Friday, November 26, 2021

Some beautiful historical novel cover designs

This is a post about the aesthetics of cover design: an appreciation of the historical novel, the physical object itself, as a work of art. 

I recently ordered a copy of Alison Weir's latest book, In the Shadow of Queens, from Book Depository. It's a collection that reprints the e-shorts (digital-only short stories and novellas) the author wrote to accompany her Six Tudor Queens books, a series of full-length historical novels about Henry VIII's wives.  The e-shorts, which reveal little-known accounts taking place in the shadow of larger events from Tudor history, were only sold in UK outlets, so I, as an American reader, wasn't able to buy them until now. Even then I had to buy a copy from overseas, since the book isn't being released in the US.  There are 13 tales in the collection.

It's not apparent from the image above, but the book doesn't have a dust jacket. Instead, the design is printed directly on the cloth, and it's an absolutely gorgeous package. 

Then I got to thinking about whether I owned any other examples like this, and found only a few on my shelves... not many at all.  It seems more common for genres like cookbooks, reference books, and picture books than for historical fiction (aside from graphic novels).

Five historical novels with printed designs

All but one of these above, the graphic novel/biography about Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi at the center, was published by a British publisher. Moth by Melody Razak, at top left, a new release set during the Partition of India, has an elaborate cut-out design and a stepback cover featuring a woman's face.

Below are two other examples, older historical novels from American publishers. 

The Visionist and I, Elizabeth

Both of these feature art printed directly on the cloth and a near-transparent dust jacket with the title, author, and other elegant design elements. 

These beautiful designs represent a significant investment from their publishers. Can you think of any others like this?  I don't live within easy reach of print-and-mortar bookstores (other than Walmart and a few used bookstores downtown) so do almost all of my book shopping online, but if I saw any of these books on display, I'd be tempted to buy them for the covers alone!


  1. This book is fantasy, but historical fiction adjacent I think. I don't own a copy, but it's on my TBR and I've really enjoyed his books. "Under Heaven" by Guy Gavriel Kay.

    1. Thanks for sharing the link - that is a gorgeous cover concept, and it must be more so in person (not that I'd ever have a chance to see a Chinese edition of the book). I highly recommend the English version. "Historical fiction adjacent" is a good way of describing it.

  2. Thanks for posting really love it.