Historical Fiction Cover of the Week

One of the things you’ll quickly get used to in my blog is that when I say I’m going to do something, I mean it – but when I’ll do it, however, is another matter altogether. Hence Monday’s post has become Wednesday’s. Going to Stratford to see an excellent performance of Shaespeare’s Henry V sort of took precedence. Tried to get the author’s autograph…

Anyway, this week’s offering of covers is a corker and therefore worth waiting for. My theme this week is Vikings and, from the countless hordes of covers invading our bookshops, I’ve chosen four to represent them. Deciding which one I liked best was jolly tricky too.

When I think of Vikings – which I admit I don’t very often – I see longships, fire, axes, blood and terror. I’m sure that Viking culture had a lot more to it than that but stereotypes will endure and historical fiction covers have done their bit to help.

Any of the covers that I’m going to dub ‘highly commended’ could have won this week because there’s barely a hairshirt between them, so you could say they are all winners [though obviously they’re not…]

Where better to start than with Frans G Bengtsson’s The Long Ships.


Well, for a kick off, it has ships! But more than that it exudes menace: a threatening sky above a rolling sea and the shadowy land in the background. Then there is the fearsome dragon’s head on the ship’s prow. If those ships are heading your way, they are not bringing any good news with them. The colours are all dark – even the sail has only a hint of red to it.

The use of images in the title text is clever and adds interest to the whole piece. This cover has subtlety as it gives promise of the Viking threat without exactly nailing it to a monastery door.

THe Whale Road

Robert Low’s The Whale Road presents a less threatening image of the Vikings. No fire, no brooding presence and only a very small axe. The threat is a little more implied: just one ship and a small band of armed men who look vaguely intimidating.

The colours are more pastel shades – no angry red and black here. So why have I selected it? Because I like it and because, despite its low key style, it leaves the reader in no doubt about the subject matter that lies beneath the cover.


Joe Abercrombie’s Half The World is a little different too, though clearly Viking as the iconic longship’s prow tells us.

This cover reflects the nature of the story: whereas the previous two covers regard the Vikings from the viewpoint of the land towards which the invaders are heading, this is a Viking perspective. This ship is sailing towards the light and looking ahead to a new challenge and a new future.

As such this is clearly not typical of Viking covers and thus it stands out.

But the winner this week is Justin Hill’s Shieldwall.

shieldwallShieldwall is, I’ll grant you, as much about Saxons as Vikings, but the threat of the Vikings is pretty important.

This is the cover of the hardback edition and what I like about it is the device of putting an image within an image. This works well here because both images shout Viking at me. The axe sort of speaks for itself, I think – and yes, it could be a Saxon axe, I know – but inside it is a Viking ship, its prow forging a path through the waves. Below all this is the fire which the Vikings will spread across the land.

Thus this cover ticks most of my Viking boxes: axe, longships, fire, threat… it just had to win.

Damned Saxons – always sneaking in to steal a Viking’s thunder!

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8 Responses to Historical Fiction Cover of the Week

  1. The post caught my eye presumably as I’m just about to do the cover reveal for my Margaret of Anjou novel. The Whale Road is cool, very Game of Thrones Winter is Coming but Sheldwell is a cracker. May also be because my cover is red – writers, we can self promote at the drop of a hat!!

  2. margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

    Have to say I disagree re level of menace in Rob Low’s cover – that line of shadowy men with shields I found very menacing… but to some extent cover appeal is horses for courses isn’t it?

  3. Tim says:

    As far as vikings go, I really like the cover of Snorri Kristiansson’s “Swords of good men” –

  4. speesh says:

    Personally, I think the ‘Shieldwall’ hardback cover is dreadful. The paperback is much better.
    I have both, btw. Bought the paperback first, was very disappointed when I saw the hardback.

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