Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.

Title quote from the first Matrix film; Morpheus.

So, noticed that the German version of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is now available, when it showed up on Goodreads under “other editions” recently. That was my first time seeing it. For those of you who aren’t Goodreads members (why aren’t you?), here’s what it looks like:

German cover of 100K

According to Google’s translation tool, the title is something like “The Heiress of the World”.

Submitted without comment for now. (Am talking with my agent about it.) Feel free to discuss. Oh, and there’s a description of Yeine in chapter 1, if you’re wondering what the book’s protagonist looks like. Granted, the cover image might not be the protagonist.

ETA Jan 30th: Putting this as an append to the original post rather than a separate post, since I can see by my blog stats that lots of people are still hitting this.

OK, have spoken with the German editor, via the foreign rights agent, via my agent. (Complicated foreign rights sales are complicated.) G-editor confirms that the image is not meant to depict Yeine or anyone in the story. It’s just a random woman. I have been advised by other pro authors that this sort of thing — art that’s got nothing to do with the book — is common among foreign publishers, who go in more for “symbolic” rather than “representative”/”realistic” like us USians prefer. Usually the symbols chosen are worse: science fiction books get a spaceship, even if there isn’t one in the story. Fantasy books get a guy with Mighty Thews ™ taking an axe to a dragon. Guess I should count my blessings.

Personally, I kind of like the image; it’s certainly striking and dramatic. I even like the new title, which is sort of poetic and mysterious. But in the context of the wider debate on whitewashing… it’s impossible not to wonder about this. If this is indeed a symbol, not meant to directly represent the protagonist, then it’s not whitewashing. Technically.

I have more thoughts, but I think I’ve said all I can safely say.

Anyway, I have decided, for my own emotional comfort, that this image represents Yeine’s mother — who doesn’t show up in the novel, but who does in fact cast a long shadow over its events. She’s described as something like this image, although her hair should be curly. But it’s close enough for government work, as a Canadian friend always says.

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11 Responses »

  1. I… just… sigh.

    It’s a gorgeous cover. I really wish it were remotely representative.

    Good luck sorting this out!

  2. Gorgeous Cover. Too bad they managed to get it so freaking wrong. *shakes head* WOW.

  3. That’s bad. I wonder what the readers thought when they realised.

  4. Your post has been included in a Linkspam roundup:

    http://linkspam.dreamwidth.org/20938.html

  5. I’m German and I live in Germany. The google translation is fine.
    Die Erbin der Welt means exactly The Heiress of the World. And that is misleading because it has nothing in common with the original title The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (in German = Die Hunderttausend K√∂nigreiche). A lot of German publisher doesn’t take care when they translate titles. For me it is a mess.
    Beside this German publishers like to split books after translation into two or three books. In your case they didn’t do it.

    And I’m angry about the cover. Where is the connection to the story? It is the 199th book cover showing a hooded person. Bravo!!! Well done by the publisher.
    I’m deeply grateful that I’m independent from translated editions.

    Given the title and the cover I imploringly hope you got a good translator.

    Now I look forward to the delivery of my copy of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms within next week.

  6. edifanob,

    Would you do me a favor, or ask another German fan who speaks English to do the same? When the book comes out there — because I’m not sure I’ll receive a copy — could you take a look at it and tell me the quality of the translation? Feel free to get it from the library or just browse it in the store, since you’ll have already gotten a copy. I’m curious. In exchange I will make sure you get an ARC of book 2, when they come out. =)

    Blanvalet bought the rights to all three books, so to my knowledge they won’t be split into further threes. (That would make it a what, nonology?) I don’t know what the titles will be, though — as you’ve seen in this case, the first time I learned of the title change was when this edition popped up on Goodreads.

  7. Another German reader here.

    Echoing what edifanob above said, German publishers frequently change the title in translation to something they think will sell better. In this case, I suspect that a literal translation “Die Hunderttausend K√∂nigreiche”, i.e. two very long words, was considered too awkward for a book cover or to type into Amazon, etc…

    The reasoning behind the splitting of books into two or sometimes even three parts is that German requires more words than English, hence German texts are longer than the English equivalent. And with a 100000+ words fantasy novel, that can add up and make for unwieldy books (Wheel of Time is literally twice as long in German). The solution is usually either more or less random cuts (of which sometimes neither author nor translator are aware) or splitting. Splitting, though annoying, is preferable IMO.

    Regarding the cover, German covers tend to be less literal and more genre-coded than US and UK covers. They also often use stock art. Hence you get spaceships for SF, whether there is one in the story or not (John Scalzi is apparently permanently frustrated by this), women with flowy hair for urban fantasy, terrible bodiceripper covers for historical romance, etc… From cursory experience, I’d suspect that your cover is supposed to indicate that this is an epic fantasy (hooded figures are popular for epic fantasy) with a female protagonist. Regarding the whitewashing, I suspect that the cover designer has no idea that the protagonist is not white (it’s probably stock art anyway) and that the publisher probably honestly has no idea that a whitewashed cover is deemed offensive in the US. Actual POCs are still pretty rare in Germany and POCs usually only appear on the covers of books about the exotic other, e.g. those dreadful “White woman goes to Africa as a tourist and marries Maasai warrior” memoirs that were all the range some years ago, and on books about racism. And yes, I think it sucks.

    I don’t know how far the production process for the German edition has progressed, but what you might try is contact Blanvalet via your agent and calmly explain why the whitewashed cover is problematic, because I suspect they honestly are unaware how offensive this is. I know that John Scalzi had issues with the title of one of his German editions, because it was too close to the US title of a Heinlein novel, and managed to get it changed, so German publishers are not beyond listening. And I am pretty certain they don’t want to be considered racist. You’ll probably still not get a POC on the cover, but maybe a generic castle or at least a woman who isn’t quite as white as that cover model.

    On the plus side, Blanvalet usually has pretty good production values regarding paper and cover stock quality. Their translations usually are decent as well, at least based on what I’ve seen in books bought for friends.

  8. Hi Cora,

    I’ve spoken with my editor there already (via my agent, via the foreign rights agent), as I mentioned in the OP. Have been as diplomatic as I could about it, and also attempted to suggest that the protagonist for book 2 — who is black — should probably not be rendered white in a similar way. The results are as I’ve reported. But I think it’s safe to say the fact that this got released publicly without me ever seeing it is an indicator of how much my input is desired.

    Thanks for the info about why German editions tend to be chopped up, etc.; I didn’t know that! Did know about the stock art problem, though — this is what I was attempting to explain in the OP about art that’s “symbolic”.

  9. Just read both the books now out, loved them, and currently reading through the back posts of your blog because I Do That Sort of Thing when I find a new author I adore…

    But just thought I’m chime in, a year later, and say that my first assumption on seeing that cover was that it was Naha. Which, I know, he wasn’t ever described with white hair in the novel, but the darkness of the hood, the beauty of the figure, and the fact that he changes his appearance constantly… ::shrug:: Was the first thing I thought when I saw that picture.