Judging a Book by Its Cover

Evergreen Geek Culture

Touchstone Trilogy UK

Take a look at these two sets of book covers above and below (titles have been obscured). Which trilogy would be more likely to pique your interest? Who would you guess is the target audience for the books?

Touchstone Trilogy US

Of course, you’ve probably already guessed that these are just alternate covers for the same books: the Touchstone Trilogy by Steve Augarde. (You can click on the images to see the original unmodified covers.) The set on top with the woodcut-style illustrations was done by the author himself and matches the illustrations throughout the books. The set below is how Americans will probably find them in the Young Adult section of your local bookstore.

I first came across The Various, the first book, in a bookstore several years ago. It had the original cover, which is a lovely cream color, somewhat roughly textured. The moon on the cover is actually gold foil and when I saw the cover it really looked like a book from an earlier era. It stood out from the other kids’ books and caught my eye, and when I read the description and flipped through, it looked like something I’d enjoy.

I bought it and loved it, and ended up purchasing Celandine, the second book, as soon as it was available. It, too, had a gorgeous cover to go along with the fantastic story inside. But for some reason, Winter Wood, the last of the trilogy, never appeared in bookstores. I’d read on the author’s website that it had been published, but I simply couldn’t find it anywhere. In the end, I purchased it from a UK bookstore online just so I could finally complete the set and finish the story. It appears that the third book never made it to the U.S. in that form.

Later, though, the Touchstone Trilogy was published in paperback by Yearling Books, with the new covers you see here. And, yeah, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but honestly if I’d first come across this second set of covers in a bookstore I doubt I’d have given them a second glance. That would have been a shame, because it’s an excellent series that I’d rank up there with Harry Potter: a fantastic world, strong characters and excellent writing. (In fact, I think Augarde’s writing might be even a bit better overall.) Anytime I walked into a bookstore and saw their huge displays of “If You Love Harry Potter …” books, I was surprised not to find The Various among them.

And maybe that’s why it never took off in the States—because it didn’t have the marketing power behind it. I wonder how many other wonderful, amazing books we miss because they were simply marketed poorly—or in the case of the third Touchstone book, not at all. But even now that they’ve been in the U.S. for a couple of years, I still rarely hear much about them, and I think in part it’s due to the covers, which appeal to a very specific, narrower audience.

So here’s my pitch: if you read the Harry Potter series and loved it, and you’re looking for something else to read, give the Touchstone Trilogy a shot. There are some similarities: it’s also British, there’s a boarding school involved, and some magic. But the magic is more subtle—the book is more about the fairies, who turn out to be quite different from Tinkerbell and not really all that magical. The Various, as they call themselves, are some tribes of small people, some with wings and some without, who have been driven from their lands by the appearance of the big people. Now they hide out in small pockets of unexplored land—one of which is a hill near a farm. 11-year-old Midge discovers them while she’s stuck at her uncle’s farm and gets drawn into their world.

The other two books delve deeper into the story: Celandine is actually a prequel involving Midge’s great-aunt, and then Winter Wood ties the two stories together. It’s masterfully written and the way Augarde pulls things together is very satisfying.

Please note: the books do have a bit of violence in them—the Various are not generally friendly to humans and there are some edge-of-your-seat moments. Also, is there anything so cruel as other kids in a British boarding school? Celandine (Midge’s great-aunt) has some pretty horrific experiences at school; you may want to preview the book before giving it to younger kids to read.

How about you? Have you ever misjudged a book because of its cover—either surprised despite a bad cover or disappointed by a good one?

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