The Spymaster’s Cover Art

While looking for covers for the Chesty-Back challenge, I found a new designed cover for Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady.

Now, I loved this book, but the cover was patently ridiculous:

Knock that oiled chest-baring ab-master off the cover, and substitute something more professional and perhaps boring, and I promise you, linguistics students could study this narrative as a representative work on how to accurately portray the differences in languages…

Oh, that cover made me sad. More than once I’d recommended the book to people who were curious about romance and had to say, “Ignore the oiled abs. Ignore the cover. Hell, spray paint it green. Just don’t look at it and look at the words inside instead. I promise they are SO much better than the cover.”

Here’s the old cover:

Book Cover

And this is the new one, coming out 4 May:

Book Cover

Which do you like better? I confess, I’m not sure that the second one says “romance” either. It’s almost a literary fiction/historical fiction look to it. What do you think?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Ros says:

    Jo’s had a picture of the new cover up on her blog for a while.  I prefer it to the old one but I don’t think either of them do justice to the book. I want a cover that conveys something of the action of the book, the spy stuff and the romance, and I just don’t get that at all here.  It makes Annique look tame and ordinary.  But I do think that it might encourage some people to give the book a try who wouldn’t have been tempted by the first edition, so maybe from a sales point of view it will do its job.

  2. 2
    Luci says:

    I am one of those who don’t mind chests and backs on covers :). I especially love insteps. Hate the Fabio covers though – don’t know if you see the distinction like I do. I actually like the new cover too even though I have the original one at home and don’t mind it. I agree wholeheartedly though that for people who do not read historical romance and actually look down on it – certain covers do not do the great writing any favours at all.

  3. 3
    roseolla says:

    Love the book but I don’t think either cover does justice for the characters. I think that some of my favorite novels don’t have models on their covers at all, but just the title (Kleypas, Garwood, McNaught, Foley).

    Perhaps the better books (with more well-rounded characters) just don’t need the eye candy?

  4. 4
    Kathleen Bittner Roth says:

    I’m with the others who don’t think either cover does justice to the wonderful writing in this story. Sappy is the first word that came to mind with the second cover. I would definitely skip over this one in a bookstore. She looks timid, shy and b.o.r.i.n.g. IMHO some great art with no models, but hints of the spymaster tools, scenery that depicts travel, etc., would have done it for me.

  5. 5
    Cassie says:

    Covers play such a small part in my romance novel experience. I never really look at covers, except when I am browsing and I’m scanning for something that looks like a romance. The second cover still says ‘romance’ to me because of the typography.

    After I have ascertained that a book is a romance, I then check the author’s name and the title to see if either are something that’s been recced to me or something I know is a good bet. If neither are familiar, I’ll read the back and any excerpt to see if it seems interesting/readable. Then I might buy it.

    similar93: 93 covers may look similar, but each romance is different.

  6. 6
    Jeza says:

    That’s really weird. I think the second cover looks like the sequel to the first book.  I would totally stand them up across from each other on my bookshelf.

    Definitely think it says romance, but yeah, more like the cheesy Julia Quinn/Lisa Kleypas kind than what Joanna Bourne wrote here. (Just noticed that Julia Quinn is the cover quote. Irony!)

  7. 7
    ghn says:

    I like the first one slightly better – you do at least get a bit of eye candy there.
    The other one is just boring. That is the sort of cover that could be on any historical. And I mean any – sometimes it seems that when it is a pre-WWII story they put a girl – or a couple – in regency-ish costume on the cover. Unless it is a regency. Then they go medieval.

    (Yes I exaggerate. A little)

  8. 8
    Sandra says:

    I originally picked up TSL because of the great reviews, and tend to ignore covers anyway when looking for something to read. That said, this new issue is trade as opposed to the original MMPB. Does the book type make a difference in cover expectations?

    And I mean any – sometimes it seems that when it is a pre-WWII story they put a girl – or a couple – in regency-ish costume on the cover. Unless it is a regency. Then they go medieval.

    I know what you mean… Kensington’s Lords of Desire anthology has an Elizabethan cover while every story in it is set in the 19th C.

  9. 9

    Ooh, I feel like I’m playing Pretend to be a Top Model Judge! I like the second one, because of the model’s eyebrows. It’s your typical “proper lady on a cover” except for them mischievous brows. It’s interesting, this book…at first I looked at the old cover and thought, “It’s called The Spymaster’s Lady, so where’s the lady?!” Then I looked at the new one and thought, “Where’s the Spymaster?” The second one gets my Top Model vote for that fieeeeeerce eyebrow action. The old cover’s so last season.

  10. 10
    becky says:

    Haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how well the covers do in giving the feel of the novel, but I like the second one much better.  The cover lady looks a bit mischievous, and I’d be more likely to buy that one than the original.

  11. 11
    LizA says:

    I much prefer the second cover. I do not think it looks literary at all but it does not look cheesy at least. Obviously I am going against the mainstream here as I absolutely hate typical romance covers! But then I do not pick up a book because of its cover, rather often despite its cover though… they have startet to sell cloth covers for paperbacks over here and I am seriously tempted to get one to hide all the horrors…. ;)

  12. 12
    redcrow says:

    I looked at the old cover and thought“It’s called The Spymaster’s Ladyso where’s the lady?!” 

    Exactly. First cover made me think “Wait, he’s “one of the most unusual, resourceful and humorous heroines”? Is “he”, in fact, she, but she’s in denial and try to go on living as a man, till Spymaster meets her and helps her to come to terms with being trans, and maybe, depending on the time period, also helps her with transition, and on the back cover she’s already depicted as a woman?”
    (As if anyone would write a romance novel like that…)

  13. 13
    KimMarie says:

    I like the second cover and hate the first.  Because covers of romance novels tend to be so awful, I pay little attention to them.  In fact, I try not to look at them when I’m considering whether to read a book or not.  They rarely have anything to do with the story. 

    There is a lot of discussion on this site about the knee jerk disdain for the romance genre.  I think the ridiculous covers are the main reason that non-romance readers ridicule the genre.

  14. 14
    Jo Bourne says:

    I know nothing about book marketing—less than nothing, really, because some of what I ‘know’ is wrong—but the industry does seem oddly resistant to accurate period clothing.  Do they do that on purpose, I wonder?

    The trade paperback edition of Spymaster’s Lady—the one with the eyebrows—is really lovely in person.  Just a delight to hold in the hand.  And the clothing is impeccably spot-on correct for date.

    When I call to mind what-were-they-thinking covers, I guess I think of Laura Kinsale, who was gifted with some very odd choices in cover indeed.

  15. 15

    I agree that the cover and title don’t really match on the first one—but I SO DON”T AGREE that it’s awful or cheesy.  There is nothing shameful about a man’s chest!  He’s not oiled.  The treatment is painterly.  I’m annoyed by the suggestion that “quality” romance novels need sedate covers.  I call BS on that!  I don’t want or need to pretend I’m reading literary fiction.  I don’t want or need the respect of people who look down on romance because the covers are suggestive.  If the book is sensual, why shouldn’t the outside reflect the contents?

    By the way I loved this book, and agree that it’s high-quality.  So is the original cover, IMO.

  16. 16
    Beki says:

    The first cover is so wrong.  If we’re going to get all point of fact about the clothing for the time periods, shouldn’t we as well insist on actual chest hair for these men?  This poor guy looks like he went to the beauty parlor (could I get a cut and style, eyebrow shaping, and full torso wax, please) and then dressed for a costume party where he was accosted and mugged, and is now doomed to wander shirtless and confused, wondering if someone else at the party had a cell phone in their costume pockets and if he might borrow it to cancel his credit cards.

    I like the second cover well enough, I guess, though I’d side with some of the others who say it’s a tad boring.  If not for the comments about what a good story it is, I’m not sure I’d even put this one on my list to pick up.  But I will.  I trust yon Smart Bitches to guide me correctly. 

    Also, ignore the rant at the top.  I’m suffering PMS.

  17. 17

    I have not read the book but I just put the one with the second cover on my wishlist for a near-future purchase :)

  18. 18
    Katherine says:

    I definitely prefer the second cover.

    Would the cover influence my decision to purchase? No.

    I tend to ignore the cover of my books. Probably because I am embarassed by the blatant map-titty/oiled chest/gasping woman stuff. So I’d rather read the back of the book and divie into the first chapter to see if it’s worth buying.

    I’m “out” as a romance reader now. No longer embarassed to admit what I read. But I am still embarassed about many of the book covers.

  19. 19
    hapax says:

    Like the second cover better.  The dress is pretty (and historically accurate), the lady’s face is expressive, the layout is much more balanced, the colors more pleasing…

    … but I’d still put it in a wrapper before reading it in public.

    Y’know how you can walk through a used book store and assign publication dates to most romances within a year or two by cover design alone?  I think that both of these covers will “date” dreadfully. 

    I much prefer the covers with period art, or a single iconic image (a nineteenth century pistol half covered by a fan or mask would work nicely for this title) but that’s just me.  If I want to ogle and objectify male bodies, I can always go find my husband!

    (spamword: cent87—and that’s MY eighty-seven cents worth!)

  20. 20

    Have to disagree with Sarah. The first cover makes some small attempt to place the era(ruffled shirt). Dress, jewelry and hairstyle in the second cover are contemporary.  As a stand alone piece of art I like the second one better. Tied at D-, neither sells the book, neither has an aura of intrigue. The first one says, it’s a romance, slap a cover on and sell it, the second one says, slap an updated cover on and sell some more. It’s McMarketing, no respect for the author or the genre.

  21. 21
    lizw65 says:

    I’m not partial to either one—they both scream “wallpaper historical” to me, which does this book in particular a great injustice.  Personally, I like the trend of using vintage art on covers—the reissues of Georgette Heyer come to mind.

  22. 22
    dorothea says:

    I’m just happy that the new cover, having a lady on it, has her entire head!

    I just bought the new paperback of Mary Balogh’s Seducing an Angel, and like all previous books in that series, plus some other Balogh books and in fact lots of romance and literary fiction lately, there’s a lovely picture of a lovely woman on it that cuts off before you can see her eyes. The pictures are beautiful but they’re beginning to bother me a bit—I mean, you get the curvy waist, the bosom, the full and sensual lips, in other words everything that tells you this character is hot, but you aren’t allowed to look her in the eye and recognize her as a person. I don’t understand why these covers are so popular lately. Is it that they’re supposed to facilitate the reader’s imagining that she is the heroine?

    Anyway, I’m pleased that this cover has the same tasteful style, but also allows us to see the heroine’s entire face!

  23. 23
    Trippinoutmysoul says:

    It became pretty automatic to me years ago to not even notice the cover of a romance novel when considering a purchase, because most often they have nothing to do with the quality of the story inside. When I first started reading romance, I’d tend to skip over the titles with the stereotypical man titty covers as potentially too cheesy, but luckily learned my lesson- a lesson which is sometimes even applicable to the back cover copy. I think both the old and new covers of The Spymaster’s Lady have things going for and against then- the bared chest anf frilly shirt of the original is pretty much like slapping “HISTORICAL ROMANCE!!” on the cover in neon green paint, making it easier to pick out by someone looking for a historical romance, whereas it could also deter someone who hasn’t learned the “romance novel cover art is to chuckle at, not to judge by” rule. I agree that the new cover does seem to lend more of a literary fiction tone, and when I first started reading romance I would probably have been more inclined to pick it up if only because of it’s lack of half naked hero. That being said, I like the first cover better, because from experience I know it probably has little or nothing to do with the story, and who doesn’t like chiseled abs and happy trails?!?

  24. 24

    I’m gonna disagree with the majority and say I LOVE the first one much better. It’s hot! That’s what I want in my romance novels.

    The second looks more like a historical fiction which I enjoy but not when I’m deliberately looking to read a romance.

  25. 25
    Cat Marsters says:

    I prefer the second one as it looks less clichéd, but I agree, it still doesn’t quite match the richness of the book. She does look rather how I pictured Annique, however.

    The problem with a cover like the first one is that it looks so old-fashioned, so bodice-ripper, so sardonic-eyebrow, so nod-to-historical-accuracy, so everything-that’s-mocked-about-romance-novels, in fact, that it’s quite hard to persuade anyone outside the romance-reading community that what’s inside is totally the opposite of all those things.

    I wonder, if this book had been presented with a ‘historical fiction’ cover, would it have been read and enjoyed by people who sneer at romance novels? A cover hinting at adventure, like the Sharpe covers on my shelves (http://tinyurl.com/372aucx) for instance.

    And hey, Joanna: when’s the next one out? Please say soon. Did you say soon?  Good.

  26. 26
    DS says:

    Agreed doesn’t look literary.  If it was literary it would have a period painting on the cover.  I do think Trade Paperbacks get much more discreet covers than mass market.  The new cover isn’t very much in period though. 

    I was looking at a collection of European portraits last week and found myself rather taken with a painting of an early 19th century gentleman who had all his clothes on but still struck me as a good bet for a romance cover.  I snapped a couple of shots of the painting with my iphone and will link to one if any of them are in focus.

  27. 27

    I’ll totally go with cover #2. Previous commenters spoke of liking that the lady actually has a HEAD, and also of her mischievous expression; I’ll agree with both of these.

    And, having actually re-read the review, clearly I need to put this thing on my Nook. ;)

  28. 28
    Rachel says:

    Definitely the 2nd, simply because the book is called The Spymaster’s Lady. Therefore, if there’s going to be someone on the cover, it should be her. And as a bonus, like another poster said, you can actually see her face! The trend of showing only the bodies is disturbing to me.

    However, I will say that the second cover looks more like a historical, Jane Austin-lite novel than a romance novel. But maybe that’s what they were going for?

  29. 29
    Joy says:

    Just thinking if you photoshopped both covers together it would seem as if the couple were looking at each other, which would be cute.

    The first cover seems to answer the question “will there be sex in this romance?” in the affirmative; the second doesn’t answer it at all.  I do think the second cover is lovely.

  30. 30
    Chicklet says:

    Hey, is that Ewa Da Cruz on the second one? She’s an actress on As the World Turns, and she was the cover model on Julia Quinn’s Lost Duke of Wyndham last year.

    I like the second cover a lot better than the first one, even though it doesn’t really sell the espionage element of the book, which is frustrating. I’m so so so tired of the mantitty cover, I just skip by all of them these days. I adore the Georgette Heyer reissue covers so much that everything drives me batty.

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