As something of a joke gift back in the late seventies, my father gave my mother a tarot deck--the Hoi Polloi 1970s re-envisioning of the classic Rider-Waite images. My little sister and I loved the pictures passionately, finding among them alter-egos, swoon-worth crushes, and pictures that just reeked of Story (that girl in the purple cloak, in particular, has always haunted me).
We had a game we played with them, in which they were split into warring factions of good and evil, which involved a lot of hiding tarot cards down the sides of sofa cushions, under rugs, and behind pieces of furniture. Needless to say, we no longer have a complete deck.*
My first foray into fictional fun with Tarot was The Greater Trumps, by Charles Williams, which I read when far too young. I remember it being very confusing, and the people not being likable.
My second foray, read yesterday and today, is The Game of Triumphs, by Laura Powell (out since 2009 in the UK, published in the US by Knopf, 2011), which I liked infinitly better (contermporary YA is just so much more Me than literary fiction of 1932). I found these characters somewhat more likeable, or at least interesting, and though the plot was confusing, I was able to make enough sense of it to enjoy it lots!
It's the story of Cat, teenage girl in London, who stumbles into a deadly game of fate and magic. The basic premise is that the magic of the tarot cards is real, their power is controlled by those who run the Game, and people die competing for the rewards offered by the major cards. Because Cat found the game by chance, she's not a full participant--merely an outsider who will be harshly penalized if she interferes in the quests of the players.
The Game that Cat sees is a distortion---its magic has been twisted, and, to her horror, Cat realizes that one particularly nasty bit of this twisted-ness was responsibly for destroying her family. With three other young "Chancers," all with their own dark stories of the Game (two boys and a girl), Cat embarks on a quest through the cards to restore the ancient balance.
To a reader like me, with tarot cards images burned into their brain, it was like meeting old friends in a strange, dark city. At first, to both Cat and me, all was confusion. But even though I do like knowing what the heck is going on, it was confusion of a rather intensely magical kind, that interested me and drew me ever deeper into the story (someone not familiar with the Tarot might well be more confused, and off-put).
In an event, I was gripped, and if you are looking for a real world city-based fantasy that doesn't involve elves, fairies, vampires, etc, do try this one! (It's hard for me to know, though, if I would have enjoyed this one so much without the pleasant nostalgia of the tarot cards, and having their pictures so very clear in my mind...)
Though I do wish the other three Chancers had been given more page time in which to become characters for whom I cared, Cat herself was satisfyingly real. Though this book ends with a proper ending, there's a second book (The Master of Misrule), published in 2010 in the UK, and coming out here in the US in June. I am as anticipatory as all get out to see what happens next, now that these four teenagers know each other and the stage is set (both for the next adventure and for romance). Another one for my Book Depository I-want-it-now wishlist!
*Back to my own tarot cards-- vexingly, this particular deck is out of print and collectible, and no other deck will do, because they aren't our people. So if any one sees a set of the Hoi Palloi deck (the back of each card is brown with a gold key) for sale at a reasonable price, let me know! I would like, once more, to look on the face of the Knight of Cups (who I think is still my standard for male beauty, but since his picture isn't on line, I can't confirm this).
ps: I am rather glad to have finally read The Game of Triumphs, because it almost got away from me. I put it on my wish list over a year ago, but in the following form:It took a public plea for help to decipher it, and now, having read and enjoyed it, I'm even more greatful to Trisha for reading my handwriting for me!
And thanks as well to Ms. Yingling Reads, whose review last month reminded me to actually get a hold of it!