Opinion: Book Covers Gone Wrong


And no, I’m not talking about John Green’s cover for The Fault in Our Stars (which is lovely, for the record).

SPOILERS: if you have not read the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce, stop right here. Go to your local library, and check them out. Then we’ll talk.

The Song of the Lioness quartet (Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the GoddessThe Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant) are Pierce’s first published novels, about a young girl, Alanna of Trebond, who disguises herself as a boy in order to become a knight.

Alanna is one of the great female main characters of young adult fiction. She is a fireball of awesome. One of the wonderful things about Alanna’s journey is her struggle with her desire to be a knight (typically a male structure) and her own femininity. She is a feminist character who is not stripped of her gender in order to prove her worth. She is stubborn, loyal, and proud, but she is not fearless, nor is she perfect. I love her determination to become a knight, to step into this standard male role while still being identified female (you know, eventually – she has to mature first). If I ever have daughters (far, far in the future, thank you very much), this is the kind of book I would want them to read for a female example.

All this being said, you should know that while she certainly identifies as female, she is not “feminine” in the sense of pink cupcake dresses – that’s not Alanna. And while she is sexual (involved in several relationships with men throughout the series), she is not “boy-crazy” nor does she depend on men to make her life worth living. The Alanna books are about Alanna’s quest for equality, control of her own power, protection of her kingdom – and while there are relationships with men, they do not occupy her entire existence. The books are set in the fantasy realm of Tortall, but Alanna’s journey is very real, especially when you consider the cultural context of the publication (the early 1980s). They are a woman’s life experience.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the most recent covers for the Song of the Lioness paperbacks. The covers of books one, two, and four are decent – the woman on the cover is standing with her sword, looking tough.


Although she looks far too tall, she seems like the kind of woman who would pretend to be a man for a good length of time in order to gain acceptance, who could break binding gender constructs of her culture, who could defeat all kinds of evil. Ok, I can buy that.

But the cover of the third book, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man



Oh, no. What happened? Where did you go wrong, Atheneum?! What is this supposed to be? Alanna is NOT some boy-obsessed-airhead who has no respect for herself or others. The sword, which is pretty central to the series, is barely there. Her shirt is the complete antithesis of a typical Alanna outfit (granted, there are times when she wears more “feminine” clothing, but the majority of her time is spent in tunics). It’s… awful…

And why is there no reference to the Bazhir? You know, the desert-dwelling people she lives with for almost the entire book? Oh, I guess that’s not important. What’s important is the two men vying for Alanna’s attention, but she’s got her back to them, and her hand on her hip, look at that sass! (This is sarcasm, by the way). It’s not even like either of those men could possibly be Jon or George, especially not George.

It sickens me that great books like this one have fallen victim to the “two men and a woman love triangle” that seems to be pervasive in current young adult literature after a certain series hit the shelves (and before you fans freak out, know that I have read all of said series). Is this all that our young readers are interested in? And, let’s be honest about who they’re marketing to: is this what young women care about in their books? Love triangles? Men fighting over a woman? Sure, she looks like she has a bit of an attitude (and, oh I don’t know, some personality), but isn’t this book cover awfully reminiscent of the Eclipse movie poster? It frustrates me that this is the marketing ploy that Atheneum has resorted to in order to sell books. And it is even more frustrating that this kind of marketing should be necessary at all. It is an insult to the plot, the character, and most importantly, the author.

Oh, and one final thing. Does it bother anyone else that Faithful only makes it on to ONE cover?

What do you think of these covers? Leave comments below!


[I would be absolutely remiss if I did not credit one of my favorite book bloggers, Angie, for bringing this cover disaster to my attention. She posted her opinion about the madness here.]

[Photo credits: Amazon]

  • http://twitter.com/CaracaraBear Cara Blair

    Not impressed. Come on people, what the heck happened to Alanna?! Yes, there is a love triangle, but that’s very much a sub plot! How about we show her teaching magic to young Bazhirs? Or driving the evil out of that sword by merging it with lightning? (That second one would make an epic cover.) Who cares about Jon and George?!

  • Alaina

    These covers are not only bad images for the series (hello, she’s a ginger! not some weird pseduo-redhead.) but they are also completely UGLY. They look like romance novel covers gone wrong. How upsetting. I love the my more classic covers.

  • Lani

    I totally agree with you. One thing that REALLY bothers me that you didn’t mention is the age. I understand that they had the same model, and continuity is good- but in a story that takes you from 10 to what, mid 30s? She looks 15-18, depending on the cover.

    The Woman Who Rides Like A Man is about a WOMAN. Having her stand there like a tortured 17-year-old from a romance novel with those boys (AND OH MY GOD THEY’RE NOTHING LIKE GEORGE OR JON) is just not the book that it is. Argh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000949419644 Ali Sjaarda

    This is terrible! These were my favorite books as a 8-12-year-old girl, and this actually ruins the series. I loved the strong feminist message these sent, and these covers are just the opposite of anything I envision the series being. How did Tamora Pierce let this happen? Even for better marketing, I don’t think these covers are worth it. It’s just terrible. I would not pick up this book with one of these covers (ESPECIALLY the third) if I were walking through the library as a kid or now!

  • Angie Thompson

    Love the post. Everything about that third book cover is wrong. Just so very wrong.

  • Gabby

    I adore Tamora Pierce. She was and will always be one of my favorite authors. I’m graduating from college this year, yet my mom still teases me for re-reading one of the Tortall quartets every time I come home on break. I wasn’t a big fan of the reissue covers in 2005 but these are a million times worse. In general, I don’t like when they move from cartoon/drawn characters to pictures of real people. They never come close to matching what you’d imagine! But the cover for The Woman Who Rides Like A Man is horrendous. WHY!?!?! Why does our society have to be so sexualized that the publishers feel the need to put a triangle on the cover for it to sell? Yes, that is one of the subplots in the book, but not the driving one. Also, Alanna is too tall, George too young, and Jon looks like a James Franco wanna-be.

  • http://twitter.com/DrealikeWHOAH Andrea

    You’re right! The covers are AWFUL. The most awful one is the second cover where she’s holding the sword by the blade. SIGH.
    The older covers are much better!

  • http://twitter.com/seek_moonbeams Celina Rae

    These covers are horrid. I don’t even imagine the clothing being the right choices! To me it looks like they looked through a teenager’s closet and said “Ehhh… close enough to medieval-based society clothing.” And that they only got a tiny blurb for each cover. Just ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. I can not imagine the RageFacing that Tamora’s having over these, if she’s seen them, because I really really can not imagine her endorsing these terrible, terrible covers.
    I’m so glad I got the original covers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1128678138 Shenandoah Boyd

    AHHHH THIS MAKES ME SO MAD. What even IS this cover?! I’m not too happy with any of them frankly…. BUT REALLY?
    Urg this is why I always try to get copies of the original publication.

  • Guest

    I agree with everything you say. The older (though not original) covers are MUCh better. You know, with the first one showing her, sort of crouching, with a sword, with her pony/horse behind her. The second one, sword in hand, looking from behind a tree. Third one, on horseback, Lightning raised, and 4th one, standing, Lightning pointed to the ground.

  • Guest


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  • LourdesDeath

    I have to say that book cover is pretty awful. However, it’s not the worst Tamora Pierce cover I’ve ever seen. Now, I don’t know if this is a real cover–I’ve never seen it anywhere–but it’s BAAAAD. I saw online and was quite horrified by it: I mean, “Must she choose between independence and the prince she loves?” completely leaves out the plot of the book!
    I much prefer the original covers. They were REALLY GOOD.

  • Hannah

    Can’t help but notice too that the Goddess’ token seems to have turned from an ever burning ember into a huge blue crystal too. Hate it when book covers are done by someone who CLEARLY hasn’t read the book.