work. “Indeed, though he works with the art director to narrow down to the right concept, we generally just let him paint whatever he wishes for a book.”

Sanderson’s a big fan of the painting, and has the print hanging in his home, but explained to Reddit users why Whelan’s composition was not ideal for a cover. “[The painting] presents a problem in that it is landscape, when book covers generally need to portrait with a large chunk of open space at the top for title lettering. There are work arounds, but this doesn’t exactly fit cover shapes, and Michael painted it to be an end page–which is where we put it.”

  • Brent November 21, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    I was wondering about that; it makes sense how it happened but it’s a shame we couldn’t get a Shallan cover since we already had a Kaladin one. The end page Shallan painting is the one I bought a print of. However, I did like the revised version of the cover. The image of the cover posted in this article right now is the early, vastly inferior version of the cover, which I didn’t care for. See http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/01/download-the-revised-words-of-radiance-wallpapers for the revised art.

  • Kevin B. November 22, 2014 at 4:10 am

    I’m not such a fan of the Words of Radiance cover either. Whelan’s work is very hit-or-miss for me. Often I find it boring and get a “generic 80’s fantasy cover” feel from his stuff, like Words of Radiance or the Memory of Light cover. The “The Way of Kings” cover is much better IMO. Its viewpoint and the use of color gives it a pretty epic sense of scale. Shalan’s end page painting is probably my favorite work of his though. It has that same sense of scale and I love how wel Shalan is portrayed. I would’ve loved too see that as the cover.

  • wordtipping November 22, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    That is a pat response. Cropping the photo and adding a couple more inches of ‘swooshy cloud’ action hardly seems unrealistic. I am not sure what is worse though, to take Mr. Sanderson’s statement at face value and acknowledge that Tor went with the weaker photo due to the art orientation or the fact that said orientation is being used to mask the actual decision making process.

  • Aidan Moher November 23, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    @Wordtipping — I understand your concern, but my personal feeling is that Sanderson’s response is genuine. He’s one of the most transparent writers in the online community, and from all my experiences with him — from online encounters, to working directly with him and his assistant for projects on this blog, to having dinner with him — I’ve never had the impression that he’s much for pulling the wool over his reader’s eyes.

    It’s worth questioning why Whelan was supplied with the Kaladin scene in the first place, instead of a Shallan scene, but I’m not sure there’s reason to be skeptical of Sanderson’s account of the events detailed in his Reddit post.

  • Luke January 3, 2015 at 6:32 am

    “even the usually hyper-masculine r/fantasy”

    Oh man – thanks for that off-handed summary of the subreddit. Been spending too much time there and as a fan of fantasy that’s usually more emotional, nuanced, subdued…starting to feel like I’m losing my mind.

    Also, been reading since 2008 & have gotten a lot of good reading and suggestions off of your site, keep it up man!