first published in the Brisbane Courier-Mail 18 November 2006
I admit I judge books by their covers. I further confess that I own a romance novel purchased solely because it has the worst cover I’ve ever seen. That novel is An Original Sin by Nina Bangs.
Let’s be honest here. A sizeable portion of the scorn that romance novels seem to accrue can be directly attributed to the traditional covers – especially historicals. You know the ones, graced with a heroine of flowing hair (doesn’t matter what she looks like in the book, she has to have flowing hair) down her back, ends lifted by an unseen wind. Her face wears an expression of what is meant to be shocked arousal—or aroused shock—but somehow manages to appear pained. She is never looking directly at the hero, rather her glassy-eyed stare seems to be focused somewhere over his left shoulder. Regardless of straps, zippers, corset, or underclothes, her gown is always in the process of falling off, held up only by virtue of the fact that she is clasped firmly against the hero’s rather impressive chest.
The hero is invariably muscled beyond any human standards (and raises certain questions about steroids), has hair that rivals the heroine’s, and is modelled by either Fabio or John DeSalvo. Yes, we in the romance community know the names of the cover models. At least the male ones…
My cover doesn’t follow the formula. Instead of the traditional clinch, it features only one male figure, though it is John. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out exactly what it is that pushes this cover first over the finishing line. It’s not necessarily his pose; I’m working under the assumption that the apple is a metaphor and the hero is not just worried about the heroine’s fibre intake. It’s not necessarily his ambiguous costume either – I think it’s meant to be a kilt, but it looks more like a beach towel. His hair? The mullet remains the cut of choice among ice hockey players. I love ice hockey, so it’s probably not the hair. It might be the slightly sleazy expression on his face, an expression that suggests late nights in airport bars with one too many tequila shots. It could even be the author’s name, so beautifully situated for any number of sly witticisms.
No, in the end, I think it’s the culmination of all these factors, the sheer madness of combining every potentially problematic aspect into one cover that defies description.
I have never read the book, nor do I think I ever will. If it’s good, then I will lament the cover. If it is bad, I will be tempted to get rid of it. Unread, I can continue to enjoy it for years to come, a quick pick-me-up every time I need a laugh.
For a wind-up of the year’s best and worst covers, and archives of previous years, check out www.covercafe.com