It isn’t fair. The most interesting and romantic book covers these days are not on romances at all. They’re on science fiction and fantasy novels.
Take The Dark Reaches, for instance, by Kristin Landon. There’s a hunky guy on the cover, wearing a long leather coat, a subdued ponytail, and a stalwart expression. He’s got muscles, but he’s not showing them off. He’s even allowing the heroine to put a cautionary hand on his arm. Or is it a touch to reassure herself that she has backup? Or is she holding him back from striking out at an enemy they both need to scope out first? And is she’s going to do the analyzing? I don’t know, but I do know he’s hot. Alas, this is not a romance. The spine says science fiction, and the inside front and back cover descriptions leave no doubt that this is a space thriller. Sure, there’s some love involved, but the main story is about intersteller something-or-other. Not romance. Sigh.
Or what about this one, Red Gold Bridge by Patrice Sarath? It’s billed as fantasy, but it has a cover worthy of an old Gothic novel. There’s a menacing-looking castle in the background, some mist rising, and a heroine with a horse, another totem often found in historical Gothics. There’s love in this story, too, but again, it takes a back seat to the adventure on another world in another society. Wah.
Maybe I’m lazy, but my idea of escapist fiction does not include learning a bunch of newly made up words that describe some other world where Things Aren’t Going Well. That’s adventure, not romance. I’d rather have the romance. But it seems as if these days half of the romance covers feature women whose clothing is in imminent danger of falling off, and the other half are some bland woman with a bland guy. Examples of same: After the Kiss, by Suzanne Enoch, and Dancing in the Moonlight, by Raeanne Thayne. You might think these last two are very different, but try switching the titles with the art, and you’ll see that they’re simply two sides of the same coin.
What frustrates me is that the best romance covers are on science fiction and fantasy books. The most meticulous attention to illustrative detail, the most romantic settings, the most achingly beautiful colors in the skies, the most intriguing—they’re all being painted in the service of stories that are not romances. These stories may have some romantic relationships, but the romance is not front and center. Meanwhile, romance covers are simply generic. Historical: half-dressed. Contemporary: Wholesome everywoman. On the one hand, it’s good to know what you’re buying. But on the other, isn’t it better to wonder a little? To be intrigued?