Let’s talk about misleading cover synopses. We can start with a confession; I had to get an online dictionary up to figure out what the actual plural was for synopsis. So there is that. And I am not really sure this is a trend that needs discussed so much as it is just something I have noticed a couple of times recently and felt the desire to write a post about. Because I can. Turns out if I hit post on this blog it gets posted, I don’t even have to check with anyone!
Really this isn’t something that I have run into very much in my long history of reading. Sure, not every book lives up to their back cover. Many promises of grand adventure fall a bit flat, engaging characters never actually manage to show up, and other acts of hyperbole are just a part of the game. But every so often the back cover flat out promises a different story.
The first time I noticed this was from my copy of The Thief’s Gamble by Juliette E. McKenna. Look at that old school cover, isn’t it nice? Let’s read the back.
Magic? It’s for the rich, the powerful…the Archmage and his elite wizards and cloud-masters.
Livak is not among them. She haunts the back taverns of the realm, careful to appear neither rich nor poor, neither tall nor short . . . neither man nor woman. Obscurity is her protection, thievery her livelihood, and gambling her weakness.
Alas, some bets are hard to resist. Particularly when they offer a chance to board a ship for Hadrumal, the fabled city of the Archmage. So Livak follows a minor wizard, Shiv, in an attempt to turn a rune or two, never dreaming that the stolen tankard she wants to sell contains the secrets of an ancient magic far more powerful, and infinitely darker, than any mortal mage’s spells.
And look, a bonus little teaser on the front cover to go with it.
Never bet against a wizard, you might win.
Sounds like my kind of book, and if you ever read my review (which a year and a half ago means chances are you didn’t) then you know that I did like it quite a bit. And the tone promised in the synopsis is pretty apt as well. So I don’t have any real complaints about being mis-sold. My complaint is that the person who wrote this little ditty either didn’t read the book or just flat out confused characters. Because Livak and Shiv’s path is not the one that requires boarding a ship to Hadrumal, that belongs to a minor character with very little screen time.
And that whole ‘never bet against a wizard thing?’ Very cool sounding, but if anyone can tell me what it has to do with the story I read I will be happy.
So while this was a case of a synopsis gone wrong, I see very little damage done. Just find it humorous.
But this year I have ran across two more misinformed blurbs, and these two can be a bit more problematic.
The first is the back cover of a wonderful little YA book called Pantomime. I repeat, WONDERFUL BOOK. But that back cover upset a few people when it came out.
R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilization long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.
But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
Whats wrong with it? It doesn’t describe the book, it is misleading at best, and at worst it has been accused of ‘strait washing.’ Because Micah and Gene are not two people, they are one intersex teenager. It is Micah’s story throughout, not a tale of two people balancing lives. It was being sold with a wink and a nudge that the basic, core source of Micah’s character and struggle in society is in fact nothing more than a gimmick to play with. Was it done to out of fear that mentioning an intersex character would hurt sales? Or was it just suggesting a romantic angle because that is what was expected to appeal to a larger audience?
Really I can’t spend a lot of time talking about it; of my examples it is the one that has been covered, and covered better than I could ever have done. Here, yall needed an excuse to go to Book Smugglers anyway.
So I move on to book three, Blades of the Old Empire.
Kara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, and a member of the notorious Majat Guild. When her tenure as protector to Prince Kythar comes to an end, custom dictates he accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.
But when they arrive they discover that the Prince’s sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services – to capture and hand over Kythar, himself.
A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honour, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonourable?
(Fun fact, my spell check doesn’t like the way the blurb spells ‘honour.’)
This book was in no way, shape, or form about Kara, despite the synopsis insinuating otherwise. In fact this was one of the most blatant examples of male centrist fantasies I had seen in a while. So why was the back cover written to suggest otherwise? This one isn’t just misleading, it is confusing as hell. From everything I understand most publishers still seem reluctant to push female leads in fantasy, there is a prevailing opinion (also seen at the box office) that male leads sell better. Yet here is a book with a male lead doing save the world type things being sold the other way.
The much hyped book The Emperor’s Blades saw the same issue. I won’t post the synopsis but the cover suggested the book would be split among three major characters and only the two boys got substantial page time. Were these two examples just an attempt to show willing with a more diverse casting?
I don’t really know what I am trying to accomplish with this post. I don’t see a sinister trend here nor intend to provoke outrage. It was just a minor something I found interesting, and something I questioned, and something I wanted to discuss. And since I have the space to do so, I did.
I am sure others have seen a few back covers that had them wondering, feel free to add them to my list.