Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires. Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safiya’s hotheaded impulsiveness.
Safiya and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and privateer) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.
We’re pleased to reveal the UK cover for Truthwitch, the first in a new fantasy YA trilogy from Susan Dennard—available January 2016 from Tor Teen and Tor UK. Below, Tor UK editor Bella Pagan shares the design process for the UK cover. Check out the full image below, plus read an excerpt from the novel!
I’m really delighted to reveal our UK hardback cover for Truthwitch—by the super-talented Susan Dennard. Just imagine the light glinting off that gold foil, as wondrous adventures lie in store! All you need to do is turn that first page and jump in. If you haven’t read any advance publicity materials I can only envy the *absolute treat* of a read you have in store… I remember the excitement of reading it for the first time, an excitement shared by Robin Hobb, Sarah J. Maas, Maria Snyder and others.
In this post, I’d like to give some background on the design process which has taken us up to this big reveal. It takes a long time to get a book cover right and it’s briefed many months before publication for this reason. A whole group of people are involved in the process, and I want to give a big thanks to the UK team—in particular to our talented designer Justine Anwieler and illustrator Scott Grimando.
Apart producing a stand-out cover for an amazing book (of course!), one of our main wishes was to have US and UK covers that hit the same notes in terms of setting, character and feel. We all want to make Truthwitch an international phenomenon, with our covers being very much in sympathy and sending out the same strong signals about the exciting story within. We wanted a unified look for all markets—a reason why we didn’t use the much simpler design on our UK book proofs, our advance reading copies. You’ll therefore notice that both US and UK covers have gone for a high-seas adventurous feel, a similar colour-scheme and both feature the fabulous Safi on the cover. With a title such as Truthwitch, which identifies the main protagonist so directly, we felt the cover was crying out for a visualisation of Safi. Sometimes UK and US covers might show different depictions of the same character. But we wanted to think more internationally this time, using the same Safi for all markets. That’s where Scott Grimaldi’s photoshoot came in, as we decided to use the same shots for the UK cover as had been used for Tor US’s Truthwitch cover. That way we could be sure that Safi was particularly ‘real’ and not possibly diluted by variations.
But, you might ask, if the visual references are broadly the same, why not just use the same cover in the UK and US? That’s where things get interesting. Consciously and unconsciously, we are steeped in the visual language of our own culture. Have you ever seen a cover designed for a different international market and thought, “but ‘our’ one is so much better! What were they thinking?!” This is because the UK and US markets are different, and we know readers respond to different cover looks—just as people respond to different advertising, product packaging and television shows depending on their home country and its influences. UK or US art departments will design a book cover which appeals to their particular target readership—and design sensibilities don’t always translate across international borders. I’ve been briefing genre covers for many years now, and it’s always intriguing to compare what has been done in the UK with the US. I’ve found that certain rules very broadly apply. And now I’ve said this, no doubt readers will spot a ton of exceptions! But I’d like to lay out a few observations here. A UK cover is likely to have:
- Less detail in the background
- Greater degree of simplicity generally—this might extend to the colour palate too
- Much more focus on an elaborate or branded font. A US title font might be simpler or the type might be smaller, allowing the background to take greater prominence
- A graphic look (think symbols, icons etc.) rather than illustrative approach (landscapes, scenes from the book etc.). And even where a UK cover does take a more painterly approach, the end result is often still more graphic than a US equivalent
- Fewer words used on the front, for example shorter quotes or straplines. And a subtitle might appear on the spine rather than front cover itself
You can see these principles in play when you compare the UK and US covers for Truthwitch—and when you look at so many others. And it is always fascinating to see how readers feel about the result. With some books (the exception not the rule) you do see the same covers on both UK and US editions. But there is a risk that they will really appeal much more to one market than another. However, I do think getting the right cover for all markets is easier with an abstract graphic book cover rather than an illustrative or figure-led approach.
You may have your own theories as to why US or UK covers look different, or why they share certain key messages. With the US and UK covers, you can see two wonderful depictions of the exact same book. And both are designed to appeal to their particular readers, as we try to share our own love for this book with the people we want to pick it up. Covers certainly inspire passionate opinion and that’s how it should be. A great cover can inspire someone to take the plunge and enter amazing new worlds. Wherever you come from, we want you to live, breath and read Truthwitch, and bring some magic into your life.
Everything had gone horribly wrong.
None of Safiya fon Hasstrel’s hastily laid plans for this holdup were unfolding as they ought.
First, the black carriage with the gleaming gold standard was not the target Safi and Iseult had been waiting for. Worse, this cursed carriage was accompanied by eight rows of city guards blinking midday sun from their eyes.
Second, there was absolutely nowhere for Safi and Iseult to go. Up on their limestone outcropping, the dusty road below was the only path to Veñaza City. And just as this thrust of gray rock overlooked the road, the road overlooked nothing but turquoise sea forever. It was seventy feet of cliff pounded by rough waves and even rougher winds.
And third—the real kick in the kidneys—was that as soon as the guards marched over the girls’ buried trap and the firepots within exploded… Well, then those guards would be scouring every inch of the cliffside.
“Hell-gates, Iz.” Safi snapped down her spyglass. “There are four guards in each row. Eight times four makes…” Her face scrunched up. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…
“It’s thirty-two,” Iseult said blandly.
“Thirty-two thrice-damned guards with thirty-two thricedamned crossbows.”
Iseult only nodded and eased back the hood of her brown cape. The sun lit up her face. She was the perfect contrast to Safi: midnight hair to Safi’s wheat, moon skin to Safi’s tan, and hazel eyes to Safi’s blue.
Hazel eyes that were now sliding to Safi as Iseult plucked away the spyglass. “I hate to say ‘I told you so’—”
“—but,” Iseult finished, “Everything he said to you last night was a lie. He was most certainly not interested in a simple card game.” Iseult ticked off two gloved fingers. “He was not leaving town this morning by the northern highway. And I bet”—a third finger unfurled—“his name wasn’t even Caden.”
Caden. If… no, when Safi found that Chiseled Cheater, she was going to break every bone in his perfect rutting face.
Safi groaned and banged her head against the rock. She’d lost all of her money to him. Not just some, but all.
Last night had hardly been the first time Safi had bet all of her—and Iseult’s—savings on a card game. It wasn’t as if she ever lost, for, as the saying went, You can’t trick a Truthwitch.
Plus, the winnings off one round alone from the highest-stake taro game in Veñaza City would have bought Safi and Iseult a place of their own. No more living in an attic for Iseult, no more stuffy Guildmaster’s guest room for Safi.
But as Lady Fate would have it, Iseult hadn’t been able to join Safi at the game—her heritage had banned her from the highbrow inn where the game had taken place. And without her Threadsister beside her, Safi was prone to… mistakes.
Particularly mistakes of the strong-jawed, snide-tongued variety who plied Safi with compliments that somehow slipped right past her Truthwitchery. In fact, she hadn’t sensed a lying bone in Chiseled Cheater’s body when she’d collected her winnings from the in-house bank… Or when Chiseled Cheater had hooked his arm in hers and guided her into the warm night… Or when he’d leaned in for a chaste yet wildly heady kiss on the cheek.
I will never gamble again, she swore, her heel drumming on the limestone. And I will never flirt again.
“If we’re going to run for it,” Iseult said, interrupting Safi’s thoughts, “then we need to do so before the guards reach our trap.”
“You don’t say.” Safi glared at her Threadsister, who watched the incoming guards through the spyglass. Wind kicked at Iseult’s dark hair, lifting the wispy bits that had fallen from her braid. A distant gull cried its obnoxious scree, scr-scree, scr-scree!
Safi hated gulls; they always shit on her head.
“More guards,” Iseult murmured, the waves almost drowning out her words. But then louder, she said, “Twenty more guards coming from the north.”
For half a moment, Safi’s breath choked off. Now, even if she and Iseult could somehow face the thirty-two guards accompanying the carriage, the other twenty guards would be upon them before they could escape.
Safi’s lungs burst back to life with a vengeance. Every curse she’d ever learned rolled off her tongue.
“We’re down to two options,” Iseult cut in, scooting back to Safi’s side. “We either turn ourselves in—”
“Over my grandmother’s rotting corpse,” Safi spat.
“—or we try to reach the guards before they trigger the trap. Then all we have to do is brazen our way through.”
Safi glanced at Iseult. As always, her Threadsister’s face was impassive. Blank. The only part of her that showed stress was her long nose—it twitched every few seconds.
“Once we’re through,” Iseult added, drawing her hood back into place and casting her face in darkness, “we’ll follow the usual plan. Now hurry.”
Safi didn’t need to be told to hurry—obviously she would hurry—but she bit back her retort. Iseult was, yet again, saving their hides.
Besides, if Safi had to hear one more I told you so, she’d throttle her Threadsister and leave her carcass to the hermit crabs.
Iseult’s feet hit the gritty road, and as Safi descended nimbly beside her, dust plumed around her boots—and inspiration struck.
“Wait, Iz.” In a flurry of movement, Safi swung off her cape. Then with a quick slash-rip-slash of her parrying knife, she cut off the hood. “Skirt and kerchief. We’ll be less threatening as peasants.”
Iseult’s eyes narrowed. Then she dropped to the road. “But then our faces will be more obvious. Rub on as much dirt as you can.” As Iseult scrubbed her face, turning it a muddy brown, Safi wound the hood over her hair and wrapped the cape around her waist. Once she’d tucked the brown cloak into her belt, careful to hide her scabbards beneath, she too slathered dirt and mud over her cheeks.
In less than a minute, both girls were ready. Safi ran a quick, scrutinizing eye over Iseult… but the disguise was good. Good enough. Her Threadsister looked like a peasant in desperate need of a bath.
With Iseult just behind, Safi launched into a quick clip around the limestone corner, her breath held tight… Then she exhaled sharply, pace never slowing. The guards were still thirty paces from the buried firepots.
Safi flashed a bumbling wave at a mustached guard in the front. He lifted his hand, and the other guards came to an abrupt stop. Then, one by one, each guard’s crossbow leveled on the girls.
Safi pretended not to notice, and when she reached the pile of gray pebbles that marked the trap, she cleared it with the slightest hop. Behind her, Iseult made the same, almost imperceptible leap.
Then the mustached man—clearly the leader—raised his own crossbow. “Halt.”
Safi complied, letting her feet drag to a stop—while also covering as much ground as she could. “Onga?” she asked, the Arithuanian word for yes. After all, if they were going to be peasants, they might as well be immigrant peasants.
“Do you speak Dalmotti?” the leader asked, looking first at Safi. Then at Iseult.
Iseult came to a clumsy stop beside Safiya. “We spwik. A litttttle.” It was easily the worst attempt at an Arithuanian accent that Safiya had ever heard from Iseult’s mouth.
“We are… in trouble?” Safi lifted her hands in a universally submissive gesture. “We only go to Veñaza City.”
Iseult gave a dramatic cough, and Safi wanted to throttle her. No wonder Iz was always the cutpurse and Safi the distraction. Her Threadsister was awful at acting.
“We want a city healer,” Safi rushed to say before Iseult could muster another unbelievable cough. “In case she has the plague. Our mother died from it, you see, and ohhhh, how she coughed in those final days. There was so much blood—”
“Plague?” the guard interrupted.
“Oh, yes.” Safi nodded knowingly. “My sister is very ill.” Iseult heaved another cough—but this one was so convincing, Safi actually flinched… and then hobbled to her. “Oh, you need a healer. Come, come. Let your sister help you.”
The guard turned back to his men, already dismissing the girls. Already bellowing orders, “Back in formation! Resume march!”
Gravel crunched; footsteps drummed. The girls trudged onward, passing guards with wrinkled noses. No one wanted Iseult’s “plague” it would seem.
Safi was just towing Iseult past the black carriage when its door popped wide. A saggy old man leaned his scarlet-clad torso outside. His wrinkles shook in the wind.
It was the leader of the Gold Guild, a man named Yotiluzzi, whom Safi had seen from afar—at last night’s establishment, no less.
The old Guildmaster clearly didn’t recognize Safi, though, and after a cursory glance, he lifted his reedy voice. “Aeduan! Get this foreign filth away from me!”
A figure in white stalked around the carriage’s back wheel. His cape billowed, and though a hood shaded his face, there was no hiding the knife baldric across his chest or the sword at his waist.
He was a Carawen monk—a mercenary trained to kill since childhood.
Safi froze, and without thinking, she eased her arm away from Iseult, who twisted silently behind her. The guards would reach the girls’ trap at any moment, and this was their ready position: Initiate. Complete.
“Arithuanians,” the monk said. His voice was rough, but not with age—with underuse. “From what village?” He strolled a single step toward Safi.
She had to fight the urge not to cower back. Her Truthwitchery was suddenly bursting with discomfort—a grating sensation, as if skin were being scratched off the back of her neck.
And it wasn’t his words that set Safi’s magic to flaring. It was his presence. This monk was young, yet there was something off about him. Something too ruthless—too dangerous—to ever be trusted.
He pulled back his hood, revealing a pale face and close-cropped brown hair. Then, as the monk sniffed the air near Safi’s head, red swirled around his pupils.
Safi’s stomach turned to stone.
This monk was a rutting Bloodwitch. A creature from the myths, a being who could smell a person’s blood—smell their very witchery—and track it across entire continents. If he latched onto Safi’s or Iseult’s scent, then they were in deep, deep—
Gunpowder burst inside firepots. The guards had hit the trap.
Safi acted instantly—as did the monk. His sword swished from its scabbard; her knife came up. She clipped the edge of his blade, parrying it aside.
He recovered and lunged. Safi lurched back. Her calves hit Iseult, yet in a single fluid movement, Iseult kneeled—and Safi rolled sideways over her back.
Initiate. Complete. It was how the girls fought. How they lived.
Safi unfurled from her flip and withdrew her sword just as Iseult’s moon scythes clinked free. Far behind them, more explosions thundered out. Shouts rose up, the horses kicked and whinnied.
Iseult spun for the monk’s chest. He jumped backward and skipped onto the carriage wheel. Yet where Safi had expected a moment of distraction, she only got the monk diving at her from above.
He was good. The best fighter she’d ever faced.
But Safi and Iseult were better.
Safi swooped out of reach just as Iseult wheeled into the monk’s path. In a blur of spinning steel, her scythes sliced into his arms, his chest, his gut—and then, like a tornado, she was past.
And Safi was waiting. Watching for what couldn’t be real and yet clearly was: every cut on the monk’s body was healing before her eyes.
There was no doubt now—this monk was a thrice-damned Bloodwitch straight from Safi’s darkest nightmares. So she did the only thing she could conjure: she threw her parrying knife directly at the monk’s chest.
It thunked through his rib cage and embedded deep in his heart. He stumbled forward, hitting his knees—and his red eyes locked on Safi’s. His lips curled back. With a snarl, he wrenched the knife from his chest. The wound spurted…
And began to heal over.
But Safi didn’t have time for another strike. The guards were doubling back. The Guildmaster was screaming from within his carriage, and the horses were charging into a frantic gallop.
Iseult darted in front of Safi, scythes flying fast and beating two arrows from the air. Then, for a brief moment, the carriage blocked the girls from the guards. Only the Bloodwitch could see them, and though he reached for his knives, he was too slow. Too drained from the magic of healing.
Yet he was smiling—smiling—as if he knew something that Safi didn’t. As if he could and would hunt her down to make her pay for this.
“Come on!” Iseult yanked at Safi’s arm, pulling her into a sprint toward the cliffside.
At least this was part of their plan. At least this they had practiced so often they could do it with their eyes closed.
Just as the first crossbow bolts pounded the road behind them, the girls reached a waist-high boulder on the ocean side of the road.
They plunked their blades back into scabbards. Then in two leaps, Safi was over the rock—and Iseult too. On the other side, the cliff ran straight down to thundering white waves.
Two ropes waited, affixed to a stake pounded deep into the earth. With far more speed and force than was ever intended for this escape, Safi snatched up her rope, hooked her foot in a loop at the end, gripped a knot at head level…
Excerpted from Truthwitch © Susan Dennard, 2016