Thursday, July 7, 2016

Great on the Inside, Mostly Horrible on the Outside

While I'm only partially done with To Ride a Rathorn, fourth book in P.C. Hodgell's Kencyrath Cycle, with three more to books to go, I'm pretty sure this is my favorite fantasy series. Simultaneously funny, exciting, and full of believably outrageous characters and worldbuilding, these books hit all sorts of right buttons for me. More than Conan, or Kane, or Croaker, Jame is my favorite fantasy hero. Equally befuddled and brave, dense and inquisitive, she is a bright light in the fantasy firmament.  

Hodgell is writing one of the most involved and original series I've ever read, and it never feels like a retread of someone else's work. The world of Rathilien, the series' setting, has gotten crazier and increasingly complex as more and more blank spots are filled in. As the series morphed from Leiberesque (deliberate) urban fantasy in the first book, to epic fantasy in the second, and then into something closer to country manor mysteries in the next two, I've followed along with gleeful anticipation of what she'll do next. I really can't recommend these enough.

You can read my reviews of the first three, God Stalk, Dark of the Moon, and Seeker's Mask, over at Black Gate. To Ride a Rathorn gets reviewed next Tuesday.

So what brings me here today, are the godawful, terrible covers of many of the Kencyrath books. While the early ones are not too bad, once Hodgell got picked up by Baen things went all to Hell. Letting Clyde Caldwell loose on them was an artistic disaster of monstrous proportions. These covers look like they're painted for twelve-year old boys. I mean, would any of the Caldwell covers make you pick up the book and give it a go?

It took several books before Hodgell was able to convince Baen to let someone else do the cover art. Finally, with the most recent volume, The Sea of Time (2014), Eric Williams painted something that didn't totally toss the explicit description of Jame, as a flat-chested young woman often mistaken for a boy.

While based on a scene from the book, the left cover suffers from being done poorly. The right cover is one of my all time favorites. Jame tugging at her gloves, the citizens of the Cloud Kingdom fishing for trinkets, and images of some of Tai-tastigon's innumerable gods, it's almost too perfect.

I don't hate the left cover. I like the moody colors, definitely appropriate to the book's overall feel. Still, neither's very good. The right one is stiff and dead, and the I'm pretty sure rathorns don't have wings.

Both these omnibuses of the previous two books are bad. The first is simply a bad illustration. The second is an abomination. Aside from the gratuitous boobosity, what helps me hate it so much, is that from the appearance of the buildings, it's not unreasonable to think Caldwell read God Stalk and knew what Jame was supposed to look like. And then he crapped all over that description.

The left cover is graced with one of Hodgell's own illustrations. I really like the stylized image of a rathorn, but overall it's a dull cover. The right cover looks like an excerpt from a Gothic romance, and that's the best I can say for it. Jame in dishabille, breasts thrust outward, doesn't work for me.

Meh. The rathorn's suitably scary, but now Jame looks like the heroine from a teen mystery novel. And not very scared or worried about the rearing monster.

Baen's omnibus of Seeker's Mask and To Ride a Rathorn. What's Jame cocking her head at? Why's the rathorn rearing? Jorin the ounce is very lynx-like, maybe a little too lynx-like. And again with the boobosity. At least Baen got the books in mass market release.

The final two Caldwell covers for Baen. Yeah, boobs, and bad monsters. And on Honor's Paradox, Jame looks less like a wily 21-year old and more like a tired, middle-aged sexy-lady-pirate. Crap.

So, here we go. A pretty dull, anti-dynamic cover, but no boobosity. I hope the next book, which sounds like it might be the last, Hodgell gets whomever she wants to paint whatever she asks for. It won't happen, but it would be nice.

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