I feel obligated to say that while I certainly don't approve of THE GATHERING STORM's cover art (and several of the WOT covers), I am pleased to hear that Sweet will be finishing off the series. After the conclusion of the last volume being published in November of 2011, Tor will be repackaging the entire series with new art. I am a man that prefers standardization. While I don't particularly prefer the cover art for WOT, I do like that consistency in the paintings; and, many of the paintings are beautiful when you look at both the front and back covers as one sweeping epic moment in the WHEEL OF TIME saga.
To further add to this point, I was angered beyond belief when George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series, THE SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, was given a new cover look after the third book. I was furious. I loved the first three covers, and I despise the new look. For you visual learners out there, take a look at these (the editions available when I started reading the series minus the A FEAST FOR CROWS cover, because it was never released with that cover):
Now obviously my complete set will never look like a complete set, because I have the first three covers under the old publication art, and every remaining book under the new publication art (unless Bantam decides to change the art once again).
Anyways, I digress. Back to THE WHEEL OF TIME cover art. In light of the cover art release of THE GATHERING STORM, I went back to look at all the old covers again and see which I loved, liked, appreciated, and despised. I think one of the reasons I am sometimes disappointed with Sweet's artwork is the close up images of the characters, most specifically the faces. I wish I could find the full paintings of the cover art including both the front and the back, because as I mentioned, sometimes the best art is not on the front, or for full appreciation of the epic scope of the painting requires the full painting (if you know where I can find the full images, please let me know. If I come across them I will post them later).
My all time favorite WHEEL OF TIME cover goes to CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT. The full image shows an army of characters weaving through the woods approaching what appears to be some battle. The colors of the woods and the actions of the characters is beautifully illustrated and executed. Sweet does have a knack for painting landscape, as the woods in this cover demonstrates.
The second best cover, in my opinion, goes to A PATH OF DAGGERS (and a very close second to the best). A wonderful painting of an army heading to battle. The characters are done extremely well and look believable. This cover does an excellent job of providing the casual reader in the bookstore with the knowledge of the epic nature of the book.
My third favorite cover is A CROWN OF SWORDS. Again, the overall colors and dark nature of the image are incredibly well done. There is not a lot going on in the front cover image, but the back cover image displays more (small) characters and some of the villainous Trollocs. This particular cover does a nice job of illustrating Rand in the ruined city of Shadar Logoth. A beauty of balance in composition and colors.
Next, THE DRAGON REBORN. This cover paints the characters as youthful and inexperienced, yet fully realizing the epic nature of the quest before them as Rand reaches for the sword that is not a sword. On the back cover are some interesting looking characters that only the astute reader of the first two books (or the re-reader) would recognize, hinting at something bigger going on in the book.
Other notable covers include THE EYE OF THE WORLD, NEW SPRING, and THE GREAT HUNT. The first two portraying the exact image of a group setting out on an epic quest. THE EYE OF THE WORLD being the first book in the main sequence introduces a motley crew of young, naive boys and some huge characters who obviously know what they are up against. If all fantasy sagas are deep down just a coming of age and self realization story then THE EYE OF THE WORLD cover paints this image perfectly.
And the worst of the worst going to LORD OF CHAOS, WINTER'S HEART, and THE GATHERING STORM. Nothing paints epic fantasy worse than a sweeping cover with an image straight off of a sappy romance novel (especially when the main character has shoulders as broad as his torso is tall. Despite this terrible depiction of Rand, the back cover has some beautiful imagery of desolate landscape. WINTER'S HEART is another great traveling image, except for the horrible facial expressions on the main characters. And, THE GATHERING STORM... The house seems to be leaning (which I suppose whatever caused the huge burnt hole in the house could have destroyed the structural integrity of the house; but I prefer not to have to think that much with a cover) and I can't comprehend how Rand is standing the way he is. I love the commentary by Rob B at SFFWORLD when he said:
Is that the Bates Motel plopped into Little House on the Prairie?
Anyways, fantasy covers (in general) leave a lot to be desired; but standardizationally speaking, they do hold a dear place in my heart. I can see how it might be difficult for a new reader to be psyched about picking up these books, but once in, it is difficult to imagine it any other way.
Plants and Books