The Story Behind the Cover of Vita Nostra, by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

With 26 novels to their names, almost every one of them an award-winner, married co-writers Marina and Sergey Dyachenko are two of the biggest names in fantasy—but not in America.

Though they’ve been publishing non-stop since their first book, The Gate-Keeper, was released in 1994, only The Scar, their third book, has been translated into English (it was released by Tor in 2012). Until now, that is: in November, Harper Voyager will release Vita Nostra, originally published in Russia in 2007, and named the best fantasy novel of the 21st century at Eurocon 2008. It has also won some eight literary awards in Russia, and director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch) has acquired the rights and hopes to make it into a film. 

Packaging such an auspicious book for an English-speaking audience proved challenging, however. Today, we’re joined by David Pomerico, executive editor of Harper Voyager, who discusses why the cover for this particular book was so important to get right.

Vita Nostra is like no other book I’ve ever read.

Yes, there are ways to point to other novels and go “Oh, it’s like that.” Lev Grossman, who has been a big supporter of the Dyachenko’s work, is a clear comparison with his book The Magicians. And that makes sense—they’re both set in magical colleges.

But these are very different schools, very different kinds of magic, and, thus, very different stories.

For one thing, the masterful translation by Julia Meitov Hersey brings a decidedly “Russian” feel to the narrative. It’s not easy to describe, but I found there to be a starkness to the language that competes with the complexity of the life Sasha encounters in Torpa. The spartan descriptions of the dorms, of the food, of the clothing contrasted with the richness of the lessons the students are subjected to.

Vita Nostra 
is a book of contradictions, and it’s the rare one that is able to find a balance and ultimately deliver a brilliant and powerful message to its readers. So deciding on a cover for this book was no easy task.

Luckily, our colleagues at Harper Voyager UK had a similar reaction to Marina and Sergey’s novel, and were able to figure out a way to showcase the magic, simplicity, and darkness of this unique story, and what we ended up with is absolutely stunning.

Cover illustration by Josephine Cardin

If you find yourself drawn to stories of magic, to stories of language, to stories that take you out of your comfort zone yet still keep you warmly ensconced in their embrace—if you find your shelf full of The Magicians and The Night Circus and A Discovery of Witches and A Wizard of Earthsea—make sure to read Vita Nostra.

It’s a special book.

Preorder Vita Nostra, available November 13, 2018.

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