Last month saw the publication of Death Sets Sail, the ninth and final book in the middle grade ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series by Robin Stevens. Nina Tara has designed yet another stunning cover, and we can’t wait to break it all down for you!
Death Sets Sail takes place in Egypt, and I love how Tara has used a blue and gold colour scheme to effectively represent the setting of the story. The deep blue used on the front cover and the page edges is striking. In Ancient Egyptian culture, blue was often seen to symbolise water and so to use this colour in the design is a clever way of highlighting the book’s setting aboard the SS Hatshepsut cruise ship on the River Nile, as well as the title of the book, which also references water.
In addition, Stevens’ story features a secret society called the Breath of Life, a group claiming to be the ancient pharaohs reincarnated, and this theme is hinted at through the use of gold foiling on the cover. In Ancient Egyptian artwork, the gods are generally depicted as having golden skin and gold (or yellow) was often seen to represent eternal life. I love how the gold foiling used in the cover design subtly hints at the book’s theme of reincarnation, as well as helping Death Sets Sail to really stand out on the shelf!
Death Sets Sail uses a beautiful artistic serif font which I feel works well to connect with other murder mystery books that also used serif fonts, and it is used throughout the series to create great continuity. I love how Tara has slanted the word ‘Death’ down because it looks like the silhouette of the girl is running on top of it, like she might be running away from death in the book. In the A of ‘Death’, Tara has chosen to add the Eye of Horus to connect with the book's Egyptian setting. In Ancient Egypt, the Eye of Horus is used as a symbol of protection, health and restoration which could be a symbol which the Breath of Life group use. Another clever detail included by Tara is replacing the ‘I’ of ‘Sail’ with a knife. I think this is a striking detail that gets children wondering about the knife: could it possibly be the murder weapon? Or could this be a special knife from an Egyptian Pharaoh?
For the cover design of Death Sets Sail, Tara uses the same silhouette illustration style as in previous instalments of the ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series. The silhouettes add to the idea of a mystery as the details in the images are hidden from the audience. Tara seems fond of this style and has used this technique in some of her other cover designs, such as The Bear’s Famous Invasion of Italy. The clever silhouettes used in the cover design of Death Sets Sail, although alluding to mystery, are by no means devoid of detail. The shapes of the silhouettes are intricate and depict the era well with safari hats and large barges. Without any background or colour, the viewer is immediately transported to the time period and the setting, despite being presented with very little information. It is certainly no mystery why Tara was chosen to illustrate the covers for this series!
Murder Mystery Genre
Death Sets Sail, and the ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series as a whole, fits comfortably into the mystery genre and I love how Tara incorporates particular elements and symbols to effectively convey the genre of the book through imagery. The posture of two silhouette figures on the cover position the book very firmly in the mystery genre. One of the girls runs along the word ‘Death’ in the title, carrying a lantern. She is doubled over, crouched low to the ground and looks as though she is running away from, or perhaps towards, something just out of frame. The other silhouette figure adopts a bold pose, with one hand on her waist and the other shielding her eyes. It is the classic and very recognisable pose of an explorer. In addition to the postures of the figures on the cover, Tara also incorporates a collection of symbols and images from the story and weaves them into the cover design, cleverly dropping clues but giving little away about the plot of Death Sets Sail. Readers are left to wonder how the knife, the cruise ship, what appears to be a setting sun, the Eye of Horus and the scarab beetle are connected and must read the book for themselves to solve the mystery!