Today I've got something special for you. Just like I did for Touch of Iron, I thought it'd be interesting for you to see the progression of the cover for the next in the Living Blade series, On the Wheel.
Tommy Arnold is not only a world class artist who has done a bunch of beautiful book covers, but he is also a delight to work with. We both knew we wanted Diaz on the cover from the get go. Though Nora is the focal point, this book really is his story. So I sent Tommy a looooong email with looooooots of spoilers.
The imagery used around Diaz throughout the book is one of being enveloped in flame, but also darkness. The mood is one of encroaching darkness, of struggling against restraints, of inevitable change. As is fitting for a second book, there are changes and transformations. The grinding stone is ever turning. Also, there's a lot of ... um ... bonding going on (if this were a romance manga, there would totally be chains on the cover.) Tommy captured the mood perfectly.
Diaz is a half wight, so I had to give Tommy a basic idea of that culture. The wights are the elder race in this world (but please, for the love of Tolkien, NO pointy ears). They've chosen to seclude themselves in an underground city, away from humanity. However, this isolation has caused them to dwindle in number. It's a highly sophisticated, meritocratic society that is slowly deteriorating. They look at the grand past instead of the future, but this is about to change.
Wights have tattoos as marks of identity. As they can endure heat and cold temperatures, clothing for them would be more of an afterthought, not a necessity for protection. Therefore Diaz wears light clothing at all times (linen) - no plate armor! He's not that kind of warrior. He does carry an assortment of weapons: twin scimitars, a short sword (roman gladius), a hunting bow, probably knives everywhere, too.
I love the Assassin's Creed games, the look and parcour/fighting style of Ezio Auditore for Diaz. Ezio's an assassin who doesn't have the bulging Conan hulk typical of most fantasy heroes, but rather relies on being faster and more agile to overcome his many enemies, and he's very deadly at the same time. Also, I can easily picture Diaz wearing something similar. He could pull the hood deep over his face to hide his black eyes.
Humans scare easily after all.
Screenshot from Assassin's Creed Revelations Trailer: Ezio Auditore ... stupid name, but oh-so-cool
The wight's tattoos would make it obvious to another wight who they are, where they come from (regionally and familywise) as well as what they do, all on first glance. I imagine the tattooes a bit like a mix between Samoan tribal and viking motifs, so both pictoral as well as 'written' (runes).
The most alien wight feature are their eyes which are large and black. They also have no body hair (no eyebrows for instance. I like to imagine they're humanoids that evolved from lizards instead of simians.) On my Pinterest board, I had a picture of Neil Gaiman's Morpheus for what I had in mind with the eyes.
Sandman art: J.H. Williams III
In the end, though, we decided against showing the eyes. It's a bit of a tease, because I'm sure that readers would have wanted to see his face. But I really preferred Diaz turning away from 'us' on the cover. He's in mid fight, poised to go up against his demons, his own shades of darkness. It's personal. And – like every good hero - he needs to do this on his own.
When we had grim! dark! artwork, there was still the tricky situation of having a really dark cover – bucking the trend of the stylish white ones that have been creeping up (like this or this one). I was worried how the title design would work. But I needn't have worried, because on the very first pass, James T. Egan (from Bookflydesign.com) nailed it.
And I had my cover for On the Wheel. Here it is. Feast your eyes.
The blurb echoes lines of dialogue in the book, and reads:
Look, Nora, this isn't about you. We know you've had your problems and struggles. We know they aren't over. But Nora, this isn't about you. This is more than villages and temples; more than kingdoms and empires. The whole world is at stake.
"But if this isn't about me, why do I have to deal with it?"
It's just the way the wheel is turning...
Maybe asking "What is the Living Blade?" is the wrong question. Maybe the question should be "Who?"
Who has it been?
Who will it be?
And besides, Nora, sometimes the very world itself is your problem. To be able to fix yourself, you have to fix the world first, don't you?
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