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Book Cover Smackdown! Berserker Lord (Chaosbound) vs. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms vs. The Revolution Business

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Tell us which cover you like best and why. Go!

Books shown here:

NOTE: Click on the book images or title links to see bigger, better versions…

[7/10/09 Note The title of Berserker Lord has changed to Chaosbound]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

46 Comments on Book Cover Smackdown! Berserker Lord (Chaosbound) vs. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms vs. The Revolution Business

  1. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms gets my vote. I like the dominant yellow tones (not common on covers) and the fact that the title is on the bottom of the page, making it stand out more.  However, Beserker Lord would have won if the lettering wasn’t so hard to read.

  2. Oh sure. Two of the three ar Tor books and _still_ you have me crying in my soup.


  3. A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms works best for me too, I’m afraid.  All three feel epic, but I have a weakness for architectural stuff.  Also, there’s a mysterious, Prince of Persia-ish feel to it, which presses my personal buttons (possibly due to the presence of so much gold?).  The sense of wonder is a little stronger.

  4. “The Revolution Business” because the other jacket/cover images in the series were so much more blah; I can’t scan “Berserker Lord” and derive anything meaningful from it except I won’t like the book; and “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” makes me think that Nielsen was channeling Stephan Martiniere, whose work I find unappealingly samey-samey

  5. faerywitch // April 28, 2009 at 12:09 pm //

    Hundred Thousand Kindoms, the composition is nice and the colros are easy on the eyes. Revolution is too saturated and the berserker Lord is too subdued,

  6. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for sure.

  7. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, definitely. I want to know more about that edifice/city/citadel!


    Revolution is too red, and Beserker doesn’t appeal to me.

  8. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is my pick.

  9. Based solely on the art (i.e., ignoring all the type on all of the covers):

    Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

  10. Joe Parrish // April 28, 2009 at 2:19 pm //

    The Revolution Business because I am a big Stross fan, and how can you go wrong with a mushroom cloud and a knight.  Hunded Thousand Kingdoms is close but just not as good, and the other cover for Berserker Lord does absolutely nothing for me.

  11. I’m with most everyone on Kingdom: the yellow tones, the architecture, and the image are strong. But that’s only because of the illo. The art direction of the layouts—and particularly the typography—isn’t particularly striking for any of them.

  12. Come now, what are we trying to start a catfight here? I am always happy to hear praise of Orbit books, and my covers <i>especially</i>, but i don’t think we need to have a contest. I just had the pleasure of finally meeting the very well respected Irene Gallo briefly at the io9 meetup, and I hate to inform you guys, but I don’t expect any art-director-brawling anytime soon.

    And whence comes all this polar-bear hating? I quite like the polar bear, I have to say.

  13. I vote for Hundred Thousand Kingdoms mainly because that cover evokes wonder and mystery. Man vs. Polar Bear isn’t a big deal. Man vs. burning castle also isn’t a big deal even if is the book’s climax. That castle appears to be growing in a tree. That’s interesting and I want to find out how.

  14. I vote for Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Floating city with looming floating head trumps polar bear fight and a castle raid(?). Definately would make me pick up the book from the shelf.

  15. Josh Jasper // April 28, 2009 at 3:32 pm //

    Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  Not because it’s amazing, but because while Berserker Lord’s cover is technically interesting, it’s Yet Another RPG Inspired Cover Art Style.  The figure posing in the cover of “Revolution Business” looks like it was created using artist’s manequins.  It’s got good color work, but isn’t 1/10th as dynamic as it should be.  The work on Hundred Thousand Kingdoms dosen’t have those flaws, and has me at least marginaly interested in who’s face that is, and what the city is doing on a sort of hovering column. 

    Oh, and your images are way too small and badly compressed.    I can see compression/sharpening artifacts in all of them.

  16. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms!  The other two look like they belong on Conan reprints.

    I like Conan, but I suspect those novels are not like Conan.

  17. @Lauren: Despite the contentious headline, the intention of these posts is to promote the work. That’s why I only ask what people like about them. I personally like all the covers, which is why they are included included at all. (And to be clear, my choices are publisher agnostic. probably need to be more attentive there.) And — not that this excuses any badmouthing — but isn’t this some good feedback?

    @Victoria: The compression artifacts are my fault. As now noted above, do click on the images or book title links to see bigger, better versions.

  18. Josh Jasper // April 28, 2009 at 3:49 pm //

    Looking at Kekai Kotaki’s other work, I have to say that it’s a shame this one didn’t interest me becuase I’d seen too many Tod Lockwood style repetitions to have any interest in yet another.  Kotaki’s site galery has much more interesting compositions.

    Paul Youll’s gallery, OTOH, is atually not saying anything new to me at all.  It’s technically very well exectuted, but it’s old hat in terms of content. I’ve seen too many other artists doing the exact same thing.

    Nielsen’s work (both here and in the gallery) does something other than being representational, which Kotaki and Youll aren’t trying to do, and so loose my interest because I’m tired of pure representation in fantasy art.

  19. I’d give it to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: nice unified composition; nice rendering; ornate and a bit mysterious without being noisy. It looks like the kind of cover you put on a book when you can’t quite describe all the things going on in it. As a reader, I find that promising.

    Berserker Lord has a lively, vivid image and great colors, but I am a nerd, and it bothers me that the main character is dressed in a getup that will have him dead of hypothermia in nothing flat. It also bothers me that, given the relative sizes of the bear and the guy crouching in the foreground corner, the main character isn’t going to be able to reach high enough to brain the bear with his little short-handled axe.

    I would have similar objections to The Revolution Business, but I’m not sure that the book doesn’t actually feature a crusader in a mail coif who’s fighting on the same side as WWI-era artillery, and saying “even Charlie Stross couldn’t justify that” will just encourage him. That aside, I think cover is too close to monochrome, so there’s not enough color variation to sort out the component images.

    In conclusion, I just want to say that Irene Gallo runs the best art department in the field. So there.

  20. I’ll have to give it to ‘Kingdoms’, but all the covers are pretty darned spiffy.  I LOVE Kotaki’s work, so that one pulled a really close second.  The red cover was just too…um…red.  It was almost hard to look at.  And I’ve got to echo the sentiment that Irene Gallo kicks AD ass.  She’s the best!

  21. “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” wins for me because the cover art stands out more. And that castle is kickass.

  22. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms gets my vote.It’s probably just me but grand looking cities in the sky usually mean a grand story to go along with it.It also helps to have the somewhat descriptive text across the top.

    Berserker Lord intrigues me enough to want to know the story behind the cover

    Revolution Business has the action but is much to harsh with all the red. I would have toned it down some.

  23. Irene Gallo // April 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm //

    Hi Lauren!

    All in good fun. Tor did well in a past smackdown, I can hardly complain. I think all three covers work well for different reasons. Truth be told, if Berserker Lord is too “gaming” for this audience then I’m actually pretty happy. The point was liven up an ongoing series by going more whole-hog gaming action-adventure with it. 

  24. Lenora Rose // April 28, 2009 at 6:19 pm //

    Nielsen’s, definitely. I think Kotaki’s comes closer for me than it seems to for some, but I have a problem with the most vivid red in Youll’s being in the top left, behind and beyond even the mushroom cloud, and the whole thing being oversaturated. I’m not sure if that’s the artist or the design team (I’ve heard a few stories about artists whose palettes were mucked with for the final) but the detail is lost.  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ cover has the brightest light right behind the powerful dark centrepiece, bringing it in, not away. The Berserker Lord cover is much more standard fare, and loses for that, but well done (And if that fellow is wearing the sort of cloth under chain mail that most fighters wear, I even disagree with TNH about the potential for hypothermia. Although his fighting style may indeed be wanting.)

  25. Definitely gotta be Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I love that cover. The more I look at it, the more I notice. I just noticed the face behind the city, for example. I’d take it as a wall poster, if there were the option for it.


    Second option would be the Charles Stross cover. And then the David Farland book. Just because the Farland cover looks a bit Warhammer 40,000,000,000,000 to me.

  26. Jackie M. // April 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm //

    The Jemisin cover for sure. Is that a reflection, or an actual upside-down citadel? AWESOME.

  27. Suzanne Palmer // April 28, 2009 at 7:07 pm //

    “Kingdoms”, for the very small and simple reason that the text is very crisp and clear against the image, making it look cleaner than the other two. Not that the other two are bad in any way.

  28. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the one I’d consider buying just based on the cover. The other two feature a battle, or at least a fight, if not an entire war. And that’s nothing new for fantasy. Fight scenes usually bore me unless they’re done really, really well. I’m not ready to read a book with a cover that promises they’ll be a prominent, even overwhelming, feature. Not without more information about the contents.

    You can’t rule out the power of the text on the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms cover. It promises a lot. Not least of which is a female main character.

    And, I don’t know, the picture just plain rocks.

  29. Anonymous // April 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm //

    The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the best cover. I’m intrigued by the detailed city and the giant figure behind it.

    The Revolution Business title and author cover up the cloud and it is much too busy (despite the fact that I bought the book because I’m following the series).

    Berzerker Lord looks too much like an old Frazetta piece. Not very original.

  30. I like Berserker Lord because it’s the most dynamic.

  31. I’m liking The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

  32. heresiarch // April 29, 2009 at 4:19 am //

    I think <i>A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms</i> best too. I like the mix of detail and unfocusedness (fuzziness? not-detail? help me out here)–the crisp, density of the city really draws the eye, and funnels it down to the title (which is awesome, btw). Then on the second look I see the eye behind the city, and then bam! I get the face, too, which is a neat second hit.

    <i>Berserker Lord</i> is also pretty good, but I agree with what other have said–the title font is pretty bleargh. It reminds me, both art and title, of the Drizzt Do’Urden books. Take that as you will.

    <i>The Revolution Business</i> looks like the original painting had an interesting composition, but then the text is plopped over it helter-skelter, creating an over-all impression of just chaos. It actually kind of repels the eye.

  33. Theophylact // April 29, 2009 at 8:46 am //

    Definitely The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Color, composition, non-banal imagery, clean typography (I could have wished for a slightly more interesting font, but hey.)

  34. Mark Wise // April 29, 2009 at 10:32 am //

    The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, hands down.  The city is intriguing and the menacing shadow behind it suggestive.  The type is crisp and legible for all key elements on the cover.

    The background colors and details really fight with the type on the other two.  And, the art isn’t all that engaging.  I guess the essentials are there — “Nordic guy with axe”  and “high-tech meets low-tech, things blow up.”  There’s just nothing I want to look at.

    That said, I’ll be acquiring the Stross when it comes out.  🙂

  35. John D……don’t worry i have a very healthy sense of humor when it comes to these things. I’m always happy to hear cover feedback, and i certainly can’t complain with how this particular comparison is shaping up…

    Irene……i am more than happy to play along with the friendly competition. I’m sure you’ll get me back next time. And we will inspire each other to better and better covers. But do remember, ladies and gentlemen, it is a rare cover design that gets thru the approval chain with the Art Director’s vision intact. You guys should see some of the covers-in-progress for Hundred Thousand. you’d be surprised how much it changed along the way.

    And Teresa, comparing art depts. is hardly fair when Orbit has only HAD a dedicated art dept. for less than 5 months……give a girl a chance to get her feet wet, hah.

  36. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  The lettering is more appealing than the others (although Revolution Business comes close; I think the 3d effect is a little too much, though).  The colours are more attractive, and the gold bar with the series title works really well.  The single visible eye in the face appearing behind the cityscape is captivating.

    That said, Revolution Business has the one thing that’ll guarantee I at least consider buying the book: the name of an author whose works I’ve enjoyed in the past on the cover.

    Berserker Lord is a clear 3rd.  The cover just screams cliche to me; it reminds me of little more than 60s and 70s pulp books, and especially the cover of Priest Kings of Gor (which likewise featured the hero, clearly a Warrior, and a dangerous-looking creature).  The lettering of the series title is illegible at any distance.  Also, not really art, but related to the marketing of the book anyway: the title of the book reminds me of Saberhagen’s Berserker series, which I’m sure is unintentional, but it is quite distracting.


  37. Hank Roberts // April 29, 2009 at 2:33 pm //

    Hundred Thousand — I like the picture, it made me want to look at the detail … until I clicked for the closeup and saw the eyeball.  Then I figured, ick.  Oh well.

    Snow-bear-berserker — Eskimo of Gor?   — geez, I thought berserkers were bigger and rounder and stayed in orbit, and smarter too.  Yawn.

    Stross — I’m waiting for the book, eagerly   But the cover? Alas.  If I didn’t know the author’s name I’d likely skip the book based on the cover.  In all of that lovely red-on-red/orange-on-red ink (was someone saving on ink costs??)   I didn’t even make out the mushroom cloud, which is the cue that it’s not another Axmen of Gor type book.

    Fer catsake, there are enough real images out there to know what a fission explosion looks like, and they’re rather astonishingly beautiful images (assuming you don’t know anybody underneath or downwind or downtime of the event pictured).  Not to mention at that distance the shock wave and winds would have already cleared the stage rather more thoroughly.

    So, anybody writing hard science fiction these days?  Anybody _illustrating_ it?



  38. Victoria // April 29, 2009 at 3:30 pm //

    I like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms best. It looks interesting when small (or as seen from a distance) and is even more interesting when viewed larger (in the hand). The bottom title is different and therefore eye catching (at least my eye lingered longest on if of the three options)

    As for the others…

    Berserker Lord is my second favorite. It kept my eye because I was trying to figure out if the art was done a la Kelley Freas or some other Golden Age Artist. By itself, it reads the same large and small. Plus the cover looks washed out and/or unfinished. It also seems to be missing the chain mail bikini chick.  

    The Revoultion Business was the least entrancing due to the color choice. All I saw was the color red. There were no deatails at the small size to get my attention. Plus, I’m tired of seeing red in the book stores.

  39. I hate them all. The billowing cloud theme is just lazy artistry.

  40. Kevin Riggle // April 29, 2009 at 7:10 pm //

    The Revolution Business.  The cover screams “Fairyland goes nuclear”!

  41. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, easily.


    Why? No ‘action’ poses on the front cover. I got the last issue of Spectrum, the graphics annual, and looking through it I developed a strong allergy to seeing figures in “dynamic” poses. How about all you action figures relax and just stand around for a bit?

  42. They are all awful; I wouldn’t read any of those books if I was judging by cover alone. The least objectionable would be Berserker Lord, but that’s still bad.

  43. I go with Kekai Kotaki’s cover. It looks really good and it gives a true sense of motion. The white landscape offers a great image too.

  44. moonglum // May 2, 2009 at 9:31 pm //

    I liked Berserker Lord the best. I like that it tells an immediate story, and pulls you into another world.

    The revolution buisness is a great picture, but its saying too much at once and is too big of a picture to fit on a book cover. It would be a nice poster, or desktop background though.

    I love fantasy architecture, and am very fond of weird, floating cities and the like. But I don’t like the ghostly head in the background of the cover to ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’. It seems hokey. Ironically, judging by the titles and not the covers, I would be most  likely to read ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’. 100,000 kingdoms are a lot of kingdoms to explore. I am intrigued with the possibilities. 





  45. A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  The lady in the background is wicked!

  46. Definitely The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms!  It feels like I’ve seen the other two covers many times before, and they really seem to be a little too literal, you know?  But that second one… I’m putting that on my wishlist, just to see what’s going to happen 🙂

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