Of Sand and Malice Made Cover Reveal and Artwork Progression

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Recently, Tor.com released a post on the artwork progressio for OF SAND AND MALICE MADE, my new SHATTERED SANDS novel coming out in September from DAW Books and Gollancz. I wanted to cross-post here in case anyone missed it.

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Of Sand and Malice Made is the exciting follow up to Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, the acclaimed first novel in The Song of the Shattered Sands.

Çeda, the heroine of the widely anticipated, just-released novel Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, is the youngest pit fighter in the history of the great desert city of Sharakhai. In this prequel, she has already made her name in the arena as the fearsome, undefeated White Wolf; none but her closest friends and allies know her true identity.

But this all changes when she crosses the path of Rümayesh, an ehrekh, a sadistic creature forged long ago by the god of chaos. The ehrekh are usually desert dwellers, but this one lurks in the dark corners of Sharakhai, toying with and preying on humans. As Rümayesh works to unmask the White Wolf and claim Çeda for her own, Çeda’s struggle becomes a battle for her very soul.

This spellbinding tale is sure to strike a chord with readers of Peter V. Brett, Brent Weeks, and Trudi Canavan—as well as fans of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai eagerly awaiting book two.

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Because Of Sand and Malice Made focuses so closely on a djinn-like creature known as an ehrekh, I wanted the cover to focus on her. Rümayesh is not only an ancient creature, she’s a devious one—a cat in a city of mice—and I wanted the cover to reflect that. I wanted her to be shown as curious. Interested. Keen to learn more about Çeda, calm in the knowledge that little in the city of Sharakhai can stand against her.

I captured my thoughts in an art brief (as well as I could, in any case), and the artist, René Aigner, took them and came back with the following sketches.


A great beginning on both counts. I loved the play on light René brought to the sketches. It wasn’t something that was in the brief at all, which goes to show how important it is to have a competent artist. It’s been one of the more eye-opening things for me. Good artists reach their level of acclaim for a reason. Each project needs direction, of course, but the best results come when artists are allowed to bring their own unique vision to the work.

Of the two sketches, the top one felt closer to the mark, so we set out to try to narrow in on something that would hit the notes most important for the reader. First, we needed Rümayesh to be more active. And second, we wanted some subtle indication that this was fantasy. As you’ll see in the final below, Rümayesh would eventually have horns, but that isn’t the sort of things that’s terribly apparent in thumbnail form, so we needed something else to indicate that this was fantasy.

Years ago, I got a chance to see Chris McGrath’s great piece for D. B. Jackson’s Thieftaker. The first incarnation didn’t have the glow around the man’s hand as he held it over the prone form of the woman.


Adding that subtle effect really made the piece pop. That’s what I was shooting for: something that would symbolize the magic while complementing the piece. It had to enhance the overall effect, not draw undue attention to itself.

Here’s René’s first take on that aspect, along with a more curious look on Rümayesh’s face.


This was coming a lot closer to the mark. This was still at the early sketch stage, but it was time to get some detail, so René and I started to narrow in on her horns, how those would look, and getting her posture and expression just right.


Closer still. After a couple more passes, we had a good look for Rümayesh, and René was really making the background click. So we set out to get more detail on the arcane circle. One of the unique elements of the book is that it’s told in three main arcs, so I wanted to represent that symbolically. I supplied some ideas for what the three symbols might look like, and again, René breathed life into them in this final piece.

Of Sand and Malice Made Full Wrap 3 med

Each of the objects—the moth, the sigil stone, and the gemstone—has special meaning to the three main arcs. I love how well balanced it is, color-wise. The glowing blue lines really complement the ambers, golds, and greens of the rest of the piece.

So, with the artwork done, it was time for the cover design. Shawn King is the talented designer of this piece. I’d known him from his great work on the Blackguards anthology from Ragnarok Publications and was confident he was going to do a bang-up job for the book. We talked a bit about the book itself and the tone the cover needed to have. Dark. Mysterious.

The first pass was attractive:


But after considering it awhile, we both felt like it wasn’t quite right. The title is Of Sand and Malice Made, and I thought if we could somehow get the design to embody malice, the texturing on the title could capture the desert and the sand that’s so prevalent in the story. Shawn played around with those ideas and came back with a new design for title.

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Right off the bat I loved this approach. It really captured exactly what I was hoping for. We went through a couple tweaks in terms of color and sizing, and eventually landed on the near-final design.


After a few more final tweaks, we arrived at the final cover design for Of Sand and Malice Made. I hope you enjoy, and I hope it whets your appetite for the book.


Click to embiggen