Questing Sword – Blog #010 of the 160 “Pretty Faces” book cover Challenge

This is book #016 on the list of 160 books that Gardner Francis Fox wrote from 1953 to 1986. This is the sixteenth book I scratched out a cover for.

A rousing novel of a soldier’s fight for love, glory and gold!

questing sword jefferson cooper gardner f fox scratchboard cover art kurt brugel historical fiction

By 1966 Mr. Fox had written 37 historical fiction stories. This one takes place in 15th century Italy, at the height of the Italian Renaissance. He wrote this novel under the pseudonym Jefferson Cooper. He wrote eleven stories under this pseudonym.

The original back cover description…

In the turbulent days of fifteenth-century Italy, a professional soldier could win undying glory if he had a quick sword and a strong arm. Bartolommeo Colleoni had both—and a fabulous stolen treasure to go with them.
But, like every soldier, he had a chink in his armor. Colleoni’s weakness was women. Bart found himself torn by his passion for two beauties—one dark, one fair—each intensely desirable in her own way, and both as treacherous as they were bewitching.

The most of these historical fiction novels Mr. Fox wrote only needs a dash or two of magic and it would read as a great sword and sorcery book.

Cast of Characters:

Bartolommeo Colleoni—A Bergamese, a professional soldier of fortune, a condottiere, who is also known as Gion
Lenora—A farm girl
Iafet—A farm boy
Piero—A retired soldier
Filippo Maria Visconti—Duke of Milan, a man driven by greed and ambition
Lotario da Carpi—Marquis of Croma, who hates Colleoni
Teresa di Bordoni—Marchioness of Croma, who loves Colleoni in her own fashion
Imperia del Infessura—Marchioness of Cavareggio, a widow who schemes to marry Colleoni
Alessandro Soranzo—Brother of Imperia del Infessura
Francesco Foscari—Doge of Venice, in whose hands rest the life and death of Colleoni
Francesco Bussone-Carmagnola—Captain-general of Venice, who commands the forces of Venice against Milan
Bianca Maria Bussone-Visconti—Wife of Carmagnola
Francesco Sforza, Girolamo Fortebraccio, Niccolo Piccinino, Agacio da Verona, Matteo Torriti, Fernando Alcione, Ugolino Cavalcabo—Professional soldiers of fortune


Bartolomeo_Colleoni_by_Andrea_del_Verrocchio Venice square

THE MOST FAMOUS equestrian statue in the world stands in the Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo opposite the Hospital of St. Mark in Venice. It is the statue of a soldier in armor on a horse that was carved more than four centuries ago by Andrea Verrocchio. After his death, it was completed by Alessandro Leopardi.
All the world knows the statue.
Not many know the story of the man who was thus enshrined in bronze for all time by one of the master sculptors of the Renaissance. His name was Bartolommeo Colleoni. He was a professional soldier—a condottiere—of fifteenth-century Italy, in an age when these military leaders might carve wealth and fame out of the turbulent troubles of the city-states of Venice, Milan, Florence, Siena, and Naples. As all men are, he was a product of his time.
Unlike the rest of Europe during the fifteenth century, Italy was developing politically along independent lines. While great nations like England, France, Germany, and Spain were emerging from the dark ages of feudalism into modern nationalism, Italy turned to the despotism of the city-state ruled by powerful families. Failing to become a single unit ruled by a single man, Italy became divided into any number of political subdivisions, each ruled over by the man powerful enough to seize control of its government.
The main reason for this difference in political development was the fact that Italy inherited great cities from its Roman ancestors, which became the centers of its medieval life and culture. Where the barons and earls of England, France, and Germany were forced to build their own castles for defense against jealous neighbors, the dukes, counts, and marquises of Italy inherited their city-domains already built and thriving.
They had no common enemy to unite their efforts, as England had in France, for the Alps protected them to an extent from the encroachments of the Holy Roman Empire. Neither was there a William the Conqueror to invade and unite, nor a Louis XI to wrest power from a thousand barons and center it in royal hands. Lacking a monarchy, Italy accepted despotism. The city-states became all-powerful, whether ruled by a Medici in Florence or a Doge and Council of Ten in Venice. Their eyes turned eastward toward the great caravan routes and seaports of the Orient, from which came the wealth that made them rich.
These city-states were jealous of one another, and easy prey to the animosity that is born of fear. They needed to maintain a balance of power among themselves even more than did England, France, and Germany of a later date. Since none of the city-states was rich enough, however, to maintain a standing army, the condottiere came into existence.
The condottiere was a professional soldier, a man gifted in the arts of war who sold his sword and services, together with as large an army as his fees would permit him to maintain, to whatever city-state required his talents. Spring and summer, and occasionally autumn, was the time for warfare. Late fall and winter was a time for resting, for returning to the farms and villas that these adventurers owned, and for enjoying life. In a sense, theirs was a gentleman’s way of waging war. Usually, there was little loss of life in a battle, though this cannot be said of the bitter struggles between Milan and Venice. War was more a chess game than a fight. A strong strategic advantage was a checkmate leading to surrender and ransom.
Many of these soldiers were brilliant and ambitious. As the Medici did in Florence, so Gonzaga did in Mantua, and Visconti and Sforza in Milan. They elevated themselves to the rank of duke simply because there was no one strong enough to stop them. Bartolommeo Colleoni was one of the more successful of these soldier-adventurers.
And yet I like to think that there was more to Colleoni than his military genius, of which the Republic of Venice thought so highly that it permitted him to live eternally in one of its public squares. Expand Venice he did, and protect it from its archrival Milan, in his later years. The history books will tell you of his victories when he won the captain-generalcy of Venice—he never knew defeat in battle—and of the honors and acclaim that came to him.
I would like you to know him at an earlier date when he loved the amoral Teresa di Bordoni and hated the most powerful man in Italy, Filippo Maria Visconti. He was a footloose wanderer in those days, often calling himself Gion because there was a price on his head, gambling stolen money and his life, and the life of the woman he loved, on a desperate chance for happiness.
For the hard-headed realists among our readers, I would like to point out that at the time of this story, there were no gondolas in Venice. But among the boats in use were the oared vipera, and the peolo. Gondolas were to come at a later date. Nor were the great squares of Venice paved with flaggings. These, too, were an addition of later years. Furthermore, the city-states of Cavareggio and Croma did not exist. They are devices of your author to explain circumstances about which history is curiously silent. Otherwise I have adhered to historical detail as strictly as my research allowed.

  • Jefferson Cooper (Gardner F Fox)

The story reads like a classic movie script from the 1950s. Something that would star Sophia Loren and Charleton Heston. Something like El Cid (1961) or The War lord (1965).

The-War-Lord-Charleton-Heston-1965 movie poster

Here’s an excerpt from chapter one:

She turned toward the doorway. Gion waited until he heard the boy’s footsteps fade. Then he stepped behind the woman and put a hand in her long, loose hair and tugged her head back. His right arm banded her middle, drawing her against him.
Her eyes were wide and brilliant. He caught one swift glimpse of them as he bent his head to kiss those pouting red lips. He strained her into him, felt her quiver and tremble like a wild thing.
Silently she fought against him, but Gion held her with ease. When she could not break free she whispered, “I knew I should never have trusted you. All soldiers are alike. Go! Please! Go!”
He smiled down into her face. “You aren’t the boy’s mother. I just wanted to make sure.” He released her suddenly.
The dagger was in her hand and driving for his chest. Just in time he caught her wrist and turned it. Her mouth opened in pain, and her fingers straightened. The dagger fell between them into the dirt floor, where it stuck upright.
“I won’t harm you,” he told her.
He bent and lifted the dagger and put it in her hand. She turned away from the steel to his eyes, and frowned. She put the back of her hand to her mouth and drew it hard across her lips.
Gion chuckled. “Don’t put on so. You liked my kiss. I could feel you did. You’re afraid to show me you liked it, because you’re afraid of what I’ll do. Well, I won’t do anything to you. You’re safe enough.”
The blade went into her belt. She moved away and knelt before the kiln, peering in at the bread. She asked hoarsely, “How do you know I’m not Iafet’s mother?”
“You’ve never had a man. I can tell.”

When I first started transcribing the Library I classified these historical fiction novels as historical romance. I have since then been educated by the fact that they don’t read as one. My limited understanding to what seperated the genres and the fact that most of the time when I was trying to sell these books to “historical fiction” groups on Facebook and Goodreads, I was told that they should read in the first person and from the woman’s perspective. That would make them a historical romance novel. I am currently pushing these into “historical fiction” groups and the response is a lot more reseptive.

Here’s an excerpt from a review I found on Amazon:

I wanted a story about a young condottieri battling his way to the top of the mercenary ranks gaining wealth and titles. Of course, I expected there would be women involved, but what I got was a story with more romance and intrigue than fighting. In fact, there were no descriptions of battles.

So when I read the story, I figured this was more a romance novel than a fictional account of the military conquests of the main character navigating his way through 15th century Italy. I stand corrected.

Jerry Allison The questing sword Italian renaissance historical fiction book cover art jefferson cooper gardner f fox

Originally published in 1958 by Perma Books/Pocket Books
The cover Artist: Jerry Allison
I transcribed this book in 2018 with Douglas Vaughan.

original questing sword jefferson cooper gardner f fox scratchboard cover art kurt brugel historical fiction

I create the cover illustrations to size. I work on 6 x 6 black Ampersand Scratchboard. The book covers are 6 x 9, which leaves 3 inches for text. I want a clean, “Penguin Books” look and feel to the covers. I’m using the pretty faces motif to keep a unified look and feel to the whole library. The back cover has an image of the original cover, the date it was originally printed, and the original story description.

I used this photo from the Lisajen Deviantart stock account.

photo reference deviantart stock

I can’t say that I’m 100% satisfied with this as a cover image. I feel like it is a great scratchboard illustration, but it just doesn’t feel like the right fit with the story. There is a good chance that in the future I will be changing this image out with another.

Here’s a short video I put together of me working on the scratchboard process.

I have had many positive comments about the “new” covers. I feel pretty positive I will be able to do all 160 book covers.

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The original framed scratchboard art is for sale.

I will not be working on books in the order as Mr. Fox wrote them. I am doing the book cover designs based on when the transcribers who are assisting me, finish one. As they complete a book, it will be the newest release, so it will get a new book cover design. I also have to go back and replace the photo-bashed covers I made when I first started the Gardner Francis Fox Library in 2017.

old version questing sword jefferson cooper gardner f fox scratchboard cover art kurt brugel historical fiction

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Kurt Brugel
Custodian & Illustrator