Cover art for “The Alchemist of Souls”

At long last I’m able to unveil the cover art for my debut novel The Alchemist of Souls – and what a cover it is!

cover art
Mal Catlyn in all his glory – click for larger version!

I was delighted when Marc at Angry Robot told me he was commissioning Larry Rostant, who has done covers for practically everyone from George R R Martin downwards – I had been admiring Larry’s work not long beforehand, on the cover of Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Fallen Blade. I was asked for a description of my protagonist and one or two other characters from the book, then when Larry sent in a couple of slightly different versions of the design, Marc and I discussed which one worked best. Fortunately we were in complete agreement, quickly settling on the version you see here.

Ultimately the purpose of a cover is to sell the book to readers, not to stroke the author’s ego, and to that extent, I really don’t mind what goes on my covers as long as it achieves that aim. Of course I’d be upset if the artwork wasn’t up to scratch – I’ve seen some appalling fantasy covers over the years, with badly proportioned, disjointed anatomy that would shame a first-year art student – but if there’s one thing you can say about Angry Robot, it’s that they take their cover art seriously. I don’t think I’ve seen a single one that’s less than good, and many are utterly gorgeous in their different ways.

I’m not sure what I love most about this image. Maybe it’s the gorgeous costume Larry chose, perfect for the period (1590s) and in colours that just happen to match those in my usual online avatar*. Maybe it’s Larry’s great intuition in adding a flaming torch to the original specs, thus echoing some of the recurring imagery of the book. Or maybe it’s the wicked gleam in my hero’s eyes…

Of course no cover ever matches the author’s mental image 100%. I could point out that in the book, Mal Catlyn has a proper Elizabethan beard, not designer stubble! On the other hand the model’s hair style, though superficially modern, is pretty much as I described it. Mal is an ex-soldier and formerly wore his hair in a short crop (as is seen in many portraits of the period) but has let it grow out in recent months as he’s settled back into civilian life. Overall I’m delighted with the finished result, which I think captures the mood of my book perfectly.

I was tempted to title this post “Angry Robot hacked my brain”, but I decided it would be in poor taste, given recent headline events in the UK. The truth is, having lived with the cover art for a while (it makes an awesome lock screen for my iPhone!), I now find myself automatically visualising Mal as the figure from the cover when I’m writing a scene about him. The first time this happened it was quite unnerving, but I’m starting to get used to it!

I can’t wait to hold the finished book. I think I may die of joy 🙂


* a detail from Caravaggio’s The Cardsharps, painted c. 1594