At the risk of this turning into the 'Official Angus Donald Appreciation Society Blog' – not that that would necessarily be a bad thing, you understand – I find I need to mention the fastest wordsmith this side of Sherwood Forest, once again.
Anyway, continuing his assault on the eyes of discerning, Medieval action-lovers everywhere, by means of an onslaught of announcements concerning new books, new short stories, new shoes – ok maybe not the new shoes – comes the unveiling of the cover for the 5th in his The Outlaw Chronicles series; Grail Knight.
This is it:
Now, that's a strong cover, don't you think?
And this is how I read it:
We presume the figure with his back to us, is Robin Hood. Though as the stories centre around and are written from the viewpoint of his faithful friend Alan Dale, it could just as easily be him.
Why? Well usually, if the title refers to a person as Grail Knight does, we might expect that a single figure featured on the front to be the person of the title. So here, a figure on the cover who looks like what we expect Robin Hood to look like, must be Robin Hood? But Grail Knight. Robin is not Sir Robin Hood, is he? He's an Earl. It's Sir Alan Dale, don't forget.
Then again, the figure doesn't look like what we might commonly think a Middle Ages Knight would look like either, does it? With the armour and all. Plenty of examples of that sort of Knight are coming the other way! So maybe the guy with his back to us is Robin. Most people seeing the cover are going to 'see' Robin, that's the important part.
And, as you've now got your hand in the air shouting “Sir! Sir, Please Sir, me Sir!” I'll say, yes, it is also interesting that another thing it doesn't show, is a Grail.
It shows a man facing a line of onward rushing mounted warriors. Not a situation we would like to be faced with. But then, we aren't. Robin is between us and them. Does that make us feel safer, that he is out in front, between us and what looks like if not certain death, then a situation that is certainly going to result in a full Trauma Room at the Nottingham A & E? But if there is only him between us and them, then we are going to need to watch out, and soon.
In reality, it says there is danger, what looks like overwhelming danger, coming and it's coming fast. Robin is all that stands between us and it, so we better get ready to fight. To the death. Now read on…
Personally, I don't need any more of an invitation than that.
Notice there that I haven't mentioned that he is holding a bow and arrow. I have no idea if it is a Longbow, it maybe is. That's what I'm sure most people would say Robin would have had. But I have no idea if what Robin actually might have used at the time, would have been a Longbow. Precisely what kind of bow is actually is, isn't important. The whole together says to the people looking for this kind of thing, 'Robin Hood!' Even if you didn't know the story revolved around him.
There was a long and decidedly unnecessary post on Angus' Facebook page from someone seemingly saying they were something of an expert in all things Archery and detailing at great length all that was wrong with the central figure's Archery abilities, as shown by the cover illustration. Setting to one side for a moment that this is not the cover to World Archery Review 2013, but that of an adventure story set 800-odd years before modern archery techniques and equipment – and that this figure is about to be ridden down by a whole host of knights on horseback, so it is perhaps understandable if his stance might well be looked down on by the Olympic Archery judges. Or that if one Archery expert sees this and tells the other three people he knows from Archery club, that they shouldn't buy this because 'like, that would just never happen I real life', I'm sure Angus will live with losing those 4 sales. As the vast majority of people in the market for a rip-roaring adventure set in Sherwood Forest in the Middle Ages, are going to look at Grail Knight and say 'it's Robin Hood! I'll take it!', I'm also willing to overlook any possible Archery faux pas.
What a book cover has to do – apart from hold all the pages together (!) – is say 'this is what it's about', and be in keeping with the genre. So an Angus Donald doesn't get put amongst the Marian Keyes. And it must say to me; 'this is for you'. It has to look the same as others in the genre, but different. If you already have read books of this sort and are in the market for something else while your favourite writer gets his or her next one ready, you have to think 'it looks like I might like this one, I'll give it a go'. Obviously, the most important part of a cover's design these days, is the '2 for £5' sticker, but apart from that, all of the above applies. I think. If you think differently, you're very welcome.
Bottom line: This looks like a right action-packed, Middle Ages adventure. That's what I'm looking for. I'll buy/read it. Now!
But blather aside, what's the story about?
This is from Angus' own website and is the back cover 'blurb':
A home burned
When past crimes resurface, Sir Alan Dale, loyal lieutenant of the Earl of Locksley – better known as the murderous thief Robin Hood – faces terrible vengeance at the hands of those that he and his master have wronged.
A family threatened
With his beloved wife on her deathbed, Sir Alan must seek salvation by following Robin into the lair of their enemy, the mysterious leader of a band of renegade Templars, on the trail of the most precious object in the world; the Holy Grail.
Only a miracle can save them
As vengeful Templars hound Robin and his men across England and France, deals done with mighty lords turn to bloody battle. The companions must find the Cup of Christ before they gave certain destruction.
Myth, mayhem and masterly storytelling meet in the astounding new epic from the bestselling author of Outlaw and Holy Warrior.
As an aside. I much preferred the US version of the first in the Outlaw series. See these two:
I thought the American version (left) conveyed much more effectively, the mysterious, mythological – the Robin Hood in the Sherwood of our imaginations, spirit of the stories, than the UK version (below). Like trying to glimpse a folk memory through the forests of time. Glimpse rings of smoke through the trees, as my fellow Midlander Robert Plant once so gloriously put it. Personally, I'd have lost the arrow, or had it running behind the lettering of Outlaw, as currently, it's obscuring the 'W' a little too much. Or had it going from right to left and a little smaller, as the 'O' would allow more room for the arrow-head without obscuring the letter too much.
I would sure like to hear the reasons for the change. Presuming the UK version was done first.
Gail Knight is out August 1st in the UK.