This blog is incredible. Any chance you might look at the most recent redesigns Tamora Pierce's Song of Lioness series? I have Opinions on them, but they're also strongly tinged by outrage that they dared to change the design from the version I had growing up.
THANK U FRIEND. I WILL DO MY BEST
In some ways, this is a perfect follow-up post to my Earthsea tirade: another classic fantasy series that has been graced with some distinctly vintage #looks. In fact, it’s really worth going over some of the old designs before we get to the new one, so let’s explore.
FIRST UP we have some charming vintage covers! (i was too lazy to date all these so idk circa what year). These seem to have been pretty widespread, so it may be what you’re referring to re the style you grew up with, asker? Anyway, these are adorable. Do I take them seriously? Not really, the style is mad dated, but who cares. They’re super fun, and the illustrations are exciting and colorful and very specific to actual elements in the story. As a kid I would have eaten that shit up, and in the 90s, I’m sure this was the height of fantasy book design.
NEXT. (and I’m sorry they’ve been cropped on the sides, but I think we get the idea) (in case it was unclear I just rip these from google, I don’t compile all these images myself LMAO) I’m generally not a fan of ‘boxed in illustration w very simple type below/above it’: It’s boring, design-wise, though it’s also inoffensive and hard to fuck up. But the illustrations are really lovely and vivid; I love how scrappy Alanna looks and how we get a real sense of peril and drama and grit without literally making everything dark, or sapping it of its whimsy.
TIME FOR SOME TRULY HEINOUS ONES. These beauties below, where Alanna is being really chill about clearly having been set on fire and is also apparently living in a post apocalyptic wasteland, came out in 2010, aka the height of the paranormal YA romance craze.
You can’t tell at all, obviously.
Nope, no influence here.
Bella Alanna looks totally normal with absurd photoshopped lighting/effects and her two brooding love interests who would never be mistaken for vampires. (fun fact, when you google image search “song of the lioness new covers” half the results are this single image, because the internet has devoted a LOT of blog space to going WTF at it over the years. but seriously, wtf is that shirt she’s wearing?)
And we have these, where they couldn’t be assed to do more than one illustration, or to…. put…. a shirt on her? even though she’s wearing a cloak? Where did the rest of her hair go? Shouldn’t we be seeing an indication of boobs, with that much of her chest exposed? It’s been a long time since I read these so correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t her Magic Necklace for contraceptive purposes? Is that the thing we want to devote an entire book cover to? Whatever its purpose, why does it look like that? At least the twilight covers still had alanna holding swords on them rather than inexplicable quasi-nudity.
Also, this is the collected edition that I read when I was like 13, and I am biased, but I think it’s the best:
it captures the bright, kitschy, vintage-illustration feeling of a lot of the old covers without actually being kitschy or vintage. It has the upbeat cool-lady-knight-on-an-fun-adventure vibe that the Twilight covers are missing. The type knows what’s up and is chilling, letting the illustration do its thing while still being integrated w it. 10/10.
There are tons of others, but I think that’s sufficient context, so let’s look at the new-new covers:
Usually I’m pro-abstraction and anti-putting the characters on the cover, because that tends to be the obvious, unimaginative solution. However, unlike my feelings about the Earthsea books, I think making the the Lioness series appeal to children is actually a worthwhile endeavor, and to that end, I think it’s kind of a shame to lose the imagery of Alanna herself swinging swords around, which really does have a unique appeal. Especially since the first book is literally ALANNA: THE FIRST ADVENTURE. You’re being sold on the character as much as the story.
But for what we have, I…. almost like it? All the text is really well-balanced, to harken again back to the Earthsea conversion on Series Title Vs Actual Title, and the intricate framed woodwork thing with different color schemes as an overarching structure is working for me. The detailing is worth looking at up-close:
But up close we also notice my Problem which is the fact that these objects are photomanips, instead of illustrations. It might be argued that this is a matter of taste/ preference, but here, I don’t think it is; I think illustration was a real opportunity to be stylistically interesting/integrated with the rest of the cover and it was wasted on…. this subpar photograph of a horse.
Publishers seem to shy away from illustration on YA fantasy covers. I’m not sure why: we get plenty of trendy (mostly simplified or abstracted) illustration on YA contemp, Illustration has always been a major mainstay of middle grade covers, and art a la Uprooted/any Gregory Maguire book or the ADSOM series is sort of a Thing for adult fantasy right now, but YA fantasy is having a moment with typographically-driven covers, and, eternally, an ugly affair with photomanip. I can’t say for sure that the designers of these Lioness covers were “aiming YA” but…. Subpar Photograph of a Horse is making me think they are, or are at least taking cues from that genre. Anyway, that’s kind of a tangent but it is A Bummer Generally.
Of the four images, the shield is working the best and the cat is working the worst. They’re not terrible by any means, but they’re awfully generic-feeling, and lack any particular sense of depth or dynamism. Overall, this is one of those times where my critiques leave the realm of Concrete Terms and Measurable Inadequacies into something more ephemeral, but I feel like Lioness series covers, at their best, encapsulate a whimsy and a warmth that these just…. lack, even though I don’t really have any major fights to pick with the design. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯