When a Crane Clan auditor turns up dead in a soy brewery, all eyes turn to nobleman-turned-detective, Daidoji Shin… but not to solve the man’s murder; rather, Shin is the suspect. Now Shin must attempt to figure out who killed the victim and, more importantly, who framed him, all while outwitting the authorities on his trail—including a dogged Kitsuki investigator with a score to settle. Caught in a spider’s web of intrigue and with his enemies closing in, time is running out for Daidoji Shin…
We’re very excited to finally be able to share the cover art for the fifth Daidoji Shin mystery, A Bitter Taste by Josh Reynolds! The gentleman sleuth faces his trickiest case yet when he finds himself being framed for murder in this captivating cozy fantasy mystery set in the world of Legend of the Five Rings. Untangle the conspiracy this summer: A Bitter Taste releases on August 6 in the US and as a global ebook, with the UK release coming October 24.
To help us celebrate this cover reveal, we caught up with Nick Tyler, Book Production Coordinator at Aconyte Books, to talk a little bit about the process behind producing this latest cover as well as the covers from the previous four installments of the series.
Can you talk about the creation of this cover?
I’d love to. All of Aconyte’s covers begin with the story—what’s the novel about, who’s in it, where are they, and what are they doing? The focus of the Daidoji Shin Mysteries cover is on the heroes, with a hint of background to provide their location and enrich the story. We wrote a detailed art brief with descriptions of Shin and Kasami, the style and vibe of the art, and the atmosphere we want to evoke. Then there are more pages of visual references and specific details like kimono patterns, the right clan crests, and a heap of less obvious things, like Shin carrying his sword on the “wrong” side (all the better to confound his enemies’ expectations).
In A Bitter Taste, Shin is finally in real trouble as he’s the top suspect in a murder and may have to go on the run. Usually, we show Shin as the cool, collected, suave detective he is, with Kasami ever watchful and just moments from violence. This time we swapped them around to show Shin on edge and ready to fight, whereas Kasami is properly in her element: the threat is here and she knows how to deal with it. I haven’t read the book yet, but I was delighted to spot a possible escape from Shin’s Foxfire Theater so we could finally see a little of its interior (I’ve had some involvement with theatre since I was quite young, but it rarely overlaps with work directly).
The preparation is fun, but finding the right artist and seeing them start work is the best. I’ve been (semi-patiently) waiting for an opportunity to have Xteve Abanto work on an L5R cover for a few years now. He did excellent work on our Marvel Crisis Protocol and the most recent Marvel Multiverse Missions book, Moon Knight: Age of Anubis (and indeed all the interior art for that series too!). Xteve has a gift for capturing the human form at rest and in motion (you really should check out his artist pages and Patreon, though they may not be exactly what you expect), and equally importantly here, he really gets how fabrics and textures flow and hang. That might be an odd thing to focus on, but it’s essential for the Daidoji Shin books. Xteve’s also a delight to work with, and from sketches onwards the cover leaps and bounds into life.
You’ve commissioned five Daidoji Shin covers from five artists—how do you maintain consistency across a series?
The Daidoji Shin Mysteries have a specific look: our heroic duo of troublemakers set against a faded near-watercolor background. The lush silks and clothing of the Edo period are so appealing—kimono are such a gift for making everything look great—and such a key part of why the game art for Legend of the Five Rings is so lovely. To best reflect that style and those textures, we sought out artists whose brushstrokes and painterly style would give us those details and a rich sense of dynamism. The first cover, for Poison River, is by John Antony Di Giovanni, which established the style that the rest of the series should match. The following novels are all from different artists who paint in that delicate, textured way, allowing us to make them visually similar while capitalising on those artists different skills—they each bring cool differences and their own style. The Death’s Kiss cover is by Merilliza Chan (check out the Squirrel Girl: Universe cover), who has a lovely grasp of texture and shadow; book three, The Flower Path, is by Grant Griffin (who also worked on our Marvel Legends of Asgard covers), who throws so much energy into the brushstrokes that Shin and Kasami come to life in new ways. We followed that with the cooler, smoother Shen Fei cover for Three Oaths—still brushstroke-led but with such clean beautiful colours (which can also be seen in Rokugan: The Art of Legend of the Five Rings in the Crane Clan section, and whose art is all over L5R).
Daidoji Shin never shows his face—what’s that all about, and how do you keep managing to do that?
It lends our detective hero a little mystique, which contrasts him nicely with his bodyguard who we always show in full. It’s also a bit of fun for us—it forces us to keep rearranging the duo, and adds in a kind of game for us in figuring out how to hide part of his face this time. It also means we can find yet another element in the story and add that extra detail into the cover. For example: Japanese fans are lovely (and essential in summer), so was a natural accessory for Shin and he’s holding one in three of the covers—for The Flower Path it was a cheeky way to reference the Scorpion Clan part of the story; the red parasol on Three Oaths is a symbol of life and wards off evil, which is very handy at a wedding.
How do these compare to other L5R covers?
Well, I like ’em! The series is intentionally very different to our other novels, such as Marie Brennan’s trilogy, which take the shape of a Great Clan helmet and are filled with location art, or the Iuchiban novels’ lovely seals (no, not that kind of seal) and shapes. These are more similar to FFG’s novellas in showing characters, and of course we use the familiar red swash of the roleplaying game but on its side for the series title. It all makes the covers feel like they’re part of that luxurious Legend of the Five Rings family.
Do you have any tips for artists?
Well, I can’t draw, so it would seem rude to be so presumptuous… But: the artists we work with excel at what they do. I’m a big fan of figuring out what you enjoy doing, and why, and then doing more of that. We work with Xteve Abanto, and the others because they’re all really good at working with a specific art brief, by allowing all of their skills and artistic sensibilities to flow through that—it’s their art to our specification. That’s not easy. Make strong choices, learn to receive feedback, and work together to make beautiful things.
Pre-order your copy of A Bitter Taste today from your local bookstore or your preferred e-tailer, and catch up on the previous four Daidoji Shin novels here. And don’t forget to visit Aconyte’s web site or their social media accounts to stay up to date with all their new Legend of the Five Rings offerings.