This is the cover created by artist John di Giovanni and designer Shawn King for my epic fantasy novel THE HIDDEN FACE (first book in the Fifth Unmasking series), publishing 25 November 2017. Here is the Goodreads page if you would like to add it. I love what John and Shawn have done here and I am very pleased to finally be able to share it! Thanks to both of them for their great work.
This is the synopsis of the novel:
A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask.
Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?
Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal death of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a warrior woman named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.
Powerful enemies want the secret as well, including a dynasty of magician-kings who were thought to have died out long ago, a mad, murderous hunchback and a beautiful, deadly woman who is never seen. Sunniva and Dayraven fight to survive and to solve the mystery while their own pasts come back to life and the attraction between them deepens.
The seated figure on the cover brings out well the idea of the Akhen and its face; the sun god’s symbol is bright, but the face of the actual person is obscured. The idea of periodic incarnations of a god suggests various religions, including Hinduism, although the novel’s setting is based on the Carolingian empire of the 9th century. I think the division of history into epochs defined by one specific event (the various Unmaskings of the Face of the Akhen) is a strong concept for an epic fantasy series and I look forward to exploring it in the later books.
Here is an extract from the main female character’s first encounter as a child with one of the magician-kings referred to in the synopsis:
Sunniva turned to look and gasped. A man with a long black beard and hair was sitting on a throne at the back of the tomb, staring straight at her. In one hand he held a crystal ball, and the other was resting on a bull’s head made of gold. His fingernails were long and curved like the roots of a tree. His long white robe was fringed with tassels and covered in golden bees. Propped on the wall behind him were stacks of weapons inlaid with jewels, and alongside him stretched the skeleton of a horse.
She gulped. ‘That’s King Merech?’
‘Yes. Look how well he’s been mummified, just as if they only put him in here yesterday. The Clovians never cut their hair or beards – when their last king was deposed, his hair was shorn off as a sign that he was no longer king.’
Sunniva tore her eyes off the dead king’s staring eyes and dry, stretched skin that looked like parchment. She looked around. There were golden bees everywhere, scattered all over the floor and sometimes piled in heaps.
‘Why are there so many bees?’ Sunniva asked.
‘The first Clovian king chose it as his symbol. Bees make honey, honey is sweet, and the words of the Clovians were sweet and convincing.’ Her father picked up one of the bees and held it out on the palm of his hand. ‘He wears these on his robe because he’s the king of the bees and his followers are a swarm who would die for him.’
Sunniva looked at the tiny gold bee, so perfect. It made her shiver. She felt herself drawn back to the dead king’s face. It was so lifelike that she thought he was about to lift his hand off the bull’s head and reach out for her.
‘So, it’s true what they say about the Clovians and magic,’ her father said. ‘The crystal ball and bull’s head are magical objects, and there are astrological and astronomical designs on the wall back there. And see this cut on the top of his head – that was put there while he was alive. All the Clovians had it done, as they believed it allowed the soul out after death.’
Sunniva shook her head and shrank back, trembling. She didn’t want to see any cut in the king’s head. She wanted to get out of this place, but her legs wouldn’t move.
King Merech slowly turned to look at her. His tight, leathery face was crinkling as his mouth opened to speak. Sunniva could feel the soul inside her coming loose – it was going to be sucked into the dead king’s head. Then he could come alive and climb down from that throne where he’d sat unmoving for so long. She crossed her arms over her chest to stop her soul from slipping out, but at the same time, she couldn’t help being drawn to him. He was calling to her, he needed her, needed her soul. She could hear the rattle of the golden bees on the tomb floor behind her as the king stood up.
The cover image and design perfectly capture the mood and setting of THE HIDDEN FACE, I think. Also, the lighting suggests the Baroque era of artists like Rembrandt and El Greco. This is particularly appropriate, as the historical background has a very interesting link with that period.
The Clovian dynasty is based on the Merovingians, the Frankish kings who preceded the Carolingians. One of their tombs was discovered intact in 1653 in what is now Belgium. The treasure inside, which ended up in the National Library of France, included more than 300 gold bees. Sadly, the treasure was stolen in 1831 and only two of the bees were recovered.
I really like this mix of historical periods that has further been worked on by the imagination of the artist and designer (and the writer.) I hope you enjoy the artwork and the writing. Go here for a much longer extract from THE HIDDEN FACE.