Monday, May 26, 2008


Today's Behind the Book is Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano and edited by moi. I've already written a little bit about this book here and here, and I think it's brilliant -- fascinating and thought-provoking and exciting and moving, and, in its fight scenes, frankly kick-ass. (If you'd like a plot summary and some non-editorially-biased critical commentary, there's a terrific review up over at the YA YA YAs.) But I want to do something a little different for this BtB and explore not the artistry of the writing, but the artistry of the way in which the writing is delivered: the book design and specs (short for "special effects" or "specifications," which we use interchangeably in conversation). Thanks to designer Phil Falco and the good people of our manufacturing department, this book has a gorgeous, gorgeous package, and their work deserves as much recognition and explanation as any of the work we editors undertake; indeed, I love the look and feel of this book so much that I'm prone to stroking it whenever it's within arm's reach.

First we have the beautiful jacket, created by illustrator Yuko Shimizu. We wanted the cover to convey the book's action and strong central heroine, and to appeal to readers of both traditional novels and Japanese manga. When Phil and our art director Elizabeth Parisi brought Yuko to Arthur's and my attention, we looked through her website and saw that she plays often with all of these ideas, and we unanimously agreed that she was the perfect person to illustrate the novel. (Plus she was able to read the book in its original Japanese!) This cover shows a scene straight out of the first chapter: the female bodyguard Balsa rescuing Prince Chagum from a raging river. But when you unfold the whole jacket, it offers even more:

The broken bridge; the tumbling cart; the fierce soldiers: We loved the action of this image so much we gave the book extra-wide flaps (a la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) to provide that much more of the panorama. We also embossed the title and author's name on the front cover and spine, and we printed the whole on a special textured paper with its rough side out (again like the Harry Potter hardcovers).

Here are the endpapers -- bright red to set off the flaps and pick up Chagum's coat from the cover. Although you can't see it, they have a subtle cross-hatched texture to them. (I can't seem to make the image go horizontal in Blogger, sorry.)

Now we're tipping up the book to look at the spine and sides. The hard cover of a book is called its case, and when the front and back covers are one color and the spine is another, as here, it's called a three-piece case. (The paper or cloth that surrounds the case is known as the case cover.) The small strip of yellow just inside the spine, covering the glue, is called the headband; the one on bottom is called the footband.

Here you see the spine of the book, and the front case cover with its "blind stamp" -- an impression on the book with no ink involved. Case covers are also often stamped with foil (cf. Elizabeth's post on A Curse Dark as Gold).

Opening up the book, we see my favorite spec -- blue ink! Isn't that cool? Phil also designed this spring's Orchard Books fantasy novel The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle, and that one is printed in purple. Phil's page design looks both ancient (the distressed pattern, the flower motifs) and modern [the blocky display type, the mid-page folios (aka page numbers)], and he did some beautiful things with the title page and table of contents, especially. (How you can tell you are listening to a book dork: I get excited about tables of contents.)

Finally, Yuko created three gorgeous interior spreads to hint at the suspense and power of the action. Here's the first, but if you see the book, be sure to check out all three -- the last one may be my favorite, as it shows Balsa charging at the awesome, awful monster Rarunga. (And sorry this one's sideways -- Blogger problems again.)

I'm now editing the translation of the sequel (Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness), in which Balsa returns to her homeland of Kanbal and much excellent political drama/martial-arts fighting/emotional healing ensues; Yuko will again be doing the cover and interiors. This series is like no fantasy you've ever read, I promise, and it's eminently worth picking up if you like good fiction, great fantasy, literature in translation, or fine bookmaking.


  1. Beautiful job. We may have to pick a copy up after we finish the Chronicles of Narnia.

  2. That's a GORGEOUS dust cover. Wow.

    I love a well-constructed book. I'm reading a well-worn copy right now of Moby Dick. It's case-bound in leather with a stamped foil cover and really beautiful artwork tipped in. The paper stock is creamy and wonderful, and I often find myself stroking the book as I read it as if it was a particularly lovely animal.

    I think I would be heartbroken if I finally sold a novel and the finished product was poorly manufactured.


  3. My, what beautiful fingers and manicure! Do you model for nail commercials in your 'down time'??

  4. I cannot wait to buy this book. One of the best things about your site is getting a heads up on what new books I should put on my list!

  5. I enjoyed reading about the making of the book. I didn't realize just how much thought went into making the book look good. Thank you for the insight!

  6. I enjoyed reading about the making of the book. I didn't realize just how much thought went into making the book look good. Thank you for the insight!

  7. a well made book is a beautiful thing. i love all the thought and attention to detail you've put into this novel. i'll be adding it to my wishlist (and buying it for myself soon probably)!

    thank you for a very interesting behind the scenes post!

  8. Thank you for walking us through the design!
    I was very *VERY* fortunate to read this a few months ago. It is excellent (I have a review on Moonrat's blog, Book Book)
    When I finished reading it, I contacted (somebody associated with the author in Japan?) and relayed how much I loved the book, and the art is perfect for the story.

    Wonderful read!

  9. Great post! Thanks for the preview. Can't wait to get it. Here's a link to an interview with Cathy Hirano about translation in SCBWI Tokyo's newsletter, Carp Tales 2006.

  10. I bought the book last week. :o) This post is informative and is getting me pumped up to read it - thank you! I am getting excited about the series. :o)

  11. I'm reading this right now, and quite enjoying it. Now I feel deprived, though, because my Advance Reading Copy doesn't have the flaps or the beautiful case and endpapers.:-( The artwork is lovely, and really captures the feel of the story.

  12. So I guess this site would not tickle your fancy....

  13. I was meant to be cutting down on books, but, um, guess what I just bought...
    This is absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I just finished this book yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had been interested because I had seen part of the anime series, but the book certainly stands on its own merits.

    Lately, I have been particularly interested in fantasy titles that come from a non-Western European background. I love to read fantasy, but so much of it is firmly entrenched in the mythology and imagined history of the West. Other parts of the world have such rich mythological and folkloric traditions that could be the basis of some great fantasy works. There just seem to be so few English-language authors writing such a thing and even fewer such books being translated for the English-language market. Thank you for your part in helping to remedy that!

    -Librarian Jen

  15. I am so excited to get this book after watching the animated series; it's a great story with awesome characterization set in a fantastic world (no small wonder that the author is a professor of anthropology, lol).

    And the book looks to be so well-constructed... I'm a snob, so I do sometimes judge a book by its cover ;) Love the jacket, the illustrations are amazing!

    It's so wonderful how much thought has gone into the construction of the book. Thanks so much for your insight!! :)

  16. this looks a good book thanks for the good review

  17. This is a wonderful site. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.

  18. Aw, man, this makes me wish I'd gotten this when it was in hardback - it was paperback by the time I realised it had been translated (though I DID get the hardcover of Guardian of the Darkness). Might have to find a used copy of the hardback Spirit somewhere.

    Also makes me extra sad that the rest of the series won't be translated. :( If I were Bill Gates, I would pay Scholastic to finish the series. :/