Judging a book by its cover: Weird, wonderful fantasy books that delivered

Posted on March 24, 2021 at 6:00 am


How do you pick out your books? Favorite authors and genres are one way. How about serendipitous discovery instigated by a flash of color or intriguing artwork? What attracts you to a book before you even read the title or know the author?

When I am browsing through books, online or in person, book covers can intrigue me enough to pursue the title. Beautiful colors, detailed artwork, or dramatic portrayals—all can grab my attention.

Humans are visual creatures! Book cover designers use lots of visual tricks to grab our attention. I have read (started to read) some book duds with fantastic but misleading covers. For me, the best book covers are the ones that represent the feel of the story. Unfortunately, you won’t know if the cover designer was able to do this until you read the book.

The good news is that 2020 was a great year for fantasy book covers! Here are five fantasy books that initially got my interest because of their covers and ended up being great stories as well.

I guess you can say that these books can be judged by their covers! Their stories definitely lived up to their designs for me.

Lobizona, by Romina Garber

One favorite of mine is Lobizona, the story of a Latinx girl who is trying to find where she belongs after the death of her mother. What she finds is a world in which magic thrives and is a part of her and her heritage. The book has staggeringly beautiful artwork on its cover. The main character Manu is portrayed in a very powerful yet vulnerable way. Every element in the cover has a connection to or is representative of an aspect in Manu’s story, the wildflowers surrounding her, the full moon behind her, the split of colors in the title. Manu’s eyes are also a focus of the book cover, which is one of her most important traits in the story. Overall, the cover pulled me in, and the story was a wonderful adventure.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T. J. Klune

Another favorite cover and book is The House in the Cerulean Sea, a quirky and heartwarming book that’s a pleasure to read. Linus, one of the main characters, is a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He is given the task of determining whether an orphanage full of magical youth should be closed down. This is where Linus meets a wonderful cast of characters. In the end, a rigid, rule-abiding, middle-aged man finds his own chosen family and what really matters. The book cover evokes the quirky but inviting feel of the story perfectly. The bright colors and animated feel of the artwork are fun and hint at the tone of the writing. This book will make you happy from beginning to end!

White Trash Warlock, by David R. Slayton

This book has a wild and wonderful cover that captured my attention at first glance. My first thought was: “What!! There’s an octopus on a rampage!?” I had to pick this book up to see what it was about, and it did not disappoint me. It is an urban fantasy title with great pacing and LGBTQIA representation. The main character, Adam, has the Sight, as in magical Sight. He can see into another realm filled with magical beings. The story includes family dysfunction and magical confrontations. The cover is just plain fun and a bit crazy with interwoven elements of the story in it. That wacky magical-ness is part of its charm!

The Kingdom of Back, by Marie Lu

This novel takes a lesser known historical figure and turns the story into a fairytale. The book cover really brings a fairytale to mind before you even know what the book is about. This is the story of Nannerl the talented sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The story is about the lengths Nannerl will go to ensure her name is not forgotten. The cover caught my attention with its magical, mystical, and haunting artwork. It has a dreamlike quality which mirrors the story and does a great job of setting the mood before you even begin to read.

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Finally, another favorite book cover of mine is a bit quirky. The cover for The Midnight Library shows many doorways and the possibilities represented by each. This is so fitting because the story is all about the choices the main character, Nora, can make and the possibilities those choices create in her life to make it different than it is. I love the pop of orange which brings to life those possible worlds. Just from the book cover itself, you get a hint of all the different adventures that are waiting within the book.

These five quirky and beautiful books are my top picks for fantasy book covers in 2020. What are yours? If you’ve found some great reads based on catchy covers, please share them in the comments.

Alison Johnson

Alison Johnson is an Education and Enrichment Librarian who creates programming and events for ages 8–18. This means she gets to play with everything, including paint messes and mini robots. When she has free time she enjoys watching anything science fiction, hiking trails, and reading with a cup of tea.

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