Covers Covered by Carol

Romance Paranormals: The Unmapped Interior

August 15, 1999

I loved the genre of horror fiction before it was even named horror. Edgar Alan Poe was my favorite until Stephen King came along as a “must read” author for me. It was a disaster for me to read horror novels late at night though because they often scared me too much and made me want to sleep with the lights on. I read The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty while camping and must have spent the whole night in the great outdoors with my eyes wide open looking for devils! I am even worse with horror movies and can only watch a movie like Nightmare On Elm Street in full daylight on video with my huge dog by my side. There’s no chance I could make it through a screening of it in a theater. I may be able to watch Blair Witch under the same conditions when it comes to video but that’s the most I can hope to do.

By contrast, I began reading romance in just the last few years. I was curious about what the romance-based paranormal could offer me that that the horror novel didn’t. I was also trying to picture a love relationship inserted into one of my many Stephen King novels and couldn’t do it. Heck, in most of them any established relationship/marriage usually ends up with one of them being dead, like in The Shining or The Dead Zone. How could one fend off ghosts and devils and fall in love all at the same time? Would I be sitting up all night with all the lights blazing yet shedding a tear or two as well? It seemed an incongruous image.

Psychic Or Sixth Sense Abilities

The very first romance paranormal I read was Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale, published by Avon. It knocked me out as a piece of fiction and made it possible for me to read this kind of “horror” any time and anywhere. The perspective is utterly different in romance paranormals than what it is in horror novels. Uncertain Magic examines minutely what it does to one’s emotions and relationships when one has paranormal powers. Thus, the interior human being is much more at issue than external manifestations of ghastly horror.

Roddy, the heroine, is from a wealthy horse breeding family and the hero, Faelan, is an impoverished Irish earl. They meet at an eighteenth century English horse race. Roddy has the ability to hear the thoughts of both animals and people, and tells Faelan one of his horses will not survive a race. Faelan is the first being whose thoughts Roddy cannot hear. Roddy’s ability has been a huge burden for her to bear – people are able to sense that she knows something about them and they don’t like it when she’s around, although they are not quite sure why they dislike her. Most people have distanced themselves from her, so she is always isolated. By marrying Faelan, Roddy will be able for the first time to lead a normal life, full of uncertainty, not knowing his thoughts, just like everyone else. When they move to Ireland, the faerie world is seamlessly integrated into the story and ultimately is used to traces the origin of Roddy’s powers.

I was absolutely riveted to every page of this novel, totally caught up in Roddy’s emotional fluctuations as she goes through this paranormal experience. Ironically, I had no idea who Laura Kinsale was in the romance world when I plucked this book from the bookstore’s shelf early in my reading of the romance genre.

I was attracted instead to the simple, elegant cover which suggests the magical world the couple enter in Ireland. It shows glowing graphics of archways, rolling hills, a grazing horse and some embossed shamrocks. The color scheme is in variegated, metallic mauve-purple with turquoise accents. The design carries through on all three cover sides.

Ideally, using details from the central image as repeats on other portions of the cover flat is a good design and marketing strategy. It reinforces the image of the book which the publisher is trying to convey to the readers. Also, many book browsers will only first see a book from the spine side because of the way many books are shelved. They then have to pick the book up to see more of the cover. Uncertain Magic looked like a classic to me and, indeed, being still in print in 1999 and in its seventh printing (it was originally published in 1987), does make it one. I was glad when I finished reading that I had not been looking at portraits of the characters. Kinsale so vividly brought Roddy and Faelan to life in my mind that I wanted no interference. Avon did not list credits for the artist/illustrator or designer.

When I read the basic scenario of Katherine Kingsley’s Call Down The Moon, I was prepared to hate it. I thought the premise, of a heroine who could read minds but not the hero’s mind, was a rip-off of Kinsale’s work. However, when I actually read it, I found myself enjoying it because Kingsley took a different approach. This novel was very funny, which I wasn’t expecting.

Hugo, a younger son and recovering gambler, meets Meggie at a mental asylum. His dowager duchess mother endows the asylum, in early nineteenth century England, because his father suffered from depression and committed suicide as a result. Meggie works there and is able to hear what is going on inside of her patients, making her very effective with them. Hugo, however, mistakenly assumes Meggie is one of the inmates. Meggie, he learns, is about to become very rich and he desperately needs such a wife to cover a gambling debt. The fact that he is wildly attracted to Meggie doesn’t hurt either. Thus, Hugo marries Meggie and enters into a comedy of errors as he interprets most things she does as being the result of an unbalanced mind. The estate they move into has two elderly spinsters who were guaranteed a lifetime’s residence. They also have paranormal powers and Hugo thinks they are as dotty as Meggie. All three women are, of course, more than a match for Hugo.

The cover is very simple and consists of a metallic moon and clouds with flying birds in mauve and silver on a soft pink textured background which repeats on all three sides of the cover flat. There is a deep pink strip running up the right front side, leading to the stepback. Many artists use texture to create visual interest when the colors are subdued and the design simple. This book’s textural background looks as if it might come from a fine grade of oriental rice paper. Many art papers are renowned for their textures. I did not pluck this book off the shelf by chance. This was the third book in a trilogy and I had read the first two books. They all had the same style covers: softly hued, textured outsides, and colorful stepbacks of the characters. It is this contrast which makes this concept work. If the publisher made the front cover as colorful as the stepback, the whole package would look too lurid.

Meggie and Hugo are shown on the balcony to their bedroom in the stepback. She is wearing a nightgown which looks too modern. She is wearing too much makeup and Hugh is falling out of his shirt. At least their dress is appropriate for where they are. If this stepback were on the front or back of the book, I would not like it. Dell does not list any credits for the artist/illustrator or designer.


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