Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Everything is so dark! Book covers today

One of the comments about the books featured in yesterday’s post is that they were all kind of meh. You know why? I hereby diagnose this problem as sheer lack of color and the ongoing tendency to make all book covers monochromatic.

What is this, anyway, a desire to look sophisticated? Look at this list here! Almost every single book — this is titles coming out this year — black black black grey grey grey and occasional very dark blue. I’m exaggerating, of course, but not that much. The only real exception is the first book, The Winter of the Witch. Other than that, very dark covers broken occasionally by paler-colored but monochromatic covers.

Here’s a list from B&N: their 50 most anticipated YA fantasy titles for 2019. Let’s just skim through this list — yep. Virtually ALL the covers are very dark and/or very monochromatic. Those that are red are all red, those that are gold are all gold, there are virtually none that break the all-one-color feel, though certainly the gold and red ones should stand out amid the black-grey-blue palette.

Here is one that is interesting:

BLACK! But with GOLD! I like it, actually. It’s got that thief-assassin vibe going for it — honestly, doesn’t that person just have to be a thief or an assassin? She is, too, or something like that, judging from the description:

… inspired by Hindu mythology and Indian history, the fates of a soldier and a rebel collide, changing the course of their world. Kunal is a duty-bound soldier and nephew to the dangerous General Hotha, who ruthlessly enforces Kunal’s obedience. Esha is the infamous Viper, committing acts of revenge on the wicked and the powerful—and her next target is the general.

Does anything there sound the least bit inspired by Hindu mythology and/or Indian history? Just wondering, cause I’m not seeing that myself, but then this is a very brief description. I do like soldiers and assassins.

Okay, I have now scanned through several different lists of upcoming SFF novels for 2019 and wow, the darkness and monochromatism is just overwhelming. I do notice that Ann Leckie has a fantasy novel coming out this year:

Black cover! I guess it’s impossible to escape from black and monochromatic covers this year.

Let’s by all means step back, take a deep breath, and enjoy some Michael Whelan artwork just for the sheer colorful contrast it provides to virtually all modern cover art:



There. Swirls and swoops of color, plus images that evoke a story. While bright sunlight might get old if every artist did it all at the same time, this year, a brilliantly lit, warm cover with a beautifully rendered dragon would truly stand out.

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8 Comments Everything is so dark! Book covers today

  1. Megan

    That’s been my biggest pet peeve about covers in general: the tendency to go from actually interesting, artistic covers to what looks like clipart. Witness Terry Pratchett’s horrible US covers versus the crazy UK ones. Or Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback books, which had gorgeous hardcover designs . . . . and clipart e-book covers.

  2. Hanneke

    Another cover artist I really love is Kinuko Y. Craft, who made those gorgeously intricate covers for Patricia McKillip’s books.
    A lot of her work is not as richly colored as Michael Whelan’s, in fact there are a lot of fairly monochromatic prints on that site, but when she limits her palette it’s mostly on the light side, and it definitely isn’t clipart.

  3. Sandstone

    I think I’ve read that the trend away from gorgeous covers like Whelan’s is because instead of a hardcover or paperback book on a shelf most readers come across books by tiny thumbnails online, so minimalist designs that are coherent and readable at tiny Amazon search listing size are the goal. My guess would be that the black backgrounds are also to stand out more against the white search listing backgrounds but so many people do it it just doesn’t make a difference. In YA it might still be a holdover from the symbolic, minimalist covers of Twilight and The Hunger Games from ages ago too. I do miss the epic sweep, I’ve recently gotten a couple of art books by Michael Whelan and Julie Dillon just to look through for inspiration and enjoyment!

  4. Rachel

    A hedgehog mage! Now I have to go look at that again.

    I can’t help but feel there must be a way to create gorgeous covers that look good in thumbnail form.

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