Cover Issues: A couple of UK/US comparissons

So I was going to do another Penguin line this month and explain why – despite being the same price as regular Penguins, and despite half that money going to AIDS charities – I simply can’t bring myself to buy any of the Penguin Red line because of the covers. I’m a horrible person, but at least I’m honest with myself…I guess.

Anyway, I decided to scrap that idea when June turned out to be the release date for two books I’ve been looking forward to ever since I heard about them. Not only did the plots look fun, but the covers were gorgeous… at least, the UK covers were gorgeous. Tracking down both books on Goodreads brought up images for the US covers first and, well… I’ll let people make their own minds up:

UK Covers:

*In the interest of full disclosure this cover does have an ugly ‘SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER’ quote splashed across the bottom, I just couldn’t find pictures

US Covers:

*Pre-release cover – has since been changed to the UK version

I’m going to start off with the Aaronovitch covers because those are the ones that really bother me. As I’ve noted up there, the US has thankfully decided to switch to the more attractive UK cover but I still can’t quite forgive the publishing company for coming up with such trashy covers in the first place and going ahead and sticking them on the first two books before noticing how shit they were. Oh yeah, and they also changed the name of the first book.

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Now I will congratulate them for not whitewashing the protagonist and for putting a black man on the cover. But that’s all I can congratulate them for. Possibly it’s because I only initially picked this series up and read the blurb because of the gorgeous covers, but everything about those US covers screams trashy aeroplane read. Everything from the posing, the photo-shopping, to the font choice looks cheap, nasty, and generic urban fantasy aimed at very young teenagers and in almost no way reflects the actual content or style of the book. It looks like the sort of book I might possibly get from the library if I’d heard it was good, but would never pick up and glance at the blurb while browsing and never, never, deign to actually buy and put on my bookshelf. I have a hard enough time convincing my mother and sister that I don’t just read ‘crappy fantasy’ without having something as ugly as that for them to seize on. That probably makes me a shallow snob, but I don’t really care – and I did do a test on several friends who know nothing about the series before posting; reactions were unanimously ‘ooooh, pretty’ for the UK ones and ‘aaaaaugh!’ for the US ones.

But enough about the obvious badness of the US one. What first attracted me to the series was how good the UK cover was. And then, after I’d read the first book, how well it gelled with the contents within the pages. It’s a little small in those images but the picture that looks like a map of London is in fact full of words and pictures describing the places it’s depicting ‘Theatreland’, ‘landing place for chalk lime stone’, ‘Oliver Cromwell was disinterred + hung here’, ‘1851 Great Exhibition Was Ere’. It’s the absolute perfect fit for a London-based narrator who loves to explain the history and geography of places. It literally could not be a better fit for the series and it’s stunningly different to all the other fantasy books it ends up on the shelf with.

Now the Railsea one isn’t too bad actually, it doesn’t have any especially smug review quotes on it for one thing, which is always good. The photo’s pretty decent and nicely evocative too (I’ll have to admit here I don’t generally like ‘photo covers’) and it’s very probable that it does appeal more towards the target audience of ‘Young Adults’/teens than the UK one would. I’m not quite sure about that though. Where it falls down for me compared to the UK one, though, is style and author identity. For anyone who’s been following my blog for a while, you might remember I gave a positive review to one of Miéville’s other works at the beginning of the year. That cover looked like this:

His other works look like this:


There’s a definite theme and style running through the ‘new’ UK covers of all his works that makes them instantly recognisable as by the same author. It’s also a style that I, personally, find very sleek and attractive; the imagery is intriguing without overpowering the cover. One of the best things about them though, has to be the colourful spines – even with the covers hidden away on the bookshelf these books are beautiful. I could probably do with the author’s name being a bit smaller, but other than that I really have no complaints.

The US ones by comparison – while individually most are not that bad – don’t have that same sort of style and identity running through them:


These are the covers of the first version to pop up on Amazon.com, so if there are more recent covers do forgive me. Now some one of those covers is really good (The City & The City) but at least one (Perdido Street Station) is unmitigated shite. And there’s no immediate association between them – even the ones that are part of the same series (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council). The US Railsea is a lot better than most of these covers, I can even concede that some people might find it more attractive than the UK cover, but to me it looks incredibly generic. Whilst the UK one would grab my attention in a shop even if I knew nothing about the author and make me pick it up, the US one would simply blend into a sea of identi-covers.

And just to point out that I don’t think Americans are always worse at cover art and that I am just talking about two specific authors here rather than trying to make some sort of point; I give you the horrendous UK covers to the Percy Jackson books (second row below the vastly superior US ones) which suffer from just about everything I can’t stand in cover art and only just get away with it because they’re children’s books.

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