Booking Through Thursday
Suggested by Jennysbooks:

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: “What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”

Ah, the back cover blurbs! One of my pet peeves. Warning: this will be long.

Short answer: I don’t trust blurbs. I tend to do my book shopping online so I look at reviews. I also get recommendations from other people.

Longer: I haven’t read back covers for a long time simply because I’ve been burned by them too many times. There are apparently hundreds of ways that the blurb can be wrong and I’ve seen most of them. They can be anything from slightly misleading to absolutely wrong. In my humble opinion, even blurbs that are only slightly wrong might raise wrong expectations and so sour the reading experience.

Examples which contain spoilers for Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s the Disappeared. I’m a fan of both writers and hugely enjoyed the books.

Let’s look at a relatively minor incident from the back cover of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first book in the Dragonlance fantasy series. This is from the Finnish edition and it’s legendary among the Finnish fantasy fans. The start of the last paragraph translated into English:
“A knight and a barbarian, a warrior and an elf-like dwarf, a wise man and a black magician start a dangerous quest…”

Lets look at the actual heroes: Sturm Brighblade (who, surprisingly enough, is a knight), Riverwind (a barbarian), Goldmoon (another barbarian… but she’s a woman so maybe she doesn’t count because she’s only the catalyst to the whole damn plot!), Caramon (who is a fighter), Tanis Half-Elven (another fighter and the group leader), Flint Fireforge (a dwarf but not “elf-like” in any way, shape, or form. Also a fighter), Raistlin (a wizard but not a black wizard), and Tasslehoff Burrfot (a kent which is a sort of halfling. Another fighter). Later they are joined by two elves Laurana and her brother who are both fighters. How the blazes can you describe this group in the above way! The answer, of course, appears simple: you haven’t read the book in the first place!

Now, getting the characters only half right or completely wrong might still be a minor transgression but it can still influence people’s expectations and therefore their reading experience.

Some blurbs have more sinister errors: a, wrong plot, b, part of the plot is wrong, c, it reveals a surprise plot twist, or d, reveal the surprise ending! What the hell, marketing people??? None of the above are the right way to sell a book! Often enough, the back cover is the only way to market that book. That’s not the right place to save money!

Sadly, the blurbs about Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shard of Honor are often quite off the mark:

In the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. She even wore the wrong uniform; Cordelia Naismith, Betan Expeditionary Force, had been hurried into battle still wearing her old tan Astronomical Survey fatigues.

Now, captain of a throwaway ship on a mission of deception, she convoys a weapon of wicked subtlety to entrap and destroy an enemy armada.

But Cordelia will discover deception within deception, treachery within treachery, until finally she is forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Vorkosigan. It is a peace that earns her only ignominy – even though it foreshadows a new beginning, for herself, her lover, and both their peoples.“

Part of this might be true… from a certain point of view. Problems: this is not the start of the book! The blurb starts about halfway into the book! I have no idea what’s going on with the whole “wrong war, wrong uniform” thing. The uniforms aren’t important at all. Why mention them in the blurb??? Cordelia’s a single soldier in a war; she has no control over “wrong wars”. Lord Vorkosigan is her lover, not “chief opponent”, mentioning the deceptions is also a major spoiler and only starts after the halfway point of the book. This sounds once again like the person who wrote this hasn’t bothered to read the book. I dearly hope s/he wasn’t paid for it!

Alas, this isn’t the most atrocious description of poor Shards of Honor. From about Cordelia’s Honor which combines SoH and the next book in the internal chronology, Barrayar:

“In this two-part story, Cordelia Naismith, made an outcast after being forced into marriage with her arch enemy, finds further trouble when her husband is made the guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne.”

Umm. Cordelia married the love of her life, not her arch enemy and she was most definitely not forced into it. I also find it troublesome that this is supposed to be the description of the two books and yet, it describes the end of the book one and so manages to spoil the first book pretty much completely.

This one, again from, I find just weirdly wrong and peculiar:

“Cordelia Naismith, Betan Survey Captain, was expecting the unexpected: hexapods, floating creatures, odd parasites… She was not, however, expecting to find hostile humans on an uninhabited planet. And she wasn’t really expecting to fall in love with a 40-plus barbarian known to cosmopolitan galactics as the Butcher of Komarr. Will Mother ever understand? And can such an odd beast as love survive an interplanetary war?”

Spoiling again one of the plot points in SoH; the romance. I also find the sentence “Will Mother ever understand?” mightly peculiar because Cordelia’s mother isn’t seen until the end of the book. It also makes it feel like Cordelia is twelve and constantly worrying about what her mother thinks. In reality, Cordelia is in her mid thirties and a ship captain and most definitely not worrying about her mother’s opinions. Also, this makes it sound like SoH is 100% romance. Again, the impression is wrong; the romance is perhaps half of the plot and is also quite understated.

Then there’s the Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The actual back cover blurb (which I don’t have right now, sorry about that) mentions by name only one of the three POV character who is, perhaps not coincidentally, the only male POV character. There’s a reference to another POV character but the third one, the female detective, is left out completely.

This blurb is from the Internet Database of Fiction:
“In a world where humans and aliens co-exist, where murder is sanctioned, and where no one can find safe haven, one group of private detectives is willing to help the “Disappeared” find their way home. Meet the Retrieval Artists.”

Short, but it still got two things wrong:
1. Murder is not sanctioned. Alien laws are agreed to be valid even on human grounds. I find that to be quite a different concept.
2. You’re pretty safe if you don’t commit crimes. Now granted, it’s sometimes hard to know what aliens consider crimes but the claim that “no one is safe” is pure hyperbole.

I guess I’ve ranted enough. But really, I don’t trust blurbs.