The OF Blog: Cover art and possible different interpretations of a single series

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cover art and possible different interpretations of a single series

Over the past year, I've been slowly reading some of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's works as they've been translated into English and Spanish. Beginning in July 2007 with reading his The Last Wish just after it was published in English for the first time, I found myself intrigued by Sapkowski's mixture of humor, wry observation, and deft dialogue. It has all of the appearances of a "traditional" epic fantasy, with elves, dwarves, dragons, sorceroresses, etc., but there are many references to contemporary concerns, such as the ecological state of the realm, among other things. It is hard to describe in a few pithy words without the people reading this having read the book, but I thought I'd showcase another issue with Sapkowski, one that deals with possible interpretations of his stories from the cover art. These are of the books I own or will own shortly and I think it's safe to say that each varies quite a bit from the others.

The first two images are from the UK and US editions of The Last Wish. What I noticed immediately about the UK edition is that the wolfhead emblem, surrounded by the Roman numerals, gives an arcane effect without the cover screaming "fantasy!" to it. With its edged vellum look to the back and to the edges of the front cover, it is a very stylish-looking cover that I found to be fitting for the story.

The American edition, however, borrows from the recently-released The Witcher video game. Red is such an attention-grabbing color, one often associated with danger and violence. While perhaps it is suitable for the tone and pace of the video game (I cannot claim any knowledge of such, since I haven't yet bought the game), I found this over-abundance of red to be distracting and not really suitable for the nature of the series itself.

The next image is for the second short story collection, La espada del destino (The Sword of Destiny), which has yet to have a scheduled UK or US release date. This book features a near photo-realistic image of one of the recurring characters in this collection (and the series), the sorceroress Yennefer. I liked this cover, as I felt it represents well one of the more "human" strains that run throughout Sapkowski's Witcher stories. This is, of course, quite ironic, considering what has happened to the Witchers and Sorceroresses to make them what they are. Regardless, this might be my personal favorite of the Sapkowski covers that I own.

Next is the cover art for the upcoming UK release of the first book (third total, counting the two collections), Blood of Elves. Like the UK cover art for The Last Wish, the fantasy elements are only suggested, but never actually shown in explicit detail. However, as some have noted elsewhere, it is interesting that Tolkien's tengwar alphabet was used on the cover, since in the story, Sapkowski's elves use runes instead. But this is a minor quibble, as I believe that cover art for a series of books ought to have some constancy to it to serve as a unifying element for the books that follow. In
this regard, the UK cover for Blood of Elves works perfectly, even if the greenness might be a bit odd at first.

And finally, I have the Spanish cover art for the fourth volume in the seven books related to Geralt that Sapkowski has written to date, Tiempo de Odio(translated as Time of Anger - as per the Amazon UK listing - or Time of Disdain, which would be in keeping with the Polish original's title). Of the five covers I have presented here, this is perhaps the most "fantasy-like" of them, with the sword prominent in the front, with what appears to be the aftermath of a battle, with arrows stickening out of bodies (I think) and some wild animal roaming under a yellow, cloud-filled sky. It is a rather jarring image and one that doesn't seem to fit well with what Sapkowski was writing, although doubtless it might appeal to those who enjoy that sort of fantasy cover art. Needless to say, I am tempted on occasion to want to smack those who love these sorts of covers, for the simple reason of their horrid taste in cover art. But I digress.

So there they are, five covers for four books, written by a single author and published in two different languages, each with brief commentary by myself in regards to appearance and effectiveness. But what about you? Which are your favorites out of these five? Which is your least favorite? What works or doesn't work about these covers? I'm very curious to know who agrees and who disagrees with me on this. Well, I guess I should be honest I'm still more curious to know what happens next in the fourth book, so back to reading I go!


Elena said...

It would be hard to agree on effectiveness as to how the covers relate to the actual stories, since I've not read any of him yet (though he is on my To Read list). But as far as covers that would make me pick up one of his books in the store--definitely the UK covers would. They look subtle and like perhaps more "thought" went into the product, and hence the story, than another re-write of LotR. Tengwar notwithstanding. :)

I am not sure about the Spanish cover. I like the look, knowing the context, but it is very reminiscent of the urban fantasy vampire hunter/f**ker books, and that might throw me off on a scan of the covers. I think you called it on the US cover though; it looks like a video game. Yawn.

It has for ages been a pet peeve of mine to have cover art that doesn't match the book. Not merely that the images don't match character descriptions or show something that didn't happen in the book (although that's bad enough), but to not match the tone of the books. I know fantasy art has styles that come and go--covers were very cheesy in the 80s and early to mid-90s, for example--though it seems to me that has begun to change. Not across the board, which SHOULD be a useful tool for separating the wheat from the chaff, but...I'm not really sure the covers that appeal to me always correlate to stories that will. Alas. :)

Liviu said...

Actually I am one of those that likes "garish" covers with monsters, spaceships, futuristic landscapes and such if they are well done.

Fsf is about such and trying to hide it beneath bland covers is somewhat dishonest. Even this series - from what you describe it - is till with elves, dwarves and such...

So I really like the Spanish covers and they would make me take a look at the books more than the US/UK ones.

Larry said...


I agree on the UK covers being classy and if I hadn't already read La espada del destino and recognized that image for being Yennefer, I too might have wondered why an urban fantasy cover was on Sapkowski's book.


Interesting. I'm of the mindset that cover art is best when understated and muted in colors and often in images; it creates a more aesthetic appeal to me. That being said, there is something to be said about covers being "honest" to the story within. However, the problem I had (besides the garish yellow sky) with the last Spanish edition was it depicted fighting, lots and lots of fighting, and so far, that has not been emphasized in Sapkowski's stories. If anything, the opposite would hold true.

Adam Whitehead said...

The game is a fairly slow-paced RPG (although with reasonably frequent combat), with most problems being solved by Geralt's wits and reasoning or, when that fails, by seducing the nearest attractive young woman (seriously), and the red cover doesn't really suit it. Although the game is set after the novels and the land is not in good shape following the war, death and destruction wreaked during them, so maybe it is appropriate in a Feast for Crows kind of way.

Oh yeah, there's an interesting easter egg in the game in that the opening sequence is a painstaking remake of one of the stories in The Last Wish (the one where Geralt fights the creature in the tomb taking on the body of a young woman).

Larry said...

I watched that trailer last year and I remember noting the faithfulness to that story. I'm curious about the game and might get it at some point, because most of the games I play now are slower-paced ones, since I've lost interest in the Halo-type games years ago.

Dark Wolf said...

Definitely I would go with the cover made by Alejandro Teran :)

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