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The Emerald Blade by Steven Kelliher – Cover Reveal

Valley of Embers (cover)In August 2016, Steven Kelliher surprised the indie scene with his self-published debut novel, Valley of Embers. Introducing readers to the Landkist universe, where flame-wielding warriors known as Embers struggle in dwindling numbers to defend their homes from the Darkness. Valley of Embers was widely regarded as a solid and highly competent debut. Though Fantasy-Faction didn’t find it without faults (many of which have now, I’m assured, been fixed with the assistance of a copyeditor), overall we thoroughly enjoyed the story. Moreover, we were hugely impressed by the book’s cover art and design, and have been looking forward to seeing what the sequel holds – both inside and out.

So when Steven approached us offering an exclusive cover reveal for The Landkist Sage #2, The Emerald Blade, naturally we jumped at the opportunity. And let me assure you that it’s GORGEOUS! But first, here’s Steven to tell us a little bit about the creation process.

There are plenty of positives and negatives involved in going independent when it comes to publishing fantasy. And while my wallet and my production team (assembled from the far reaches of the realm) may rue the day the final draft is turned in, producing the cover has to be the most exciting and nerve-wracking part of the whole process for me.

Luckily, my artist, Aaron Nakahara (CobaltPlasma), was able to parse my incoherent ramblings and references to Princess Mononoke and Star Wars, and understand phrases like, “Green, but not TOO green,” etc. The resulting cover for Landkist #2 exceeded all of my expectations and—in my totally unbiased opinion—stacks up as being equal to or better than its predecessor, Valley of Embers.

To start the process, I sent Aaron the aforementioned series of partially-coherent inklings, impressions, and tonal desires for The Emerald Blade cover. I wanted something striking—something that evoked the same vibe of book one while standing on its own. I sent over art clippings from everything from Artstation randoms to Miyazaki films to Overwatch character designs (Genji in particular), described the setting and scene, and, most of all, described my goals for the color scheme.

This is the first sketch I received:

The Emerald Blade (art 1)

I knew from the get-go he already had a workable conception of the scene (a high-powered forest duel) in his mind.

Next up, Aaron largely struck off on his own and began filling in some background details, messing with dynamic poses and doing some early shading work:

The Emerald Blade (art 2)

An eagle-eyed observer may also notice the suggestions of three other figures in the background: another Ember like Kole, with her flaming spear, and the two characters who appear with him on the cover to Valley of Embers: Baas Taldis and Linn Ve’Ran.

I liked the idea of including them at this point in time, and since I loved the direction the piece was heading, update #3 saw the addition of the first bit of glow work to go along with more detail work:

The Emerald Blade (art 3)

It was between update #3 and #4 where we hit our first and only “snag,” if you will. Aaron spent over a week trying out different iterations of the piece on his own, but the additions of the other characters just felt off to him. He felt their presence unbalanced the focus of the piece and, ultimately, took attention and intent away from the primary duel. After some deliberation—and a LOT of advice-seeking—I agreed, and the almost-finished piece below confirmed that decision as likely being the right one.

The Emerald Blade (art 4)

Finally, I unleashed the wild Nakahara to do what he does best: make something cool look truly awesome with the inclusion of glowy stuff, a green waterfall and even some Avatar-style fluorescence. We zoomed in a little bit on the central duel, and then it was off to my graphic designer to take Aaron’s work and—if it were possible—enhance it with some incredible titling.
The end result (which I hope you’ll read):

The Emerald Blade (cover)

The Emerald Blade releases June 1, 2017. Keep your eyes open for the review right here on Fantasy-Faction! If you want to learn more about The Landskit Sage you can check out Steven’s website or follow him on Twitter @Steven_Kelliher.

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