Monday, 15 March 2010

Cover Identity: Ysabel & The Sarantine Mosaic by Guy Gavriel Kay

Late last month - though after my week it feels like a lot longer ago - I posted what I hoped would be the first in a new series of recurring features here on The Speculative Scotsman. For the inaugural Cover Identity, I took a look at the striking new covers for Simon and Schuster's re-issues of The Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.

And I think it went well. Reader response was uniformly positive. Moreover, it was loads of fun to write, and it's important not to lose sight of that amid the flood of obligations that arise from publishers and publicity reps starting to take the blog seriously. It's a great problem to have, don't get me wrong - I wouldn't trade all these lovely books for all the tea in China (and this from a gentleman who enjoys his Earl Grey) - but it's nice, nevertheless, to write something I don't feel I have to.

Long story short, expect Cover Identity to join the ranks of semi-regular posts on TSS, alongside the likes of Opinionated Speculations, Castmonger, From Your Blogosphere Correspondent and The Bag o' Speculative Swag.

In fact, here: have another...


Recently, Voyager released images of the new cover which will be adorning their April paperback reissue of TSS favourite Guy Gavriel Kay's 2008 World Fantasy Award-winner Ysabel. The old art's on the left; the new on the right.


Well, I know which artwork I prefer.

I'll say this: the landscape in the background of the new cover is gorgeous, and the distortion effect layered across the sky is spot-on, like handmade paper. The problem - for me, at least - is the lady in the foreground. Now sure, she's cute, I won't deny that, but she just looks too... real. Clearly, the artist has cottoned on to that fact too - the glowing light around her outline is surely supposed to help her blend better with the otherworldly art behind her, but for my money, it's not nearly enough. She still clashes.

All this brings to mind a novel I read not so long ago. The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan, which you can read my review of here, suffered from much the same problem: beautiful cover art unfortunately offset by the presence of an anonymous hottie. Now this isn't a problem on the same scale as say, random hooded swordsmen, but it seems a very common tack to take when designing covers in this day and age; Photoshop something with breasts onto a piece of art and the smart money says it'll sell better. What an indictment of our hypersexualised, phallogocentric society that is...

Thankfully, I already have my copy of Ysabel, and let's face it: in the three years since its publication, the vast majority of Kay's established readership will likewise have bought an edition of this stellar novel.

The new art, then, is not for us. Guy Gavriel Kay fans do not need another copy of Ysabel. But divisive though it may be - and there are certainly some who prefer the redesigned cover - let's take the long view for a moment. There's every chance this new cover will sell Ysabel to a reader who's never had the pleasure of Tigana or A Song for Arbonne. And readers who otherwise wouldn't give sprawling historical fantasy a chance picking Ysabel up regardless is a fine thing indeed, is it not?

Besides, much as I appreciate it, the old cover art was rather abstract, wasn't it? Sort of.. the Mona Lisa's chin smeared in Gothic typescript.

Meanwhile, in the US of A, Roc - the one Penguin imprint to rule them all - have teased new artwork for their reissues of The Sarantine Mosaic.


Substantially improved, no?

Larry Rostant's artwork for Kay's reissues in the States continues to floor me. In fact, were it not for the incredible clockwork cover of the 10th anniversary edition of Tigana I own, I don't know that I'd have necessarily taken a chance on it last Winter (in the long-lost days of yore, before all this bloggery began).


For both Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors, Rostant has employed an approach that reminds me of a glorious few intricate, hand-stitched wall hangings I've seen. Or, indeed, a mosaic.

And did you notice? They fit together, too.

I do appreciate that in a series; not only matching spines but cover art that fits together into a singular thing as well as serving perfectly well in its own right.

But that's enough bumbling for one day.

Voyager is publishing the new edition of Ysabel on April 29th here in the UK, while in the US, Roc are scheduled to release the two uber-beautiful volumes of The Sarantine Mosaic discussed above in September and October. I don't know that I honestly have the patience, but I may very well have to consider holding off on getting copies of those much-recommended books till then...

Of course, ultimately, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I'd love to hear your opinions on all this new Guy Gavriel Kay artwork. For instance, is there anyone out there who doesn't own Ysabel and might now consider purchasing it - at least in part because of the new cover art?


  1. I definitely appreciate that the bottom two covers 'fit together'. That's rather clever of them. In fact, that would make me more likely to pick up the book(s), as I prefer epics.

  2. I must have different editions of the Sarantine Mosaic - they were dark blue, but there were definitely mosaic pieces on them. Certainly more attractive than the US covers you've got here...

    I haven't read Ysabel yet, but if I'd only ever seen the new cover, I'd assume she was going to turn out to be a vampire all along. Unless that's what *does* happen, then that cover doesn't work :)

  3. In the online shops I see that there will also be a re-issue of Tigana at the end of April by Harper Collins. Unfortunately I can't find the cover for that, but seeing the example of Ysabel it's probably not worth the wait to find out (although I would appreciate its slightly lower price if it had a good cover).