Design nerd corner: Falls the Shadow

So I’ve been sitting on my review of Falls the Shadow for about a week now. Book is done with, I have thoughts on its merit as a book and the content therein but every time I go to write it I get stuck. I like to start off my reviews with how I heard about the book and my expectations going into it, but the entire reason Falls the Shadow wound up on my TBR is due to its cover design. What normally should be only a few sentences leading into the plot summary keeps mutating into paragraphs about typography choice and lighting that just doesn’t belong in a review. But this is what happens when a designer tries to start a book blog: she’s going to prattle on about cover design choices. And so, allow me to prattle.


I love this cover concept. Anytime we get to play around with typography and the form of letters or shadows I’m there. And the concept behind Falls the Shadow’s cover reads incredibly well. The western eye already reads forms in a left to right fashion, but we combined that with the directional lighting. The bright silhouette on the left side of the cover is stark in its contrast, drawing your eye immediately to it. From there the angle of the shadows lead you into the counterform of the shadow. Within seconds you get the idea of emotional turmoil underneath an apparently calm outward appearance.

My main criticism is the legibility of the type. Again, I love playing with typography and without the type being in perspective the way it is, you wouldn’t be able to create the shadows that make this cover work. But there’s not enough contrast on the top of the type (the part you’d read). I understand the problem that comes from arranging the type as it is. There are only two light sources in this and both are coming from the left side (to create the two differing angles to create the face). For the shadow to be as crisp as it is, we need those to be the only light sources, which means the top of the type, the part you read, is only getting illuminated from this side light. I’m still working on understanding lighting so if I’m incorrect on this feel free to correct me.

So in theory the top of the type should have some illumination from the side lighting, assuming it’s positioned high enough that the beam behaves in that way. But if we do that, the top of the type becomes the same tone as the floor. So the shape of the letterforms that overlap over the floor would get lost. However, the other half of the letterforms has readable contrast against the shadows being formed.

edit done by me

edit hastily done by me

I believe the beveled edge on the top of the type is meant to be a solution for this readability problem. The edge creates a shadow on the type but keeps the highlight on the edge itself. However, the bevel is too thin for it to properly work, I think. We don’t have a lot of space to work with anyway, but the only time I think the letters are properly legible is the W in Shadow, and that might be due to its being predominantly in shadow anyway.

Regardless of potential legibility issues, I still think this cover is wonderful. The overall metallic feel emphasizes the inhuman aspect of the book, and the screaming shadow can have multiple meanings. Does the shadow represent Violet’s clone who potentially has a violent and deadly programming in her? Does it represent Cate and her suppressed uncomfortableness of her sister being a clone? Does it represent the two sisters, one human the other not? It could mean any and all of these things, or something else entirely. The designer and illustrator did their job and did it well. I would not have found this book if not for its cover.

Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither. Cover design by Laurent Linn. Cover illustration by Luke Lucas.


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