It’s a challenge to distill an entire trilogy, especially one as good as Mistborn, into a single picture. No idea seems to do the content justice, and every sketch can feel like a compromise. I can recall reading the novels and thinking naively how easy it was going to be to come up with a cover. Sanderson, after all, seems to write like a picture maker, with description and language that suggests more than a casual familiarity with the visual arts. He even writes from an artist’s point of view, quite convincingly I might add, in his recent novel The Way of Kings. To a pictorially oriented person like myself, the effect is palpable, each chapter begs to be illustrated. And in Mistborn everything, both alien and ordinary, is brought to life effortlessly, the fantastic envisioned with the precision and clarity of the familiar and the mundane made wonderful as if seen for the first time.
I suppose that’s an essential component to fantasy art as well. My favorite genre artists have always been able to imbue the imaginary with a truth and honesty that seems to defy a subject’s fictional origins. The process often involves visually manipulating or recombining things we can observe in real life so that our creations appear convincing¹. Grounded in actual anatomy, texture, or light, the imaginary can be rendered believable, even real. Although the camera and lens may convey most accurately the illusion of truth when depicting the physical world, it’s only writers and artists who are able to bring form to the fantastic.
Which brings me back to Mistborn, and the unique world Sanderson has so excellently crafted. It’s a strange setting, with a few fantasy tropes included, but turned completely on their head. This refreshing inversion of some of the genre’s most cherished traditions is by no means limited to the world building alone, with a narrative arc and cast truly worthy of their unique setting. It’s these characters that make the story come alive, and none more so than Vin, the young female protagonist that exists at the center of all three novels. She’s our entry point into the world and the unusual system of magic that defines so many important aspects of the story. Powerful and determined, Vin is a wonderful hero, with a dangerous side that makes her all the more compelling to visualize on a cover. Her facility at committing violence and subsequent struggle to understand her role in an ever more complicated world is what really grabbed me about her. As an illustrator that’s often what I look for, a character or situation with some interesting tension, a conflict I can wrap my head around solidly while concepting.
At one point she is named “beautiful destroyer,” and I think in many ways that is exactly what I was trying to convey when I painted her. I rolled that phrase around in my head a lot while working on this. Although I’ll never be able to make one picture capable of encompassing everything I love about this series, I’m pleased that I was given the opportunity to express a mood and atmosphere that does my vision of the story justice.
In the end I like our simple solution, Vin suspended weightless, rising above the mist.
The Mistborn Trilogy will be available as an ebook on February 1st.
¹If you’re an artist interested in depicting things that don’t exist, do yourself a favor and check out Imaginative Realism, by James Gurney.