By November 2, 2018 0 Comments Read More →

Cover Trend Alert: Hypnotic Circles

This mesmerizing design concept has been a constant presence in my peripheral vision since David Mitchell’s World Fantasy Award–winning (and starred review-receiving!) novel The Bone Clocks was released in 2014. My attention was next grabbed by Lauren James’ 2016 romantic sf The Last Beginning, and then again this past April by Richard Powers’ The Overstorywhich also received a starred review from Booklist and was a finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

These designs are a kind of optical illusion that reinforce the concept of time, whether it’s the immortal beings of The Bone Clocks, the time travel in The Last Beginning, or the rings of ancient trees in The Overstory. The visual effect is stunning and effective, offering its own version of the way a screen goes wavy to open a flashback sequence in a TV show, or perhaps the way a spiral-tunneled black hole might transport me to an alternate dimension. (That is how black holes work, right?)


The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell; The Last Beginning, by Lauren James; The Overstory, by Richard Powers

I also found this cover design on a number of sf books, including Bee Ridgeway’s debut time-travel novel The River of No Return (2013), which features a Napoleonic soldier who, instead of dying on the battlefield, finds himself in the twenty-first century, welcomed by a secret fraternity of time-travelers known as The Guild. In this case, the circles alternate between scenes—Lord Nicholas Falcott in one, his beloved Julia Percy in another—already introducing the potential reader to the time-crossed lovers within (swoon). Another time-travel novel to use these hypnotic circles is Kara Connolly’s YA adventure No Good Deed (2017), in which a talented archer finds herself transported from the present-day Olympic qualifiers to Medieval England, where she becomes a kind of Robin Hood (and meets a handsome knight)—think Outlander meets The Hunger Games. Finally, James Smythe’s near-future thriller No Harm Can Come to a Good Man (2015) features a world ruled by a data-crunching app called ClearVista that can predict any outcome and answer any question accurately. The invisible forces at work around us, the nature of reality, and the inevitability (or manipulability) of things are all captured by the use of the slightly misaligned concentric circles on Smythe’s cover.


The River of No Return, by Bee Ridgway; No Harm Can Come to a Good Man, by James Smythe; No Good Deed, by Kara Connolly

The other major categories of books sporting these covers are psychological fiction and nonfiction. These books explore the human psyche and the covers are wonderful depictions of the mind, whether in chaos or reverie. The Man Who Walked Away (2014), by Maud Casey was inspired by real-life nineteenth-century Frenchman Albert Dadas, who sought psychiatric treatment after wandering through Europe in a trancelike state, seemingly “untethered from place and time” as the book’s copy puts it. Jeannie Vanasco’s starred-reviewed memoir The Glass Eye (2017) turns inward to explore grief and sanity, while Benjamin Wood’s also starred The Ecliptic (2016) explores the neuroses and labyrinthine psyches of artists. Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch (2014) interlaces memoir, literary criticism, and biography much the way George Eliot’s Middlemarch weaves together the intersecting perspectives of the town’s residents. The result is a layered exploration of the classic’s themes and the ways we relate to literature. It makes sense, then, that the cover would use concentric circles to evoke the echoing, multilayered nature of stories and the lives of readers and characters.


The Glass Eye, by Jeannie Vanasco; The Ecliptic, by Benjamin Wood; My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead; The Man Who Walked Away, by Maud Casey

This design may just also signify excellence, because half of the books on this short list received starred reviews from Booklist. Hmm! What do you think of these covers? Would they pair well with books beyond the speculative and psychological? Which others have you seen?




About the Author:

A former Booklist intern and current Booklist reviewer, Ellie is a reader and writer based in Chicago. She holds a BA in writing from Wheaton College (IL) and is the assistant to the president at Browne & Miller Literary Associates.

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