Amber Tarot by Florence Magnin -- Review by Diane Wilkes
When I first glimpsed some of the Amber Tarot cards on the Internet, I went into immediate lust. I can still recall the leafy greens and browns of the court cards that made me want to join them in their peaceful, charmed forest.
As soon as I heard that there was someone I could buy the cards from in France, I acted immediately. While I am not swimming in riches, money was no object; when I am in the throes of tarot-lust, "do what thou wilt" takes on a whole new meaning.
As soon as I ordered the deck, I decided it wouldn't be enough to just review this deck. No, I had to read one of the books. Otherwise, my review would be, in some terrible way, lacking.
But, wait. One might not be enough. So I ordered The Great Book of Amber, by Roger Zelazny, which includes all ten of the Amber novels. It is the size of War and Peace, but the print seems smaller. Still, no sacrifice was too great to make for an informed review...and a more meaningful grasp of the deck.
The book arrived before the deck...it sat on my dining room table, looking weighty and daunting--appropriate adjectives, I later discovered, for the nature of the Amber series. And then--the deck arrived. The title card reminded me that this was a Role-Playing Game (RPG) deck ("Le Jeu de Role Sans de Ambre") and the pips reminded me that this was never going to be a deck I used regularly. Not that they are bad pips--they're pretty enough, as pips go. They're festooned with lovely flowers, if you like that sort of thing. But they aren't evocative, pictorial images that illustrate scenes and themes from the book, which seems criminally negligent to me. If you have all these great story moments that can exemplify card meanings and add to the interpretations, why not use them? When potential falls so short of grasp, I become, naturally, disappointed. I don't know if it's better, when role-play gaming, not to have anything telegraphed by imagery--so that pips would be the decor of choice for RPG. I bought the deck for tarot reading, which means my needs might not be in accord with the deck's purpose.
But I digress. I began to read The Bastard of Amber and became acquainted with some of the Court Cards: Corwin of Amber is the King of Wands. He is trying to regain the throne of Amber, but it's difficult; the Knight of Wands, bastard brother Eric, has seized power. Neither is sure that the real monarch, their father, Oberon, (aka the King of Swords) isn't alive and biding his time...or immured somewhere by one of the would-be rulers of Amber.
It seems this family isn't much like the Cosbys--and their "peaceful, charmed forest" is filled with corpses. Oberon's children constantly jockey for power in ways overt and oblique. They put the dis in dysfunctional, not hesitating to lie or put one another in fatal harm's way if it means getting one step closer to the throne. Sisters and brothers abound (Oberon was not a poster king for Planned Parenthood), and each plots against the other in rather vile ways. For example, Eric has Corwin blinded while he is in chains with red hot pokers. It's Eric's little way of celebrating his ascendance to the throne. He does, however, eventually regret this act--because Corwin's regenerative powers have him regaining his sight and his freedom, and Eric wishes he had simply killed him and gotten rid of him permanently.
I ended up reading four of the Amber books, getting to know most of the Court Cards (though I still don't know who Swayvill is, besides the King of Pentacles). And I learned something else: I will never read four books just to write a great tarot deck review again. The books are in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre and have lots of interesting plot twists. But none of them seem to relate to the Amber Tarot, except in a token manner.
The Unicorn is the "Patron Animal" of Amber; the reversible backs show back-to-back unicorns. The castle turrets enmeshed in mists of The Moon card could conceivably depict the ones in Amber. Sly Fiona is the Queen of Coins--and she is depicted characteristically, with her red hair and her books of knowledge piled on the floor. But the assignment of the Queen of Coins doesn't align in any way with the book's plot. Most of the Court Cards are family members, but the Page of Swords is the mad-but-brilliant artist, Dworkin. I can see the Swords attribution, but why a Page, if Dworkin is a master of the intellect? Things don't gel--for a lot of the assignments, which seem random.
And I couldn't help but mentally match certain scenes in the book to some of the Minor Arcana. When Corwin and Ganelon get drunk by Corwin's tomb (needless to say, like Grant, Corwin isn't buried in Corwin's tomb), I envisioned a kinky Four of Swords. Eric's death is a perfect Ten of Swords. In one scene, Benedict reaches into another dimension to rescue his brother. That could work as an Ace or Four of Cups...beautifully. Scene after scene evoked Minor Arcana cards--especially the suit of Swords--and the fact that these opportunities seemed wasted almost made me forget what a beautiful deck this is.
And it is a beautiful, delightful deck. Unfortunately, it doesn't even come with a LWB; I had to scour the Web to find out the artist's name. I wish there was an alternative sourcebook to The Great Book of Amber--despite its size, it's not much of a guide for the deck.
I will probably never read with the Amber Tarot--but I imagine that if I were the kind of girl who liked Role-Playing-Games, I'd get a lot of use out of it. There are numerous sites on the web addressing just that use of the cards.
The deck isn't cheap, though, so I would only recommend this deck to collectors and those who play RPG. If you don't like using Marseilles-type pip cards, this isn't the deck for you.
You can see more cards here.
This deck is not easy to find; I purchased mine from Yves Daniel.
Review and Page © 2000 Diane Wilkes