The saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
If I’m honest, I seldom follow that old adage when selecting things to read. What can I say? I’m a Rebel Librarian. Odd thing about it is that I rarely find myself disappointed with my selections. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found some stinkers that I didn't finish, but I’m batting well over .500 in my success.
Perhaps the best example of this success was with the following series.
I was in college and working at Hastings Entertainment in the book department at the time, and there were always fantastic books all around me. Plenty of titles would catch my eye, and more than a few ended up heading home with me, but one series was special. Kevin J. Anderson’s massive space opera “The Saga of the Seven Suns.” I picked up the fantastic series because of the cover alone. It was striking on our dull brown shelves. Spines were a vibrant golden yellow with a modern text showing the titles and author, so they just popped on the shelf, begging to be picked up. Upon doing so, I was greeted with a stark blackness upon the covers, with different celestial bodies being shown. The minimalism of the covers belies the fact that such a complex and deeply crafted world could hide within.
And that was it. A cover set captivated me so deeply that I picked up the first title as soon as my paycheck would allow, and the remaining titles shortly after that. I became hooked in the world of titanic battles, dying stars, exploding gas giants, sentient trees and their telepathic acolytes, an ancient race of seemingly benevolent aliens and the all too human and relatable world of political intrigue, and a drive for independence/freedom. All elements perfectly mixed into a series spanning 7 ambitious books. This series builds a universe that feels simultaneously huge and imposing, but all too real. All too relatable. All too human.
One of the biggest things this series does remarkably well is character development. Each chapter follows a specific character, so you gain an immediate intimacy and familiarity with them. Their thoughts and feelings are laid bare before you. This fact is key to keeping you engaged because this series carries a cast of main characters in the dozens, and you will have strong feelings for each and every one of them. You will also remember them long after the book is done.
To think I would never have picked it up without judging those books by their covers! That being said, I have one last thing to add about these books. Several years after reading through them, I decided they were worth adding to my collection as permanent hardcover editions, and that’s when I found out a dark truth...
The edition run I had found and fell in love with, at first sight, were not the only cover art that existed for them. Earlier publications had used a bog-standard “sci-fi” artist cover. Showcasing someone’s artistic interpretation of the world in the books. Not bad, but forgettable in a sea of similar covers.
So what did this discovery mean to me? It made me realize that I’m probably missing great books to lackluster covers. Have I had a massive shift in my habits? No, I’m still drawn to titles that do something truly interesting on their cover and will continue to grab them as I see them. However, I do spend a few more minutes reading the jackets of books that I would have passed up in the past.
What does this mean to you? Basically, just keep reading whatever you like! There is no magic trick to only find good books. Read that book because you loved the cover. Read that book because you were dragged kicking and screaming in by the first line (looking at you “The Gunslinger”). Read that book your Mom/brother/friend raved about. Read that book you saw on the news...
The best way to read good books is to JUST READ! Never stop reading. You’ll be glad you did!
Oh. And for those curious…
So what is this divine series about? Well, I’ve alluded to it above, but here’s a brief rundown…
Humanity journeyed to the stars a few generations prior in large cumbersome “generation ships.” The passengers never expecting to return as they spread out to colonize alien world, far from Earth. A benevolent alien race (Ildirians) found us crawling across the massive expanses between stars, and provided us with a means of FTL (Faster Than Light) travel. In the following centuries, humanity has become a (nearly) unified galactic society, with numerous colonies on far-off worlds. Only two offshoots never regained acceptance into the Hansa (The earth coalition). Peaceful and independent Therans on their planet of Theroc living a harmonious life with the semi-sentient “World Trees,” and the fiercely secretive, but industrious Roamers.
Human ambition, curiosity, and ego leads us to testing a piece of technology found in the ruins of a long extinct race. They use the technology to ignite a gas giant and terraform its moons into habitable worlds, which unknowingly commits genocide in the process against the powerful gas giant dwelling Hydrogues.
What follows is the disparate plans and actions that our characters embark on to survive a war they never wanted, but must desperately survive.