When I first saw an advertisement in Shelf Awareness for Rebecca Dean’s debut, PALACE CIRCLE, with a huge quote from Nora Roberts saying that anyone who liked Philippa Gregory would also like this book, I was intrigued.  Even more so when I started reading what the book was about – a Virginian heiress who marries an English viscount and the story of their lives and their daughters up through the Second World War.  I have to say I wasn’t too convinced it was anything like Philippa Gregory at that point.  So I emailed the publicist for an ARC, not imagining I’d actually get one.  To my surprise, it arrived in the mail last week. 

We all know the typical rules for historical romance – stay before 1900, be wary of exotic settings (as an editor I love them, but it’s a rare book that readers will embrace too), and keep the focus on your main characters.  PALACE CIRCLE is issued in trade as historical fiction, so it has a little more leeway.  But even so, it’s broken every single rule.  It’s set 1911-40, half of it is in Egypt, and the book is broken into five parts with five different characters’ points of view.  Not too surprising that the publisher is so heavily touting a familiar comparison from one of the leading voices in romance.

I found myself wondering how the heck they’re going to convince readers to pick up this book.  Obviously they’ve got a big ARC campaign going, hoping to build word-of-mouth buzz.  And I notice the cover has changed significantly from the ARC to the final:

palace-circle-book    

The different style of dress is not only more vibrant but to me also more reminescent of the 19th century than 20th.  Which I’m sure isn’t a bad thing in the eye of marketers.  And at least the front cover lines and the back copy make the setting clear.  (Though very little–if any–of the book was “at court.”)

I highly applaud authors and publishers who are willing to take risks and go outside the boundaries typically confined to “what sells.”  I really hope this works for everyone.  PALACE CIRCLE will be released March 24 by Broadway Books, part of Random House.

What is it that makes you pick up a book outside the norm, either an author you don’t know or a period of time you’re not as familiar with?  How do you feel about the different cover treatments (minus my shoddy photography on the first)? 

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