By Stacy Hague-Hill, Editor
Any book that has a long shelf life is going to go through a lot of covers, and, sadly, not all of them will stand the test of time. For a publisher, the challenge in keeping the backlist alive becomes, in part, a matter of packaging.
Take, for example, Patricia Wrede’s wonderful Mairelon the Magician. Originally published in 1991, this is a lighthearted story about a London street urchin (read: thief) named Kim, whose life really gets interesting when she falls in with an honest-to-goodness magician. Entertaining Regency-era hijinks ensue, offsetting Kim’s more serious progression as a character as she resolves to change her circumstances and make for herself a better—if thoroughly unusual—life.
Here’s the original mass market cover, from 1992:
Sort of fantasy, sort of early VC Andrews, no? In playing up the supernatural with the ghostly faces and glowy magic coming out of the carved bowl, and the historical with the olde timey font and impressive ruffles at the man’s neck and wrists, this cover tends perhaps a little too strongly towards the Gothic. It’s an interesting piece of cover art, in part because it’s very much of its time…But, oohhlordy, is it of its time.
Wrede wrote a sequel, published in 1997, The Magician’s Ward, that picks up with our heroes as they prepare for the all-important Season in London. Kim is now older and a little wiser, and is preparing for her big debut in London’s social scene not only as a young lady but as a magician in her own right. It’s Georgette Heyer with humor and magic, charming from cover to cover.
And here we have said cover, from the 1998 mass market:
The cloaked figure certainly says mystery, and the shining book high on the shelves hints at magic, while the woman in the nightdress tells us it’s a period novel (though which period is a tad obscure). The general scene is reasonably true to the book and suggests there might be some skullduggery afoot. . . . But where is the fun? Where is the romance, the magic, the charm? Where, I ask, are the gowns?
In 2002, Tor’s Starscape imprint opted to do some YA editions, since these books are perfectly appropriate for younger readers:
These covers emphasize intrigue over magic—and highlight some fantastic hats—perhaps trying to skew towards a more general audience. Because, lets be honest, who doesn’t like a good hat? There’s possibly also a little skullduggery, here, but with the menace and frilly nightgowns removed.
Finally, we come to the big reveal. Here’s how Tor has packaged our omnibus edition of these two wonderful novels, entitled A Matter of Magic:
So, despite the lack of dramatic chapeau and skullduggery, we’ve kept (or come back around to?) elements of ruffles and glowy magic. Most importantly, we’ve focused on the smart, funny, compelling main character, Kim, a young woman whose excellent company is one of the many great things I hope this beautiful cover will help new readers to discover.
With this package, Tor is hoping to introduce the novel to a new set of young women and men who will be drawn to fantasy set in the infamously intricate world of Regency-era London—one further complicated by magic–and be delighted by Kim’s intelligence and gentle humor as she searches for the place where she belongs.
Because–and this is the heart of the matter–we may dress a cover with hats and ruffles and glowy magic as the aesthetics of the time demand, but nothing is more ageless than a good story, well-told.
I can’t wait to see what lovely covers the next 10 years will bring for these wonderful novels.
A Matter of Magic (0-7653-2632-9 / $15.99) by Patricia C. Wrede will be available from Tor in June 2010.
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