One of the nasty little secrets of American fantasy is that for years virtually no major publisher would put non-white characters on a cover. The situation was so dire that even Ursula K. Le Guin, whose classic A Wizard of Earthsea featured a non-white cast, had to put up with having her hero Ged depicted as white on countless covers for decades. And as recently as this year, Nnedi Okorafor saw the skin tone of her heroine dramatically lightened for the US release of Akata Warrior (compare it to the UK version here.)
Fortunately the situation has been steadily — if slowly — improving, and it’s no longer quite so remarkable to see black characters on mainstream covers. Recent examples we’ve featured include Claire O’Dell’s A Study in Honor, and The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass. But I can’t recall seeing a mainstream fantasy cover as black and as beautiful as Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope, which I think is one of the most gorgeous covers of the year. Publishers! More like this, please.
Song of Blood & Stone, Penelope’s debut novel, was self-published in 2015 through her Heartspell Media company (which designed the cover); it won the 2016 Self-Publishing eBook Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was soon picked up by St. Martin’s Press, which republished it in hardcover in May of this year (with the same cover). The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog listed it as part of the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of May.
According to Penelope’s website St. Martin’s will be republishing the entire Earthsinger Chronicles, including Whispers of Shadow and Flame (released by Heartspell in 2015 and now out of print), and the forthcoming Breath of Dust & Dawn (due Winter 2019). Song of Blood and Stone will also be reprinted in an expanded trade paperback next July with a brand new cover (above right).
Here’s the description for Song of Blood & Stone.
A treacherous, thrilling, epic fantasy about an outcast drawn into a war between two powerful rulers.
Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive — an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.
Jack’s mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagrimar is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and its people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda’s Earthsong to do it. They escape their vicious captors and together embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps.
Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation.
The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.
And for Whispers of Shadow & Flame.
Born with a deadly magic she cannot control, Kyara is forced to become an assassin. Known as the Poison Flame, she is notorious and lethal, but secretly seeks freedom from both her untamed power and the blood spell that commands her. She is tasked with capturing the notorious rebel called the Shadowfox, but everything changes when she learns her target’s true identity.
Song of Blood & Stone was published by St. Martin’s Press on May 1, 2018. It is 372 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 for the digital edition. The cover was designed by Bookfly design, with images by Shutterstock. I received my copy in the free book bag at the World Fantasy Convention (technically, it was in Howard Andrew Jones’ bag, but I stole it fair and square).
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