You might have noticed I’ve been out of the loop for the past eight or nine months. I wish I could say that I went stealth because I was having a baby, but that’s not the case. The truth is that the publishing business is changing in ways that have bugged me a lot. This is the story of one of those times.
On October 15, 2018, author Jenny Trout had a cover reveal for her new YA urban fantasy serial Nightmare Born, which became available on the serial fiction app Radish starting October 23, 2018. This cover was made up of striking silhouettes, with a boy and a girl facing one another–him on the left, her on the right–as they held hands. It’s very distinctive, particularly when so many YA covers these days have bright colors and photorealistic figures.
Three months later on January 3, 2019, the newly rebranded covers for Jennifer L. Armentrout’s YA science-fiction series Lux were revealed, along with an announcement that more of the series could be explored in a choose-your-own-adventure style app from Crazy Maple Studios starting in March 2019. The new covers feature striking silhouettes, with the first book listed showing a boy and a girl facing one another–him on the left, her on the right–and holding hands. The original covers had looked nothing like this.
Coincidences happen, of course. Isn’t it funny that two authors with such similar names both have covers resembling one another, both available in app form? True, Armentrout’s covers came out so many months after Trout’s did that it would have been very easy for Trout’s cover to have been used as a template, but we shouldn’t assume malice based on this incident alone, right? What about the actual substance of the books?
Nightmare Born is about a girl who discovers she’s the daughter of the King of Nightmares and is whisked away to a magical school to join her sisters born of dark dreams. There she learns magic and encounters vampires and intrigue.
Lux is about a girl who moves to a new town where she meets a boy with strange powers, such as the ability to heal, stop time, shapeshift and leave marks on humans with a touch. Turns out, he’s an alien! Definitely not a ripoff of Nightmare Born.
Except… hm. Where have I heard this premise before? Ah, right. Way back in my ’90s kid days with the WB’s original Roswell. Marking humans with a touch, healing, time manipulation, and shapeshifting.
In the pilot episode of Roswell, Liz Parker is shot by a stray bullet, but is saved by mysterious Max Evans, who reveals that he’s an alien when he heals her. In the first Lux book, Katy Swartz is saved from a violent attack by mysterious Daemon Black, who reveals that he is an alien when he stops time.
Of course, Armentrout readily admits the inspiration in interviews. With a Roswell reboot about to hit the CW this month, that inspiration will become all the more obvious, particularly considering that many of Armentrout’s readers today weren’t even alive when the original show premiered. None of this is a secret or hidden. The more I look at the books and compare them to my memories of Roswell, the odder it gets how closely they mirror the TV series, but inspiration can be an insideous thing and coincidences do happen. Like with Jenny Trout’s cover. Like the other similarities in the Lux series readers pick up on between it and Twilight.
As I read up on Lux, I start getting nudged towards another series by Armentrout, The Covenant. Specifically, the first book in the series: Half-Blood. Described by one reviewer as “90% Vampire Academy”, virtually every review I found of it at least mentioned the comparison between the two. The cover copy tells us this:
The Hematoi descend from the unions of gods and mortals, and the children of two Hematoi – pure-bloods – have godlike powers. Children of Hematoi and mortals – well, not so much. Half-bloods only have two options: become trained Sentinels who hunt and kill daimons or become servants in the homes of the pures.
If this is already sounding a bit familiar to readers of Vampire Academy, yeah, I know. I’m not even sure where to start with it, so I’ll just let reviewer Kelly from Effortlessly Reading cover it:
Half-bloods are basically dhampirs from Vampire Academy, pures are Morois, and daimons are basically Strigoi. Pures can control the four elements like Morois could and only Apollyons can control the fifth element, which is basically called Spirit in Vampire Academy. Like Morois in Vampire Academy, the pures in Half-Blood also have the power of compulsion. The Covenant is basically St. Vladimir’s Academy. Mia from Vampire Academy is Lea in Half-Blood, but unlike Vampire Academy, Lea and Alex don’t have any good reason to hate one another. They just do.
And then the plot is… well. Look, if you’ve read Vampire Academy, you’ve read this. Again, reviewers have already broken down many of these similarities at length:
- – Alex is a half-blood, sworn to protect pure-bloods from the daimons who want to convert them and/or drain them of their incredibly potent aether. VA’s Rose is a dhampir sworn to protect Moroi from the Strigoi who want to convert them and/or drain them of their incredibly potent blood.
- – Alex left the Covenant and missed some crucial points of her education but she’s still talented and badass enough to kill a couple daimons while untrained and on her own. Rose left St. Vladimir’s and missed some crucial points of her education but she’s still talented and badass enough to kill a couple Strigoi while untrained and on her own.
- – Alex has a history of behavioral problems and people comment on how she is “full of life.” Rose has a history of behavioral problems and people comment on how she is “full of life.”
- – Alex sees an oracle who predicts hardship for her. Rose sees a vampire g***y who predicts hardship for her.
- – Alex can never hook up with her trainer because he is a pure-blood and her instructor, but their attraction is just too strong to ignore. Rose can never hook up with her trainer because he is older than her and her instructor, but their attraction is just too strong to ignore.
- – Alex nearly hooks up with Aiden in his cabin. Rose nearly hooks up with Dimitri in his room and then actually does hook up with him in a cabin.
I’m shocked that this wasn’t a bigger problem when the book came out, honestly. Again: this isn’t a secret. This isn’t hidden. All of this is right out where anyone can see it, just like Roswell being the basis for Lux. Later in the Covenant series, The Mediator by Meg Cabot provides “inspiration” as well.
But let’s back up a bit. Jennifer L. Armentrout’s debut novel Half-Blood came out in 2011. In 2006, another debut novel came out, this one unabashedly about vampires. Blood Ties Book One: The Turning, by Jennifer Armintrout was a spectacular success and became a USA Today bestseller. Armintrout’s advance for her second book was six figures. She bought a house, got married, and had a baby. Of course, it wasn’t entirely smooth sailing from there. Careers have a natural ebb and flow and all of us have that one series we dreamed would do better, but never managed to earn out and Jennifer Armintrout’s career was no different. A few years down the line she had hit a rough patch, but one she still had good chances of recovering from.
Let me digress a moment here to explain the importance of names to authors. Our careers live and die based on our ability to swim to the top of search algorithms and to stay in the forefront of fuzzy reader memories. My own career has been hampered by my–deeply foolish, in retrospect–decision to write as the easily forgettable, sounds-like-your-next-door-neighbor Sarah Christian. I often have a hard time finding my own books because of this. If I could do it all over again, I’d have chosen something distinctive and ensured that no one else out there had the same name. (There are thousands of Sarah Christians in the world, I’m afraid.) Jennifer Armintrout, author of The Turning, had really gotten lucky there. She was given a distinctive name at birth: Jennifer Lynne Armintrout. Certainly, no one else out there would ever write under a similar name and so long as she kept putting out excellent books as she’d shown herself fully capable of doing, her career would rise again.
Except that was when Jennifer L. Armentrout hit the scene with Half-Blood. Using a name dangerously similar to one successful author, she published a book dangerously similar to another successful author’s work. Like a Twilight Zone version of the Mandela Effect, she very soon eclipsed Jennifer Armintrout’s very existence in the minds of the world. People would call Armintrout to congratulate her for Armentrout’s success. Fans would gush to Armintrout about her latest book, but they’d bought Armentrout’s instead. The author of The Turning ended up abandoning the name entirely–despite the fact that it was her own legal name–and took up a new pen name. As she’s chronicled on her blog and been quite open about, the experience was deeply traumatic. Eventually, she legally changed her name.
To Jenny Trout. Who would then go on to write Nightmare Born.
Just a harmless coincidence, though, right?
Read my followup HERE.