Making of a Cover: The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

durstThis fall, acclaimed YA author Sarah Beth Durst (Ice, The Lost) will publish her first fantasy novel for adults, The Queen of Blood, the start of an epic of political intrigue and magic in a world in which the violent spirits of nature can only be tamed by one woman, without whom all of civilization will fall.

Publisher HarperVoyager expects the series to win over readers, but the first step is getting them to pick it up—which means a distinct, memorable cover is key. They’ve given us a chance to give you a peek into the work that went into ensuring the book puts its best face forward when it is released on September 20. Keep reading beyond the plot blurb below to hear comments from the author, artist Stephan Martinieire, and editor David Pomerico.

Filled with political intrigue, violent magic, and malevolent spirits, Sarah Beth Durst’s mesmerizing entry into adult fantasy is sure to capture the imaginations of anyone who reads it.

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow… But these are not sweet, frolicking nature sprites. The spirits that reside within this land want to kill all humans. Only a few women have the power to command and control the spirits. These women become queens—or die trying. Without a queen, humans will die at the hands and teeth of hostile spirits. But with an unstable queen, no one and nothing is safe.

Born during the reign of a paranoid and bloodthirsty queen, Daleina is determined to become queen and right the wrongs in her land. Ven is a disgraced champion, a man whose life has been destroyed by the queen. Hating her cruelty, he wants to replace her with a queen of his own. He chooses an overlooked student at one of the academies: Daleina. Together, they must find the strength and skill to stand against both enemies and friends, before their beloved land is bathed in blood.

Sarah Beth Durst: When I first envisioned the cover, I imagined trees. Trees, and light. The very first idea I had for this book was “bloodthirsty nature spirits.” I was at a writing retreat in the woods, and I was marveling at how the light hit the tangle of trees… and I tripped over my own feet, fell on my face, and cut my lip. Trees + blood = story.

I pictured my trees as massive, absolutely huge, and people would live high within them, in cities and villages grown from the trees themselves. So for the cover, I very much wanted that sense of scale, of epic grandeur. I didn’t have a particular scene or image in mind for the cover as I wrote, but I knew the feeling that I wanted it to evoke. And Stephan nailed that.

Stephan Martiniere: When I begin a project, I always try to get as much information as possible to understand the world the characters live in. Sometimes the [text] is available, but most often I get just a few lines or paragraphs. The first few descriptions I received for The Queen of Blood were “forest world” and “tree-city; fantasy towers and bridges amidst a sea of green.”  I was also told there was a darkness in the book. What is important to me is to know what the story is trying to convey, to understand the main themes being explored, and to get a visual sense of the world (its architecture, the technology being used).  Once this is all clear I can start visualizing the cover. including the color theme, mood and composition.


Initial sketches

Sarah: When I saw the sketches, my first reaction was, “Eeeeeee!!!” And then I hopped up and down for a little while. Actually, my initial reaction was, “You look first!” and then I handed my phone to my husband so he could tell me whether or not I needed to brace myself before I saw the image. It’s a bit scary when that first jpeg comes in. But he told me I’d be happy, and he was right: I was thrilled. There were my trees! And the light filtering through! And Ven, looking at the city he both loves and hates, home of the queen he both loves and hates.

Stephan: I am a book cover illustrator, but I am also a concept artist for films, theme parks, and video games, so it is almost impossible for me not to be thinking of the imagery from these different fields. The challenge is to embrace that imagery but also to create something unique and compelling.

Being a concept artist and being passionate about architecture allows me to think in a very functional and structural way as well as explore the fantasy aspect of an idea. I like the worlds I create to be believable but also allow the viewers to dream. I also do a lot of research as part of my creative process. That aspect is very important and  allows me to familiarize myself with what has been explored on the subject already, but more importantly, to discover things I was not necessarily thinking about or didn’t know such as unusual trees and plants, new thinking in organic architecture using natural material, or even finding references on mood and lighting.

Aside from the entire visual stimulus I am constantly surrounding myself with, I like to immerse myself in music when I work. The type of music I listen to definitely influences my mood and thinking. I am a big film soundtrack listener but I can easily switch to a variety of music including pop, jazz or hard rock. The type of music can certainly trigger images that help me in my creative process but also influence my mood and allow me to work longer and more efficiently.

Initial composite

Initial composite

Sarah: I think it’s important for the cover to tell you the kind of book it is—to give you a first taste of the feel of the journey you’re about to take. Since this is a very different book than my YA, I wanted a very different cover.

David Pomerico: When I first read The Queen of Blood, my thought was: this needs to look as big as it feels. There’s something at once welcoming and familiar about the story, but also truly epic. I knew I wanted Stephan to be the artist, because I felt he did the sort of broad, fantastical scenes that could fully encompass what I think we have with Sarah’s novel. The vibrant colors, the bold art, the amazing story—I couldn’t be more excited about how this entire book is coming together, and I’m pretty sure readers will be drawn to the cover.  In turn, that will draw them into a world they are not going to want to leave!

The final cover

The final cover

Sarah: I am so, so, so happy with the final cover! You’ll see that the final version also includes heir-in-training Daleina and the wolf Bayn, as well as the Queen’s Champion Ven. I think my favorite thing about it is how small they are, compared to the forest, which is exactly right. Also love the leaves in the air. And the spaces between the branches, particularly in those distant trees. And the bridges. And the waterfalls. And the… Okay, I love all of it.

The experience of writing this book was very immersive. Every time I sat down at my computer, I felt like I was walking through the wardrobe into another world. And it makes me so happy to see a piece of this world come to life in Stephan’s painting.

Pre-order The Queen of Blood, available September 20.

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