Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Just Published: The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

David Liss

Today is the publication date for The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss, one of my favorite authors.  He is a fine writer of historical novels, but he proved in The Ethical Assassin that he can write great contemporary fiction too.  His books have been engrossing and I've reviewed a few of them in recent posts to try to stoke a little interest in his thrilling fiction.  Liss mines the dark side of capitalism for his book ideas. Lately he's been devoting a lot of his energy to writing comic books--yes, that's what I said--but fortunately he's still hard at work on the historical fiction too.  Here's what Liss originally had to say about the new book on his blog:  

Set during the Regency and the Luddite Uprising, the first organized resistance to the industrial revolution.  Think Jane Austen meets urban fantasy.   Lucy Derrick, an impoverished woman on the cusp of a disastrous marriage is drawn into a mysterious plot in which new technology wars with ancient knowledge.   Lord Byron, William Blake and Mansfield Park’s Mary Crawford!  I had a blast writing this one. 

Trust me, mysterious plots are nothing new to Liss's fiction, and if his past books are any indication, it will be all but impossible to figure out the true nature of the conspiracy--there's usually some sort of conspiracy--until the end.  His novel The Darkening Green--that's the original title--was originally slated to be published on October 4.  Liss even put some proposed cover artwork on his website.  Let's have a look, shall we?  You know I can't resist.

First proposed version:

Second proposed version:

The final version:

Given that all three book covers show a printed page with a similar mystical symbol, it seems clear the title was changed and the publication date simply moved forward into the summer, an indication maybe that the manuscript didn't require much revision.  I'm going to assume that this young woman is the heroine, Lucy Derrick.  It seems to me very contrary to avoid showing Lucy's eyes, yet that disturbing detail appears in what I've labelled the second preliminary version as well as the final published version of the cover.  In other words, it's no accident.  What's really odd, though, is that Liss's second novel, The Coffee Trader, chose to crop a head in the same way, eyes unseen:

It's kind of impersonal to hide people's eyes like that.  I think it makes the book look more disturbing.  In the case of The Coffee Trader, the book is disturbing, but why clue the reader into that beforehand?  Sell the book first, then write whatever twisted thing you want!

Now that little detail of the blood spattering--I'm just going to assume it's not wine--is evidently important enough to be carried over from the second preliminary version to the final version too, just with a little less emphasis.  My question is, from a sales perspective, why have it at all?  Yes, I understand that it's important to the plot in some crucial way that will become very evident a few pages into the book.  But if you're truly marketing the book to Jane Austen fans, why make it look like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?

OK, I'm exaggerating.  The book is a historical mystery of some sort, and should appeal to fans of several different genres.  Liss now has a more complete plot summary on his blog, which I quote in full:

Lucy Derrick is a young woman of good breeding and poor finances. After the death of her beloved father, she is forced to maintain a shabby dignity as the unwanted boarder of her tyrannical uncle, fending off marriage to a local mill owner. But just as she is on the cusp of accepting a life of misery, events take a stunning turn when a handsome stranger—the poet and notorious rake Lord Byron—arrives at her house, stricken by what seems to be a curse, and with a cryptic message for Lucy. Suddenly her unfortunate circumstances are transformed in ways at once astonishing and seemingly impossible.

 With the world undergoing an industrial transformation, and with England on the cusp of revolution, Lucy is drawn into a dangerous conspiracy in which her life, and her country’s future, are in the balance. Inexplicably finding herself at the center of cataclysmic events, Lucy is awakened to a world once unknown to her: where magic and mortals collide, and the forces of ancient nature and modern progress are at war for the soul of England . . . and the world. The key to victory may be connected to a cryptic volume whose powers of enchantment are unbounded. Now, challenged by ruthless enemies with ancient powers at their command, Lucy must harness newfound mystical skills to prevent catastrophe and preserve humanity’s future. And enthralled by two exceptional men with designs on her heart, she must master her own desires to claim the destiny she deserves.

That sounds promising.  Now here's the obligatory cover blurb:
“Tremendously appealing characters . . . a thoroughly enjoyable, satisfying read.”— Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches

Witches, eh?  Here's what the final cover looks like with the surefire blurb added to the upper left corner:

Hmm...  It almost sounds as if Mr. Liss may give us a satisfying, happy ending in this one. Or is that too much to hope?

Now about that title change...  Amazon.com lists six books which already have had Blake's phrase "Darkening Green" in the title, and that might well be the reason for the last-minute name change.  The Twelfth Enchantment sounds more magical, less foreboding.  In other words, it seems to be a shrewd move.  On the strength of David Liss's captivating writing, let's all give it a try!

My brief review of The Devil's Company by David Liss is here.


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