So I thought I might repeat the comparison idea but change the focus. Rather than looking at the literary heavy-hitters of 2013, I'm including cover pairs for all historical novels I could find that (1) were published in either January or February and (2) had editions in both countries. Overall, compared to the books in The Millions piece, these designs are less avant-garde and more typical of the historical fiction genre, yet there are still some striking examples and some noticeable differences. I'll provide my reactions below, but I'd love to hear which ones you prefer, and why.
In these examples, the US cover is on the left, the UK on the right.
The setting: Viking-age England. These are nearly identical, aside from the zoomed-in approach in the UK edition, the fonts, and the placement of the author's name and book title. I'm going with the UK edition here simply because, call me superficial, I like the font used for the author's name better.
The setting: Elizabethan England. Having read The Tudor Conspiracy, I'm choosing the UK edition here, too; it gives a much better sense of the historical atmosphere and heightens the fact that this is a mystery-thriller. It gets me curious about what's in the packet of letters the protagonist is walking away from.
The setting: Georgian England. The US version emphasizes the woman's-period-piece aspect, while the UK design, combined with the elegant font of the title, playfully hints at a woman's subtle act of disobedience. I like it.
The setting: London, 1920s. I'm not sure which I prefer, the original painting of the US edition, or the UK edition with its eye-catching colors and close-but-staggered placement of the title and author. Even if the woman reminds me of the US edition of Tyringham Park, below.
Setting: the late 19th century, in Europe, America, and the South Seas. For me, the US edition wins by a mile, not just because it features a representation of one of the title characters, but because it conveys both the brightness and shadows in the relationship between Robert Louis and Fanny Stevenson. The tropical scene with its rainbow background doesn't work for me at all.
Setting: antebellum South Carolina. Invention of Wings is the newest Oprah pick, so there's perhaps less need for an enticing cover to draw readers in. I find the US interpretation rather generic and self-helpy. Its UK counterpart has some ornate flourishes to take up all of the (literal) white space, and the background colors don't entice me, but otherwise I like it for its visual interpretation of the novel's plot, setting, and themes.
Setting: pre-WWI England. The woman on the US cover has a look of Lady Mary from Downton, doesn't she? The attempted tie-in with the TV series is obvious, but it's also thoughtful and elegant in how it conveys the era. It makes for a gorgeous package. The UK cover just says "women's fiction" to me, but since I haven't read the novel yet, it may be more appropriate than it first appears.
Setting: the late 19th century. Having read this novel, I feel the US cover is perfect, with its deep green color and evocation of the haunting mystery around which it centers. Plus, the ship's name is in italics, as it should be. In comparison, the image on the UK cover is too plain and faded to be effective; at first glance I didn't spot the ship in the background.
Setting: upper-crust early 20th-century Ireland. Both of these work for the novel (which I've read) although I feel the UK version is less generic and more accurate to the storyline. The title character is a troubled young woman whose problems weigh her down, so her expression fits. And it's always a plus to see a woman's full figure rather than the headless/faceless look.
Setting: South Africa, 1919. Both evoke the African setting and are gorgeous for different reasons, although the UK version acknowledges not just one but both protagonists (a white Irish expatriate and the black daughter of her housemaid, whom she befriends) and reflects the storyline more precisely. I have copies of both editions and am not sure I want to give up either one.
Setting: the Aleutian Islands, WWII. I love the US cover, which would persuade me to pick it up immediately to discover the meaning of the title and image. I understand the effect the UK cover was trying to get at, but the two faces within the bird seems awkward and strange to me.
Setting: New York State during the frozen winter of 1897. Both work very well, and the red lettering in both is apt. The UK version emphasizes the novel's action and its thriller aspect, and the font is an even darker, bloodier red, so it's my choice as most appropriate even though I find the US version more visually appealing.
What do you think? Which are your favorites?