If sci-fi/fantasy book covers were Bumble dates, I’d swipe right more often.
Sure, plenty of great books have ugly covers, and spellbinding cover art may sometimes conceal a lack-luster narrative, but whether I’m browsing titles on a bookshelf or online, an eye-catching cover is always a bonus. It may lead me to a writer I haven’t read before, reconsider a boring blurb or convince me that a glitzy book jacket is better served as a poster on my wall. Whoever said “Don’t judge a book by its cover” probably never went to a bookshop.
An evocative cover can transport the reader to another world, even before they’ve begun reading the novel. Here are some of my favorite book covers (with equally fantastic stories, I promise).
Gods of Jade and Shadow
I’d fallen in love with Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work after reading the deliciously decadent Mexican Gothic during the pandemic. So, when I chanced upon Gods of Jade and Shadow at an online sale, I knew from the alluring Art Deco cover that I simply had to give this book a chance.
Set during the Jazz Age, the story follows the exploits of Casiopea Tun as she accidentally frees the Mayan God of Death and accompanies him on a rollercoaster quest that takes her out of her small hometown, and to the Mayan underworld and beyond.
A gorgeous historical fantasy novel infused with Mayan folklore, Gods of Jade and Shadow is as every bit of dazzling as its cover hints it will be.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea
Full disclosure: I’m not really a K-pop person (yet), but I picked up Axie Oh’s feel-good romance novel XOXO after being seduced by the gorgeous pastel-shaded cover and wasn’t disappointed. Her next book, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea has an equally breathtaking cover.
The novel is a feminist YA retelling of a Korean folktale where a young, beautiful maiden is to be sacrificed to the Sea God to protect her village. The way Keri Huang’s cover richly evokes an underwater world is sure to make you curious about the maiden’s magical journey.
In fact, if Keri Huang’s art has already worked its charm on you (as it did on me), be sure to check out The Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, whose covers are also illustrated by the same artist.
The Priory of the Orange Tree
Picking up a fantasy tome that is over eight hundred pages long isn’t a task for the faint-hearted. But the brightly-hued cover of The Priory of the Orange Tree, which features a ferocious dragon entwined around a tower, against the flaming orange backdrop is sure to beckon readers. The second book in Samantha Shannon's world, a prequel called A Day of Fallen Night, inverts the color scheme on its cover but manages to be just as captivating.
Packed with intrigue, action, queer romance and brilliant worldbuilding, this one’s a breezy page-turner.
The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport
Samit Basu’s The Simoqin Prophecies heralded the start of Indian fantasy writing in English. Each of his novels, be it the superhero-starring Turbulence or the anti-dystopian near-future The City Inside, is witty and action-packed, bristling with twists and insightful social commentary.
I was lucky enough to read a NetGalley eARC of his upcoming science fantasy novel, The Jinn-bot of Shantiport, styled as an Aladdin retelling of sorts. It tells the story of Lina, a spunky girl who is determined to save her city from the corrupt rulers and her brother, Bador, a heroic monkey-bot who is determined to escape his hometown and live life on his own terms. Their story, filled with ups and downs, is told humorously by Moku, a story-bot with secrets.
Sparth’s evocative cover art vividly captures the colorful chaos of Shantiport, offers a sneak peek into these characters and might even tempt you to pre-order the book.
These Witches Don’t Burn
A fantasy book with “witch” in the title is a foolproof way to get my attention. But if it also has Tarot cards on the cover, then that’s pretty much an auto-buy.
Isabel Sterling’s YA contemporary fantasy novel features teen witches dealing with their exes, performing spooky rituals and surviving high school shenanigans. The cover ingeniously introduces the main characters as Tarot card illustrations—beguiling you to pick up the book and turn the pages to find out more about them.
City of Fallen Angels
I got interested in urban fantasy after an Australian pen friend sent me the first two books of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series as a Christmas present.
Since then, I made it a point to collect each novel in the series, not only because I was obsessed with finding out more about Clary’s adventures with the Shadowhunters, but also since the lovely covers made my bookshelf look really pretty.
The fourth book, The City of Fallen Angels is one of my favorites in terms of cover art.
Song of Silver, Flame Like Night
Okay, perhaps I’m a little susceptible to dragons on book covers, but Amélie Wen Zhao’s evocatively-titled novel, Song of Silver, Flame Like Night is an absolutely spellbinding read.
An epic fantasy inspired by Chinese legends and folklore, the novel tells the story of Lan, a young girl with a mysterious mark on her arm, and Zen, a practicing magician who notices Lan’s hidden potential.
If you love alternate history, Hollywood and space operas, you should definitely give Catherynne M. Valente’s genre-bending novel, Radiance a read. Gloriously experimental and meta, it’s a stunning one-of-a-kind novel that is sure to stay with you.
In fact, I’d recommend that you get the edition which features the red-and-white cover for the ultimate artsy film poster feels.
The House in the Cerulean Sea
If you have a soft spot for slow-burn queer romances and found family narratives, T.J. Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea is sure to enfold you like a warm hug or a cup of hot chocolate.
Linus Baker’s boring, conformist life is interrupted when he is tasked with visiting a certain orphanage on an island and filing a report. Surrounded by six dangerous children (including the Antichrist) and their unorthodox caretaker, Linus begins to question his life choices and the truths he’s taken for granted, and slowly learns to take a stand.
The cover, which depicts a quaint house upon a cliff, rendered in soothing shades will definitely prep you for a cozy, reading experience.