This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is ships, so I’ve chosen Ship of Magic – Book 1 of the Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb.
This is the cover produced by Voyager in 1999. I like this one – it has the now-familiar design of all Hobb’s UK covers, with the attractive font and styling. The ship’s bow gives a sense of movement with the dragonwing in the foreground giving a hint of something else going on. The detail and artwork is nicely done.
This edition, produced in February 1999 by Spectra features the protagonist, Althea in the foreground. While I normally am not a fan of characters appearing on covers, as it is rarely how I envisage them, the depiction here works well. This is another eye-catching, attractive cover.
Published in 2008 by HarperVoyager, this is my least favourite cover. I suppose it was a 10th anniversary edition – but there is no sense of magic or excitement about this design. It looks like the sort of drawing you might find on a copy of an 18th century sailing manual, rather than a tale of piracy and oppression.
This is the offering Spectra came up with in December 2003 – and once again, bristles with energy and danger as this time around, it is the pirate Kennit who features in the foreground. The desperate liveship, Vivacia, also featured plunging through the waves. Another great cover.
This cover, produced by Plaza Janés in July 2015, is my favourite. I love the dark background, giving a sense of menace and the wonderfully dramatic font and loops across the top of the book. And this ship truly looks as if it could be magical and driven to madness… But which one do you prefer?
When I read the description for this one, I was intrigued enough to request the ARC (advance readers’ copy) – and was delighted when I was approved.
The Stargazer’s Embassy explores the frightening phenomenon of alien abduction from a different point of view: in this story, it is the aliens who seem fearful of Julia Glazer, the woman they are desperately trying to make contact with.
Julia is the edgy protagonist who immediately gripped me and pulled me into the start of this one, which pings off the page with tension as we begin to get to know her. The tale slowly unspools as we learn her backstory and why she is constantly alert. Lerman’s depiction of a damaged character whose trust was destroyed during her childhood is very effective. Julia, suspicious and closed off, finds it difficult to bond with anyone and prefers to work as a cleaner alone, so she is able to react quickly whenever she is visited by the things. I found her relationship with John very moving, particularly when she begins to drop her guard and strive for normality. The twist where she discovers what it is he actually does is nicely handled.
However the trouble with her attitude in denying and pushing away the peculiar beings that constantly invade her life, is that the reader is left hanging without any further information about what is actually going on until relatively near the end, which then felt a tad rushed. Julia’s attitude also means that she refuses to discuss the situation until she absolutely has to – and even then the conversations are so overlaid with her hostility that she manages to shut down any meaningful discourse, other than the one with Alice, which even then poses more questions than it answers. This means that we don’t have an opportunity to fully engage with the subject on a deeper level, other than as a prop for the story. And initially, this book seemed to promise more.
I love the premise. I thought the setup regarding The Stargazer’s Embassy bar was both plausible and quirky. However the catch in beginning a book with such a strong hook is that it has to keep delivering. If the tension and narrative pace falls away, the reader is left feeling short-changed.
Don’t get me wrong – this is a good book. There is much going for it in the description, the detailed characterisation, the strong supporting cast and atmospheric writing. But after that storming start, I was expecting a great book and because of the story structure, the pacing was too uneven and there wasn’t sufficient opportunity to fully explore the issues raised surrounding the alien abductions. That said, I am still glad I read it and I do recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this subject.