The Hands of Tarot by SM Blooding
Synn El’Asim will do almost anything to prove her wrong. But he’s only proving her right. Queen Nix awakened his Mark of power and inducted him into the House of Wands. She knew what she was doing. The son of the two most powerful Families standing against her is the ultimate prize. What she didn’t take into consideration was that maybe he was too strong for her. Maybe. But the Families aren’t. They’ve been weakened and it’ll take a lot more than one young man with a powerful Mark to take on the Hands of Tarot.
Hands of Tarot is part of a new genre of books – New Adult Fiction. NAF combines elements of Young Adult and Adult Fiction while targeting adults who enjoy reading exciting coming of age stories. Synn El’Asim, our hero, lives in a world in the midst of revolution. An organization called the Hand, overruns tribal families in search of powerful children who have been “marked” with talents or powers. The Hand steals these children and any useful inventions the family/colony may have in its possession, then destroys all remaining members of the family and their villages, towns or cities. The children are then transported to Sky City, a massive floating mechanical city based in the sky and in continual motion. The children are raised together and taught to use their powers for the benefit of the Hand.
In an effort to avoid the Hand, the remaining free people seek to strengthen their alliances with each other while eluding the Hands sentries at all costs. Each family has mastered a particular talent/element that marks its clan and determines where they live. Blooding has created a fantastical collection of living arrangements: cities built within the tentacles of massive man o’war type creatures, floating airships reminiscent of zepellins that travel in groups carrying the members of one large extended family, as well as traditional land dwelling cities and families. Each family has its own language and mark: El-Assim is a sky family that manipulates lightning.
Sky City is ruled by four queens – each corresponding to a house of the tarot deck: wands, coins, cups, swords; and a particular power/element. Queen Nix, Ruler of the House of Wands, strongest of all the queens and marked with the magic of fire has made Synn her pet project. 17 y.o Synn has watched his father and best friend’s family die at Nix’s hands while being helpless to intercede. Synn’s mark has not developed but in spite of this Nix takes an extreme interest in the boy determined to break his will and mold him into her Knight and paramour.
The ensuing chapters are difficult to read detailing months of torture, manipulation and molestation in an effort to break the boy. Synn refuses to bend to Nix’s will and is on the verge of death when a devil’s bargain is struck between the two. Nix allows Synn to attend university under heavy guard believing his need for intellectual stimulation will draw him closer to her. But it is while at university that Synn meets others who have survived the Hands cruelty and together they form a small team intent on overthrowing Nix and dismantling the Hand.
Blooding has created a rich and fantastical world with strong elements of steampunk. Synn’s inner group of confidants are a motley group of orphans with complimentary talents. Blooding plants some seeds for rather tame attractions between the characters here and there but if you are looking for smexy, this book is not for you.
The world building is intense and at times confusing with a broad range of chimeras, languages, living environments, and powers. The allusion to the tarot mentioned in the title is misleading. Outside the use of the symbols for the minor arcana suits to differentiate each of the four queens, the actual tarot, its meaning, legends and fortune telling properties are completely absent from the book. Perhaps this wonderfully clever opportunity will be explored in another book in the series (two more are planned at this time).
In its most bare bones description – this is a story of a boy becoming a brave leader in spite of the adversity and torture he faces. Make no mistake this is not Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Narnia because much of the torture is way too sexual.
Editorially speaking – the books would benefit from additional editing. It was distracting to have the grammar deteriorate as the book progressed. Unfortunately this is a growing and rather disappointing trend in fiction. The book ends on a cliff hanger that seeks to establish a bridge to the next book in the series.
While world building is wonderfully creative, the characters are rather underdeveloped. I’m not sure that I would recommend this to my sons because the sexual torture is rather downplayed in its significance. But I could see 20 somethings reading this and enjoying it from a fantasy standpoint and less so a true Steampunk mindset.