The old adage insists we should not judge a book by its cover.

Of course, the old adage was more concerned about ensuring we viewed people for their character instead of their looks. It wasn’t trying to sell a book to a mass audience.

The cover is the first thing fans who know nothing about a book notice. It’s an opportunity to say to a potential reader “Doesn’t this make you want to at least see what’s going on inside?” A book practically begs you to judge its cover.

There are a multitude of books with interesting or challenging covers. Here are a few books that have a cover that might make you stop and say “Huh, that’s interesting.”

The Cover: The Godwulf Manuscript

The introductory Spenser adventure sports a striking image. Flames lick at the page of a book with an elaborate illuminated opening. It’s a striking image that incorporates the MacGuffin at the heart of The Godwulf Manuscript. The flames threatening to consume it evoke the spiral of violence and treachery that springs up around a seemingly straightforward case about a missing book.

It’s an effective combination of the story’s literal and thematic elements. It also reflects the economy of Robert B. Parker’s prose style. It’s not trying to do too much. It gives enough of a visual hook to draw in someone who stumbles across the image. You’d at least want to see what the story was about.

The Cover: Seven Wonders

Adam Christopher’s adventure fantasy is well represented by its cover image. It uses perspective to create a stylized “7” from a city skyline that reinforces the name shared by the novel and the team of heroes that star in it. The dark silhouettes of the characters against a bright-colored sky suggest the bold, colorful adventure within.

The cover effectively uses the powers of one flying character to create the “o” in the word “Wonders.” It’s a clever visual trick that communicates a bit more about what a reader might find in the pages of Seven Wonders. The cover is an effective thematic representation, contrasting the distant heroes with the perspective of the normal police detective who finds herself enmeshed with them.

The Cover: Phoenix Rising

The Phoenix Rising cover is interesting in that it is simultaneously misleading and spot on.

On the one hand, the costuming, styling and props seen in the cover image are an effective shorthand for the steampunk ethos of the series. Readers get a good idea of the general corner of the sandbox where Phoenix plays. The futuristic gun-and-forearm-covering sported by the female character is especially evocative.

But while the cover does a good job of spotlighting the steampunk milieu, it’s not an especially accurate depiction of the two main characters. Heroine Eliza Braun’s fiery red hair doesn’t jibe with the darker tresses of the cover’s female image. And the practical Eliza, given to wearing trousers and other menswear, would never strike a pose in lingerie and garters.

Similarly, Wellington Books would certainly sport a proper English bowler hat and a cup of tea. But the starched archivist and British gentleman would never be seen in public without a jacket and tie. So the cover doesn’t quite convey the characters of its leads, but is still an effective hook.

The Cover: American Gods

The image of a lightning strike on the horizon where a long stretch of stark highway disappears is a more impressionistic approach. But one that suits American Gods. The novel is a road odyssey, which the image captures. It also echoes the legends of the American west and the concept of restless wanderers tramping across wide open spaces.

The lightning from the sky is a canny way to work in the classic mythology elements of the story. It suggests powerful beings from on high making their presence felt below. The cover may not offer much in the way of hints about plot or characters, but is an economical and effective distillation of the attitude of the book.

The Cover: The Murder on the Links

Agatha Christie novels have received any number of editions over the years. This take on The Murder on the Links is a somewhat more whimsical approach.

The composition and lighter color palette reflect the sort of English gentility that popped up over and over in Christie’s work. Upper class Brits with money and leisure find themselves enmeshed in a murder. Those classic Christie elements get an effective airing in the details of the image.

This cover has a little more fun with its subject than might be typical of a Christie novel. The bright blue and green hues that dominate steer clear of the dark, dour events that fuel most of Christie’s stories. Embedding the title on a golf ball hit by one character that is heading right for the reader is a creative use of the cover’s environment. The suggestion of red blood spots on the ball keep the image from being too light. It’s a strong hook for the novel.

The Cover: One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

The Thursday Next series is imaginative, offbeat and colorful. Jasper Fforde packs each installment with a multitude of clever, entertaining details. And the books never take themselves too seriously. That ethos comes through in the One of Our Thursdays Is Missing cover.

The image of a woman falling off a bookshelf, with several books looking like they’re about to follow, effectively represents the nature of the series and communicates something of the jeopardy the lead character endures in the story.

The bookshelf motif itself is a clever nod to the series and its colorful take on the world of literature. The design cannily uses the spines of the books to communicate info about the past installments in the series. The overall image is colorful, whimsical and a perfect match for the story that appears inside.

Originally published at on October 28, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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