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Race Against the Dark

The author says:

Between changing names, yanking an elven king’s soul out of his body on accident, and battling a bat the size of a minivan because it dared try to eat her horse, Ka’lei has issues. Kidnapped into another world, Haylie must work with her captors to save Erth and the two worlds connected to it from the darkness that follows her. Race Against the Dark is adult fantasy with a romantic subplot.



Nathan says:

I warn you ahead of time, you’re not gonna like a lot of what you hear, because your cover hits two hot-buttons that have become cliches over at

1) The font.  The title isn’t terrible, but the font for the byline, Algerian, not only clashes terribly with the title, but calls attention to itself as “the font that everyone uses when they want something fantasy-ish and don’t know what to choose.”  (And the third font used for the tagline and the series title looks far too modern for a fantasy.)

2) The CG horse.  I suppose rendered imagery has its place, but a fantasy doesn’t strike me as that right place.

Sorry. (Anybody got anything else?)


  1. The font is definitely the first thing that jumps out at me (I swear to god, Algerian is the new Papyrus), but there are a lot of things about this cover that I’d change.

    -The tagline: Since we don’t know who Haylie is, what her true nature is, or who or what Kal’brath is, this will intrigue no one.
    -Kal’brath. Aren’t we past alphabet soup fantasy place names with apostrophes in them?
    -The series name should say either “A Kings of Kal’brath Novel” or “Kings of Kal’brath Book One”. If you leave it as is, use a colon, not a hyphen.
    -Yeah, the horse. Between the poorly rendered mane, the head-on lighting, and the dead eye, it’s not in good shape. If all you want is some blue flames, you’d be better off using a stock image and shopping it on.
    -That read and black background is hella plain.
    -And the main issue with the horse: I can’t tie that image to anything in your description, nor is it an especially intriguing image on its own. “There’s a horse in this story” isn’t your main selling point, so why are you using it as your main image?

    1. I know we’re here to discuss the cover, but I have a couple of questions. (I’m not trying to be a jerk here.)

      What, exactly, is wrong with apostrophes in place names? Some languages use a variety of aspirations and pauses as consonants, so if an author wants to have something like that in their story, why not? I guess I don’t get all the apostrophe hate, so I need somebody to explain it to me.

      As far as the alphabet soup – even without the apostrophe, I don’t see what’s wrong with “Kalbrath.” It’s no sillier than Mumbai or Istanbul, which could, to the English reader, also be seen as a bunch of alphabet soup. (To the people of India and Turkey, though,the names are quite normal.) Heck, many surnames of foreign countries sound like alphabet soup to us.

      Made up names are standard fare in fantasy – Minas Morgul, Rohan, Imladris…these are just a few weird sounding, arguably alphabet soup names from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. So, no, fantasy won’t be “over” odd-sounding names anytime soon.

      Are you suggesting that the author remove Kal’brath from the cover altogether? It does immediately convey that this story is in a fantasy universe, so I don’t see what’s wrong with it. But, that’s just me, and like I said, I honestly need somebody to explain what’s wrong with apostrophes and weird sounding names.

      1. What, exactly, is wrong with apostrophes in place names? Some languages use a variety of aspirations and pauses as consonants, so if an author wants to have something like that in their story, why not? I guess I don’t get all the apostrophe hate, so I need somebody to explain it to me.

        While occasionally they appear as a holistic part of a well-developed linguistic system, they are used far more often by second-rate fantasy authors as a cheap way to make things Sound Foreign and serve no grammatical or phonetic purpose. To me personally, it smacks of Awesome McCoolname: Giving something an obtrusively unusual name under the misconception that that will make it interesting.

        But as with other widely-disliked artistic options with a few adamant defenders (eg, Comic Sans), the best reason not to use it is simply because so many people hate it and, regardless of your reasoning, introducing an element lots of readers hate is shooting yourself in the foot. Maybe you have a linguistics degree and your apostrophe represents a glottal stop as part of an elaborately-constructed conlang…but anyone looking at the cover may nevertheless assume (with some justification) that you’re a rank amateur who peppers his/her names with punctuation because s/he thinks it sounds more fantasy-ish that way.

      2. As a regular fantasy reader, I don’t have an issue with made-up names (as long as you don’t have people named Raseiuhjks alongside people named Bob and Candace, all happily pretending they’re from the same culture).

        But the apostrophe thing (or umlauts, excess dashes, etc.). I’ve seen fantasy names (from big five publishing houses, no less) with 2 or even 3 apostrophes, seemingly randomly distributed. In some contexts, an apostrophe is used to convey a glottal stop (because it’s otherwise a curved special character that is not on standard keyboards). But the apostrophes in a lot of fantasy names aren’t there to convey glottal stops (Steven Erikson is an exception). They’re frequently just there because the author saw them before and thinks they look cool (or something), without thought as to how they would actually change the pronunciation of the name.

  2. I totally agree with katz that the horse is an odd thing to choose for the imagery. It doesn’t go with the “Kings of…” feel. If the blue fire is significant, perhaps imagery with blue fire and, say, a crown would be better. It would read more definitely as fantasy that way.

    The fonts are wonky, too. I’m no expert, but I’m slowly starting to see how fonts work – and these ones don’t. I also don’t like the words being pressed closely up against the edge of the book cover. I feel that, just like we have a certain expected margin on book pages, book covers have something of an expected margin too. (At least where font is concerned.) You may need to size down and restructure the font, but don’t have it so close to the edge of the cover. It looks like you’re trying to cram in too much that way, even if you actually aren’t.

    All in all, the cover just isn’t engaging. I wouldn’t pick this cover up. It’s too plain, and the CG horse is kinda weird. (It would be called a pseudohorse over on Lousy Book Covers.) I say you go back to the drawing board, or maybe see about consulting with a cover designer.

  3. Compositionally and color-wise, the cover is not all that bad.

    As Nathan says, the choice of typeface was not well-thought-out, as was the decision to hit the “emboss” button in Photoshop.

    I think the cover suffers mostly from a fault that is endemic to a great many authors who are trying to design their own books: overfamiliarity with the subject. The author knows exactly what the significance of the blue flames and whatnot are…but the potential reader doesn’t have a clue. So the result is that the horse simply has some sort of weird mistiness around its hooves, as though it had just stepped in something.

    Part of the reason this doesn’t work is that the designer didn’t go far enough…which is also true for the strange eye with its pathetic little wisp of blue and the strange alien-like dentures the horse seems to have picked up somewhere. If the idea is to convey a sense of a demonic horse-creature then you you need to ramp up all of these details tenfold and really hit the potential reader between the eyes rather than just mystify them.

  4. I think some of these critiques of the cover are overly harsh. This cover isn’t good enough for a final draft, but as a concept cover, it’s better than many we’ve seen here before.

    That said, while this might be a good cover for a fantasy novel, it’s not a good cover for this fantasy novel, judging by the description. All we’ve got is a horse, one which I should mention looked much better in the thumbnail and at first glance than it did when I looked closer and realized that it was indeed a CG horse. I’m not familiar with Algerian font, so I’m not so aware of its being overused and don’t hate it so much, but then again, I’m not so much the market for this kind of novel either: dark fantasies featuring Game of Thrones-style nastiness don’t much appeal to me, and the market for the lighter-toned epic fantasies I do like is over-saturated with Tolkien wannabes who are never going to be half so gifted a linguist and storyteller as he was, and really ought to try writing something different. Fairly or otherwise, therefore, if the other fantasy readers here don’t like your Algerian font, you’re just going to have to scrap it.

    I do find some things about your cover and your description of the story intriguing: the blue flames on the horse, for instance, and the mention in the summary that “a bat the size of a minivan” tried to eat this horse. Is this fantasy actually a neo-medieval fantasy? That is to say, is the story actually set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the civilization rebuilt from the ruins has advanced to about the level of medieval feudalism? If the narrative in a sword-and-sorcery setting makes reference to anything so technologically advanced as a minivan, your readers will expect you to reveal at some point that this does indeed take place after an apocalypse that destroyed some civilization advanced enough to have such technology, even on the rare occasions when the story’s focus isn’t actually on the rediscovery of the lost technology. If you don’t provide such a revelation, they’re going to feel cheated.

    Getting back to the cover, if you want to get readers’ attention in a good way, give them more than just the horse. Having a horse with blue flames on it does establish the genre, but you also need to show them the medieval woman who rides that horse (either sitting in the saddle or standing next to it holding its bridle) to establish your main character, and you need to show them some kind of background to establish the setting. If this is indeed a neo-medieval fantasy, for instance, you could show the ruins of a modern city in the background, complete with the rusted-out remnants of a minivan on a potholed concrete street with weeds growing up through the cracks.

    A final note on the CG horse: as I mentioned in a different critique elsewhere on this site, the one time for having CG on the cover that isn’t indistinguishable from a live-action photograph is if your story actually is set in some kind of virtual reality world that uses such CG, such as Otherland in Tad Williams’ City of Golden Shadow, or if your novel is adapted from a video game, such as in the Warcraft novels. (People who play the games expect to see the same CG characters on the cover that they see in the cut scenes in the game.) If neither of those things are what you’re doing here, then either try doing a professional photo shoot with some attractive young lady and her horse from the Renaissance Fair and shopping her into the foreground of a high-resolution picture of a post-apocalyptic setting, or else hire a professional illustrator talented enough to draw a high-quality picture of all of these things for you.

    1. Algerian hate isn’t a fantasy thing. It’s an overuse thing. It was designed to evoke the Victorian era but is now plastered all over nail studios and Mexican restaurants, and regularly appears on lists of worst fonts.

      Generally, it’s wise not to use in your branding any font that an untrained amateur like me can name at a glance, because it suggests “went with the first obvious option” (in the case of Algerian, that might be literally the first font on your computer). Possible exception: Helvetica, but not on a fantasy novel.

  5. BACK to the cover: Yeah, I’m not down with the Algerian font, either, but I have zero problems with the horse. In fact, it’s clearly one of the best horses we’ve seen here, or at LBC. It needs something, however, to really SLAM home the “fantasy”element, in thumbnail, because right now, between the font choices, colors, etc., at thumbnail, it could belong anywhere. Any genre. You can’t/won’t see the blue flames until you’ve clicked through, and that’s TOO LATE.

    The blue flames (makes me think of old Corvettes) are okay, too. What doesn’t work for me is the font (any of them, for that matter) and the red background. I think if you put that horse on a much better background, with some other fantasy elements (I dunno…something in the background? A fantasy city, or …?) that don’t overwhelm or clutter, and use “mo bettah” fonts, it can work. Even if the designer did nothing but swap out the red for a bone color, and use stronger fonts (say, a bone/beige-type background, with red fonts, maybe), it would be a better cover. Much stronger, more striking. Right now, the horse and the blue-flame-shoes get lost in the red. Not NEARLY enough contrast. I get that it’s a “race against the dark,” so you want that dark FEEL, but it’s killing the horse artwork, IMHO.

    What about…phhhhbbbllllfffttt…say, DEMON font for the title? That always implies scary fantasy. And, then, you’d want a very simple font for the author name and the tag line, so I’d probably stick with something like a plain sans serif. I’d have to see it to know.

    Lastly: I’m not sure I agree with the decision to make the author’s name the most noticeable thing. I don’t know if this author has a following–if she does, fine. If she doesn’t, it seems an unwise choice. I’d probably flip it–put the horse up, light background, put author name at the bottom, (much) smaller font, (that nice sans serif or plain serif we discussed earlier, maybe something like…Champagne & Limos? Or StewartSans, if she wants a bit more oomph?). It needs to be more striking, and more instantly identifiable as fantasy. Those are my two biggies.

    Offered FWIW.

  6. This is a nightmare, not a horse. ^-^

    I find it hard to judge this cover, as I have already seen this cover without Algerian Font, and about 4 versions past that one as well, with many tweaks to make it better.

    It is much better now btw, and we have already fixed a lot of the issues people are talking about! 🙂

    There are a few covers for this series, that all have non-awful cgi on them (I mean, that is really non-awful cgi, it is downright good), I honestly think together they work as branding. Is it typical for a fantasy book? Not really, but I don’t think they are bad in any sense of the word.

    If I was going to fix anything more, I do suppose the background could be a little less red and more neutral for all the covers, to help the elements stand out better. A layer of mist could do wonders for making the nightmare a little less stark. More flames could be used to make the nightmare more nightmarish.

    Still think it is rather nice though.

  7. Yes, Waff:

    I agree. I like the horse. I just don’t know about the font and the background. The NightMare is good. That’s my $.02. I still think that the background needs to be beige/bone/something else.

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