One of my most favorite books from when I was a child is On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt, the second book in a loosely-connected non-magical fantasy series called the Kingdom. The other books in the series are Jackaroo, Wings of a Falcon, and Elske. While they’re all fantastic, On Fortune’s Wheel occupies a special place in my heart – it was the first I read and it fundamentally changed my idea of what a book could be. It was set in a made-up land, but it didn’t have any magic. It dealt with slavery in a way that seemed very frank to me at the time. I learned what an amanuensis was and how to pronounce it. It made me see personal identity in new ways (I read certain sections of the book centering around this idea so often I have them committed to memory). The protagonist had sex (the fade-to-black kind, but it was there). And it ended with the girl deciding what was best for her, what she really wanted, and then doing it. And she was happy. I was in middle school when I read it, and I think these books are just right for that age group.
Voigt has always garnered much (deserved) recognition for the Tillerman cycle (Homecoming won a National Book Honor, Dicey’s Song the Newbery Medal, and A Solitary Blue a Newbery Honor), and those books tend to eclipse a lot of her other work. I always wished that her fantasy books were discussed a bit more, which is why I was so pleased to see that Atheneum is re-releasing the Kingdom books with a new look and new titles in May of this year.
With the re-release, the titles have been homogenized and simplified greatly. Jackaroo is now The Tale of Gwyn, On Fortune’s Wheel is The Tale of Birle, Wings of a Falcon is The Tale of Oriel, and Elske is The Tale of Elske. The entire series has been renamed The Tales of the Kingdom to match. I’m of two minds about the title changes. On the one hand, I like that they match each other, that it’s immediately apparent they belong in the same series. I also like the legend-like feel they give to the stories. This works especially well for Jackaroo, which is about a Robin Hood type of figure and the legends told about him. It also works well for the series as a whole: the books are loosely connected not by re-use of characters, but by stories – legends – passed down about these characters generations later.
On the other hand, the titles are a bit boring. Voigt’s fantasy character names aren’t terribly original (they’re kind of cliche, actually, but I forgive her) and so I don’t think they feature all that well in the titles. I think the original titles are more interesting and – with the exception of Elske – better reflect the meaning of the stories themselves.
I actually really loved some of the older covers for the books. At one point, they featured Vermeer paintings, which I found terribly romantic. Vermeer is one of my favorite painters and a big reason is because he is forever connected to these books in my mind. Here are three of the Vermeer covers (I don’t think Wings of a Falcon ever had one):
The 2015 releases aren’t the first time the covers have been redesigned. Simon Pulse published some paperbacks in 2003 that still look pretty modern to me, in that a lot of current fantasy novels feature an object central to the story on the cover. Again, Wings of a Falcon seems to have been left out.
I like the new designs, pictured at the top of this post, though I think they’re pretty generic (much like the titles). They skew a little more middle-grade for me, probably because they’re illustrated. On Edelweiss these books are listed as YA – grades 7 and up. When I read them, the books were located in the J section (though to be fair, YA sections weren’t really around much then), and I’d say the writing is more of a middle school YA than a high school YA. The cover for the Tale of Elske is the most interesting by far. Frustratingly, Edelweiss doesn’t have the cover for the Tale of Birle up yet. Don’t they realize that’s the one I’m most interested in?
Have you read these books? What’s your take on the new titles and new designs?