The Magician and the Fool: A post-modern fever dream

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBarth Anderson fantasy book review: The Magician and the FoolThe Magician and the Fool by Barth Anderson

Jeremiah Rosemont is a far-fallen academic star, an art historian with specialized knowledge of — and uncanny experience with — tarot decks. Having exiled himself from the United States, he finds his wanderings through Nicaragua interrupted one night by the mysterious delivery of a plane ticket to Rome. There, he stumbles into a maelstrom of occult forces and figures gathering around a deck of uncertain origin and powers. Another figure with links to the deck is the Boy King, a vagrant in Minneapolis with strange and formidable talents. The chapters of The Magician and the Fool alternate between Rome and Minneapolis, while the story meanders through time and space, until the lives of Rosemont and the Boy King finally dovetail with surprising consequences.

This is Barth Anderson‘s second novel, and in it he displays prodigious gifts, seamlessly blending items such as transcripts of interviews, faxes, and redacted government letters with amazingly vivid descriptions of surreal events, such as this scene from a festival in Rome:

A crowd of men in gas masks were playing sanders, drills, and one man with a whining electric saw was pressing it against an iron slab, sending up rooster tails of sparks over the crowd, all of which turned upon multifold Moroccan rhythms and the singer’s reverent, warbling voice.

The use of mirrors in Rosemont’s first key romantic liaison and the conclusion is also noteworthy. On the other hand, he refuses to spoon-feed the reader with “what’s really happening” behind the viewpoint character’s immediate thoughts and perceptions — leaving enigmas such as the identities of minor characters unresolved. The result is a post-modern fever dream that feels longer than its 290 pages and should captivate a reader who lets him/herself succumb to it, but that is unlikely to enlighten or educate (with the exception of tarot lore, but even there, one struggles to separate fact from myth from fiction). Overall, this should be a fascinating library loan for mature fans of modern or literary fantasy (but to this reviewer, it was much lighter and less rewarding than Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, for example). Its card is… the Three of Stars.

The Magician and the Fool — (2008) Publisher: For hundreds of years, men have sought their hidden futures in the legendary images of the tarot — but what secrets of the past are harbored by the priestess, the magician, the hanged man… and the fool? The author of the explosive The Patron Saint of Plagues returns with a richly textured mystical mystery exploring the dark heart of one of our oldest traditions. Years ago, fallen scholar Jeremiah Rosemont left the bitter rivalries of academia behind and now lives a simple nomadic existence in South America, far from the arguments that once defined his life. But he can’t outrun his past… or the dangerous truth that lurks beneath his abandoned studies. Following an enigmatic summons to Rome, Rosemont finds himself at the center of a mystery that dates back to the fall of Troy, the pursuit of a mystical treasure many are willing to sacrifice fortunes and lives for: the earliest known tarot deck. As Rosemont delves deeper and deeper into the tarot’s unsettling secret origins, his own fate is inexorably intertwined with that of the Boy King, a homeless man with an unspeakable gift… and a mysterious past of his own. For these two men — and the demons, dupes, and power seekers drawn to them — the cards will reveal everything, even the shattering, unseen truths of human life itself.…

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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob’s blog.

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