Ahh, the YA Fantasy book cover.
Walk into any book shop and go and stand in front of the the YA section.
Okay… I know we’re in lockdown, but close your eyes and remember. What do you see?
If you’re in the UK (as I am) then welcome to Waterstones. There’s a little black table covered in the latest releases, or most popular titles, usually on a buy one get one half price offer. There’s the bookcase full of Harry Potter books, tie ins, games, jigsaws and cuddly toys, and then there’s at least three bookcase full of YA books.
Many have their covers turned outwards, drawing your eye, saying: “Buy me! Buy me!”
Every genre is mixed into together in this age group and so you have to step closer, searching titles, authors and covers to find the fantasy books. And given time, you’ll pull one or two out and go and buy them.
Well, I do.
But how do you know if the book you’ve just picked up is fantasy? Before you even look at the blurb, you see the iconic fantasy book cover.
There are certain images that scream fantasy. It’s almost a cliche now that YA fantasy books will have a young woman with flowing hair holding a sword across the front cover. Thank you Throne of Glass for that. But there are other images that tell you, you are holding a fantasy book. And of course there are phases depending on what is popular. You can almost tell what year a book was published in according to it’s cover.
What do you expect to see on a YA Fantasy book cover?
- Dragons, or other mythical creature
- Swords or weapons
- Leading Lady, either in fighting pose or modelling
- Long, loose hair
- Magic, usually as a swirl of colour
- Hidden faces
- Symbols, think The Hunger Games
- Shimmering Lettering
- Images that are linked to the main story, but tell you nothing
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
That seems like a lot of different things, but let’s look at our first YA fantasy book cover:
Spin the Dawn is a Mulan retelling with sewing, and I loved it. My two hobbies colliding together. It has a female lead in a powerful warrior pose, but instead of a sword, she welds a pair of scissors. There’s an eagle behind her, flowing, black, long hair, and waves of fabric around her legs.
The font of the title has a swirl to it, and the whole cover has movement and action to it. It might not be the typical fantasy cover of a warrior, but there is no doubt that the lead in the book is a fighter in her own way.
The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller
Here’s another fantasy book cover:
The Shadows Between Us is a revenge romance book released on February 25, 2020.
This cover has the ultimate fantasy image, a jeweled blade, in this case a dagger. It’s surrounded with black swirling shadows that when you look closer turn out to be black roses around a twisted frame, with black petals falling in front.
It oozes romance, darkness, and violence, and pretty much sums up the themes of this book. The luscious red cries romance and blood, and the over all feel of the cover is one of wealth. Again, all present in the novel.
But there are also plenty of fantasy covers that have none of these tropes, I hear you say.
Thankfully, there are so many books out there today that there are plenty of opportunities to have a stand out fantasy book cover.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
The UK cover of Strange the Dreamer is full of rich blue and gold colour, a simple design with the promise of something different inside.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
The Cruel Prince tells you little; a crown, and twisted, bare branches. A single, bright green beetle the only sign of life. What is this book about? I do like the way the title is wrapped around the twigs.
What makes a good YA Fantasy cover?
So what makes a good YA fantasy cover? One with tropes, or one that stands out from the crowd? Or one that tells you exactly what you can expect from the story, or one that tells you almost nothing about what’s between it’s pages?
Does the colour of the cover make a huge difference?
The Shadows Between Us has been printed with both a red and purple cover. Which is better? I have the purple cover, which I like the richness of the colour, the way it hides details within, but the red one is passionate, bold, full of lush and the promise of death.
I think the red is a better fit for the story. But what do you think?
And there’s the key.
At the end of the day, it is down to the individual reader what makes a cover work for them.
I’m a sucker for the old style fantasy covers of the ’80’s (yep i’m also old enough to remember them); a wild, alien landscape, heroes on a horse, a maiden with a cloak, a hero with a shining sword, the magician in long purple/green robes.
It might be why I like the original covers for the Redwall books. I like to see my characters, have a feel for the world I am about to enter.
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
His Fair Assassin series is great, but I like the first lot of covers more.
The original cover says: “here’s a woman who’s going to stand up for herself.” The stone castles behind her tells you it’s historical.
Whereas the redesigned cover has the crossbow almost hidden by red stone wolves, leaves and flowers merging into the shadows or the red. Yes it’s very striking, but I prefer the other version.
That might just be my personal taste, though.
The perfect YA Fantasy cover
So what makes the perfect YA fantasy cover? One that draws the eye, gives you some idea of what to expect, and an inkling of the tone of the book.
Moody purples and deep reds say passion and forbidden romance, yellows and pinks say fun and bubbly. If there’s royalty, some sort of crown or at least a tiara to tell us.
I like figures on the front, but I don’t need full details. Others like to form their own idea of the leading character.
Figures are always a tricky thing.
If it’s a series, I want to know this somewhere, please. But a good fantasy cover must be striking. It must give the reader something, a reason to pick up the book.
Spin the Dawn has sewing on the cover, welded as a weapon; His Fair Assassin has a armed female. Dragons on the cover- there must be a dragon inside.
Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
I think one of my favourite covers is the original publication of Flame in the Mist.
The Raven and the Dove by Kaitlyn Davis
Looking forward to future releases, The Raven and the Dove by Kaitlyn Davis caught my eye. It has the classic YA tropes; boy meets girl, mythical element, magic, light against dark, and romance. But it also has some Good Omens vibes and I’m intrigued.
What catches your eye in a fantasy book cover?
What makes you pick up a book and take it home with you?
Do you like the more traditional style covers, or are you one for symbols and signs, like The Hunger Games books? And what is one of your favourite covers on your shelves?