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Book Cover Smackdown! ‘Zoo City’ vs. ‘Plague Year’ (Czech) vs. Firedrake

Your Mission (should you choose to accept it): Tell us which cover you like best and why.

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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.

36 Comments on Book Cover Smackdown! ‘Zoo City’ vs. ‘Plague Year’ (Czech) vs. Firedrake

  1. It’s gotta be Plague City, for me, followed in close-second by the Warhammer 40K book. Zoo City’s cover just does nothing for me. It instantly makes me think of “Animorphs” which is not really something I look for in a book. It might be a wonderful book, but the cover really bugs me.

    Plague City looks like a fantastic heavy metal album cover. It’s really eye-catching. The Warhammer cover, though, is appealing because it’s quiet, in a way. He’s just sitting there. And his eyes are attention-grabbing. Sometimes, a quiet cover like that works better than a loud roaring-fight cover. So I like those two quite a lot. 

  2. Zoo City all the way.

  3. Plague Year for me – it’s looks downright sinister and I know the book can’t possibly contain anything but something bad, even though I don’t understand what the title says, being in Czech an’ all. It’s closely followed by Firedrake, not a lot to say other than it’s pretty cool.

    I’m not loving Zoo City though. I love animals but it really doesn’t work on the cover of an urban fantasy novel. The girl has a funny smirk on her face – is that because the little critter on her shoulder is tickling her neck πŸ˜‰ – even he has a funny smile. It’s cute but not for me as a cover for urban fantasy.

  4. Zoo City gets my vote.

    However… the cover for Rok Pandemie bears a striking similarity to the UK cover for Scott Sigler’s Contagious. Probably a coincidence, although the selection of that particular type of biohazard mask is a little odd. Not entirely sure I’d be happy if I were Scott or Jeff!

    You can see the cover for Contagious here.

  5. My first instinct is the cover for Zoo City. It pulls my eye in immediately. I love the colors, the details and the proportions of each element in the illustration to other elements. It also has a strong flow with an obvious center where your eye ends up instead of wandering all over the place or ending up resting on something insignificant.

  6. oops!

    That’s what I get for cutting and pasting from Word – my bad.

  7. Plague Year by a long shot, but I’ve got a thing for biohazard masks.

  8. The first thing I thought when I saw Firedrake was “cheap WH40K rip-off” (sorry). Tells you what you’re going to find inside, anyway. The Rok Pendemie cover is a nice sinister, minimalist image that I presume also does what it says on the tin. The one that catches the eye though is Zoo City, with its cosplay/cyberpunk color-schemes–I was completely unsurprised to learn that it’s an “urban fantasy noir set in a re-imagined Johannesburg”; and although I’ve never bought anything like that before, I might just go out and get that one to stretch myself.

  9. Firedrake 1st: Its depicts the Salamander spirit in one frame. Besides who would not be intrigued by an green armoured knight with black skin and red eyes? It indicates more awesome epicness to be behind this cover.

    Plague year 2nd place: Looks interesting, could be cool, but could be a another biohazard pc game too. 50/50 does not trigger me.

    Zoo city 3rd place:Is it a kids book? or a dvd cover from some B movie? I am sorry it does not float my boat.

  10. Plague Year is disturbing, but I love Zoo City for its sense of character.

  11. For me, it’s Firedrake.  I like the fact that the texture on the armour is so beautifully detailed and realistic that you could charge schoolchildren 50p per time to make brass rubbings from it.  The sense of menace conveyed in this picture is awesome.

  12. Firedrake.

    No question.

    There are no gimmicks in the artwork.  One dark, brooding warrior sat on his throne, almost daring the reader to pick up the book and join him.  It’s simple and to the point.

    For me, the other two have no fixed point that first draws the eye.  With Zoo City I found my eyes looking at several elements at once and the gas mask on Rok Pandemie doesn’t really draw me in to the book.

    Definitely Firedrake.

  13. My initial choice was Zoo City, which has a nice color scheme, easy to read title and author’s name, and well-positioned art work (the three characters in a slant; although one wonders why the characters weren’t put into a top-right to bottom-left slant, to emphasize the “Z” of Zoo City instead of creating a backwards Z.)

    The more I look at Rok Pandemie‘s cover, though, the more I’m intrigued.  (To be honest, from my Google Reader window, I thought the mask was just another bug-eyed alien and that turned me off.  If that’s the illusion the artwork is trying to suggest, I’d be disappointed with the book.)

    Firedrake:  a troll armed with a gun and saw.  Yawn!

  14. Zoo City.  Hands down. Most original. And the author kicks @##.

  15. Linda Hazelwood // January 18, 2010 at 5:56 pm //

    Viewed as independent art, all of them are great works by equally great artists.  Viewed as art covers for books they all relate very well to the their individual books.  Looking at them without opening the books…

    Zoo City tells me right away that there is a connection between the animals and the humans they are next to in the art and it makes me curious enough to want to pick up the book and read what it’s about.  Who are they?  How did they get this way?  What do they do with it?

    Plague Year lets me know immediately that it’s not going to be a very good year.  The stark mask and the biohazard symbol conveys the reality of the title.  If I were into that type of book, it would defintely draw me in.  I know my ex would love it!  (BTW – Regarding Adam C.’s comment about the simularity with another book:  I clicked on the link he provived and yes, the thumbnail on Amazon was strikingly simular, but when you clicked on the thumbnail you got a totally different picture of a gas mask that is strikingly different.)

    Firedrake makes me wonder if just got done wreaking havoc, if he’s waiting for the next battle to start up or both.  Is he waiting for judgement to be passed or is he the one about to pass judgement?  The cover invites look inside and find out.

    As for deciding a best/favorite?  Can’t do it.  I like them all for different reasons.


  16. Firedrake: because Space Marines are the most total Total Bad-asses of all time.

    The cover for Plague Year is just generic, and Zoo City looks like the movie poster for Tyler Perry’s adaptation of the little-known Octavia Butler YA novel The Fantastic Mr. Denzel Washington.

  17. @Linda – the large cover on is the US cover for Contagious. The thumbnail is the UK cover. No idea why have done that, but the UK cover is definately the thumbnail image.

  18. gary affleck // January 19, 2010 at 8:37 am //

    Has to be Firedrake, awesome artwork by Cheoljoo Lee, just have to wait till Nick Kyme finishes writing it. GLORY TO VULCAN

  19. Why not ‘Firedrake’ – looks to me a perfect in the line of Jodorowsky work for Heavy Metal Magazine – I like it a lot

  20. Best is Plague Year.  Worst is easily Zoo City.

  21. This was an easy one… Rok Pandemie feels like a cover I have seen a thousand times on books I don’t want to buy, some apocalyptic techno-thriller, maybe Tom Clancy or Lustbader – not my cup of tea. I do like the font, though – it contradits the image quite nicely.

    With the Warhammer thing – my first thought was “good that he is sitting, otherwise he would fall on his face. Good that he has a gun – running must be impossible…”

    Zoo City is the only one doing it for me – there might be a story in the book, which is not only about getting poisoned by bio-hazards or dying by falling on your face, but possibly about people.

    People which also seem to have different backgrounds, some strange, possibly interesting relation with (spirit?) animals and clearly more fashion sense than the other cover characters… This is the one I would give a second look and read the first page.


  22. Matthew Mckay // January 19, 2010 at 10:18 pm //

    I’m going to have to give my vote to Firedrake. Yes, I know it’s a space marine from 40k. But the cover makes me feel like if I don’t pick it up and read it, Tsu’gan is going get up off his throne to set me on fire as punishment.

  23. They are all well done, but Zoo City is the only one that doesn’t look like something I’ve seen a hundred times.  That’s the one of the three that would pique my interest.

  24. Rob Sanders // January 20, 2010 at 8:52 am //

    Okay – comments purely on the cover art – not the content.

    1st Firedrake –  This cover does more than just issue an invitation to pick up the book. It sets a tone or creates an atmosphere before you hit the first word of text. Armed with weapons in this way the front cover character is clearly presented as a warrior but the artist has positioned the limbs atypically (the sword isn’t raised, the gun not pointing) which lends the image a brooding quality, suggestive of more than just exhilerating combat between the pages.

    2nd Zoo City – Although this cover wouldn’t make me pick the book up, I do think that it is inventive and creates a sense of expectation. The reason that it wouldn’t work on me (although perhaps I’m not the intended audience) is what it suggests rather than the choices the artist has made. The orientation of the title and the mixture of animal and human faces works well, but the actual choices of the animals themselves (possibly determined directly by the text) is fairly uninspired. That said, the author might do something really special with them in the text itself.

    3rd Plague Year – The least amount of imaginative work is evident in this front cover. It just does what it says on the tin – ‘Plague’, ah, that means gas masks and biohazard signs. It is accomplished perfectly well, and the orientation of the helmet does attempt to do something different, but you feel the artist had to do that because once committed to the most obvious and straightforward elements (like gas masks) what else could they do? Something far more innovative needs to be done with such a well worn concept.

  25. okay, in order:


    Firedrake – I like the moodiness, and the beautiful detail on the armour ad the rock throne.


    Plague Year – yes I know gask masks done before, but it just looks like a book I’d pick up.


    Zoo City – I’m  not sure why this isn’t working for me.  Except that it looks like it got rejected by the 1980s.  I dunno, don’t think I would pick it up, to be honest. 

  26. Firedrake #1 for sure.

    I am intrigued by Zoo city but rok pandemie is just generic.

  27. Rob White // January 21, 2010 at 5:42 pm //

    For me it is most definately ‘Firedrake’.

    I am a Warhammer 40k die-hard and the cover does alot to compliment the character, Tsu’Gan, of the Salamanders chapter.

    For me it hints at Tsu’Gans inner rage, we can see the bright orange glow at the base of the throne that Tsu’Gan sits upon, and this for me is a description of Tsu’Gan. The heat chanels into him and his eyes glow with the fires of (coming) battle regardless of his apparently calm posture.

    His previous rage (in Salamander) is controlled but he remains a powerful Space Marine, an Astartes volcano waiting to erupt onto the Alien, the Mutant, the Heretic!!!

  28. lord Slaanesh // January 22, 2010 at 9:16 am //

    For me it’s Firedrake for first place.

    Tsu’Gan Looks like he is ready for battle. As they say “Into the fires of battle! Unto the anvil of war!”.

    Plague year is a nice 2nd place.

     Zoo city is third place.

  29. There can be no doubt that Firedrake has the best cover.

    The level of detail is impressive and will leave you staring at the cover long periods at a time, helping you set the right mood for the book. Cheoljoo Lee is a brilliant artist!

  30. FIREDRAKE # 1


    Why: Besides the fact that Warhammer 40k, Space Marines and the Salamanders rule…

    The Firedrake art is well done and very detailed. It has a calm mood to it yet intrigues, makes you wonder more about who this warrior in green armour (dark skin and red eyes) is. It promises violence and action, and those of use familiar with WH40k know that this universe is huge and there is always plenty of room for great stories and characters.

    Zoo City looks so typical, makes me think of a boring movie/book and does not attract me at all. The art has a realistic vibe to it but lacks fantasy and excitement.


    Plague Year is too simple and cliché. Makes me think of another toxic zombie holocaust story. The art doesn’t show enough.


    / Christ Painkiller

  31. AngryJohnny // January 27, 2010 at 11:46 pm //

    #1 –  Firedrake. The art work is very well done and very detailed. The image is striking and causes you to pause and wonder what it’s all about. The mood and the colors are very well done and it’s a beautiful piece of artwork.

    #2 – Plague Year. The cover is dark and forboading & gives a sense of what the book will be about.

    #3 – Zoo City. Too bright with too many contrasting colors. The art is too busy and distracting and doesn’t cause me to want to know anything about the book.

  32. Mister Moody Pants // February 2, 2010 at 10:47 am //

    Ok trying to remain impartial .


    #1 – Definatley Firedrake . The cover art promises so much . It hints to the mood of the story within


    #2 – Plague Year . Kinda does what it says on the tin


    #3 – Zoo City . Sorry but,  pfft !

  33. Firedrake: Brooding atmosphere stoic figure still upon a throne implacable and imovable but wringing with a potential for violence (see chain sword!)… suggestive of inhuman power ebon skin and glowing eyes, but, a hint of humanity remains. As previously stated something about this figure carries the capacity for terrible deeds but I feel for causes greater than the individual… above all the most eye catching and interesting composition of the three for its careful balance of colour and the work with shadow and ligt. I’d definately do a double take if I saw it on the shelves.

  34. ryan massey // February 8, 2010 at 9:28 am //

    It’s got to be Firedrake for me because of its simplicity and great detail on the picture. The warrior just has to be found out, and the story is the only way.

    Zoo City looks like a comic book, and seem’s to look like a story that you’d see too often.

    Plague Year’s cover makes me think of ‘Green Day’ to be honest, it does work with the name of the book, but its just a bit dull.

    It’s the Salamanders for me all the way!

  35. Salamanders All The Way With FIREDRAKE!

    The daunting face of hatred in the character Tsu’gan, carrying a viscera covered chainsword.  Without a doubt atmospheric.  For me, the character dares the reader to draw closer.




  36. Rob Roberts // March 17, 2010 at 5:22 am //

    In a word…FIREDRAKE.

    Neither of the other two really whets my appetite for what may be inside.  Graphically, I find both uninspiring and lacklustre.  Speaking as an artist myself, Firedrake is a clear winner, and Nick’s story-telling is top-notch.


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