Right, so this was a weird novel. Basically a tarot origin story of sorts. I didn’t find any part of this story to be particularly exciting. The writing was bland and the characters uncompelling. I really only finished it to know how it ends. I liked the tapestry bits and the pieces of tapestry she cuts out to use as tarot cards – that was interesting. The story didn’t lend itself to clarity or cohesion, either… There isn’t much to it really, just a story of how a girl in a tower escapes to a land of her own making. The Magician was the only one who held my interest at all. I guess there’s not even much to say about it. I would say this is for young readers, but some scenes wouldn’t be very suitable for them, either.. Anyway, I gave it TWO STARS, at a stretch.
Copyright © 2019 Penguin Random House LLC
Anna worked at the cold stone floor of the Tower, using a tool she’d made from the handle of a lantern years before. The entire floor was scored with small, white lines the size of matchsticks, each set of four lines crossed through with a bold diagonal.
She struck another line, knowing the next day would be her sixteenth birthday. She clenched her teeth against the familiar feeling of gloom settling inside her.
Anna heard the sound of keys grinding their way into the Tower’s immense stone door. She jumped up, expecting to greet her advisors, but the King’s Guard entered, followed by the Hierophant King himself.
“Anna,” the King greeted her.
“Father.” Anna suppressed the urge to lunge at him and scratch his eyes out. He stood for a moment and looked around.
The Tower was a circular stone structure with narrow stairways, and Anna lived in the round room at its top. There was one window overlooking the castle gates and the forest that lay beyond. On a windy day, she could fool herself into thinking she smelled salt coming off the sea, though she had never glimpsed or heard it. But she’d been told of the ocean’s existence by her advisors, and now she imagined that it was behind her, in a direction she had never seen.
Despite a modest stone fireplace, the room was terribly drafty. The King pulled his robes closer. A small bed sat along the wall, but the room was mostly taken up by a large wooden worktable covered in sketches and a weaving loom the size of a small horse.
The King was not looking at the room itself but at the elaborate tapestries that curved around it, covering every inch of wall space. His heart caught in his chest at the sheer beauty of the tapestries.
“Heavens, Anna!” the King said. “These are truly extraordinary, and to think you are self-taught. The work of the so-called masters would surely pale in comparison. The pure imagination of it! My walls will be the envy of all.” He paused. “You’ve accomplished so much since I was here last. Why, they look as if they are nearly finished.”
“A year is a long time,” Anna said quietly.
The King rubbed at the silver hairs of his closely cropped beard and ran a hand over his shaven head. “Has it been a year?”
“It has, and we made an agreement. When I completed the tapestries, you would let me go.”
“So I did. Are you finished?”
“I just need to put some final touches on the last one, bind the threads. But other than that, yes.”
“Please, take me through them. One by one.” He shook his head, his eyes scanning the walls. “How one girl could create all of this . . .”
I have a lot of time, Anna thought. She wanted to say, Because you keep me locked up in here like I’m some kind of monster! But she bit her tongue.
Anna pushed aside a tall ladder that allowed her to reach the top of her tapestries, and then beckoned the King forward. She dove right in, worried that he could change his mind and leave her again at any moment.
“This is the land of Pentacles,” she said. The two looked up at the great tapestry together, nearly fifteen feet high and just as wide. It was one of four grand tapestries, her life’s work.
At the tapestry’s center sat a king on an immense throne carved into the trunk of a magnificent brown oak tree. The king’s robes were purple velvet and shimmered with golden silk threads that matched a bejeweled crown. At the center of the crown a golden pentacle symbol sparkled. Baskets brimmed with glittering gold coins at the King’s feet.
The Hierophant King wore a large silver signet ring on his index finger, with a pentacle etched into its face. He twisted the ring now, staring at the scene while Anna spoke.
“This tapestry depicts the entire court as I imagine it,” Anna said. “You have a regal queen in powder-blue silks, handsome knights in battle regalia. I imagine even the pages of this opulent land are dressed in tunics and stockings of the finest silks.”
“Is that supposed to be me?” the King asked, gesturing to the king on the oak throne.
“You’re just my inspiration,” Anna corrected, wrinkling her nose behind the King’s back.
“There’s so much detail,” the King responded. “I can almost taste the food.”
A feast was set with a succulent, bronzed pig laid over bright red apples, all roasted to perfection. Tarts and cakes dripped with cream, and goblets overflowed with wine. The food was so bountiful, it was almost obscene. The King noticed a tray on the floor by the door where he had entered. Leftovers of a modest breakfast of toast and jam. The sight embarrassed him.
Heavens knew how she had survived all of these years locked up. The King himself would have gone mad. He looked at Anna. Her pallor had turned gray, no doubt from a lack of sunlight and fresh air, and yet she had grown into a beautiful young woman. Long black hair swung down her back, matching her impossibly big black eyes. The King remembered where those eyes came from, and any guilt or tenderness he had started to feel evaporated. He tilted his head back up toward the tapestry. “Go on.”
“The land of Pentacles revolves around a luxurious and mighty kingdom built in the middle of a great forest.” She motioned toward the blanket of hunter-green pines and the massive stone castle that erupted from their center. The King was astounded. To have such an understanding of perspective! The forest was bordered by an angry sea, waves of slate blue pounding against steep stone cliffs.
“It’s as if I can feel the mist, Anna. I can almost hear the crashing of the surf. I ride out to the sea often, and I could never depict the scene with such clarity. And you have never been there.” The King marveled at the depth and movement of the image. “It almost appears to be a living, breathing thing, this sea.”
Anna bowed her head slightly and accepted the King’s compliment. He nodded for her to continue.
“Below the castle, we have the home of the serfs and peasants,” Anna said. For a moment she and the King could not stand side by side, their path obstructed by the large worktable and its proximity to the wall. He was a stocky man of six feet, so he stood back to let her pass in front of him.
The kingdom was dotted with guards, the castle itself decorated with turrets and flags that looked as if they could snap in the frigid wind blowing off the turbulent sea.
“It is uncanny how much it looks like the kingdom,” the King said.
“My advisors have described it to me, and I read a lot of historical texts.”
“Hmm.” Once again the King began to twist the masses of jeweled rings that decorated his long fingers. Anna tried to move more quickly.
“Some of it I can see from my window,” she added. “But you know this kingdom well, so let’s move on.” They stayed close to the walls, walking past the window, to the side opposite, where Anna’s narrow bed sat. There was more room here, and now Anna stood beside the King again. He watched her while she spoke, absorbed in her description. Her hips had widened from her tiny waist, and he was reminded of her mother, his late wife, the Queen. How could this girl have matured so much in one year?
Anna sensed the King watching her, and wondered what he was thinking.
“Here is the land of Wands.” Anna looked up at the next tapestry, bold and bright. “Where Pentacles is a land of nobility, Wands is a village of artists and free spirits set in the mountains of a desert land.”
“Desert land?” the King said.
Anna nodded. She pointed out the soft orange sands that seemed to glow with warmth. “It’s a retreat for artists and craftspeople. Here is their marketplace.” Anna pointed to a large depiction of an open-air market with goods ranging from elaborately patterned textiles and pottery to baskets overflowing with fruits woven in bright yellows, greens, reds, and oranges.
“May I touch it?” The King reached toward the sand.
“Yes.” Anna hoped that the passion in her work might leap from the threads and soften his heart. The King ran his fingers over the warm orange and yellow threads that made up the desert land.
Cloaked figures sat beneath the shelter of white tents, heads bent in concentration. “Wands draws the most passionate and creative people.” Anna smiled.
The King studied her, his eyes suddenly flashing with anger.
“Free spirits,” he scoffed.
“Father.” Anna forgot herself. “I dream of a world where people can create and invent and—”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Anna. You dream of chaos.”
“Why? I bet half of the peasants who serve you could write books or make great art.”
“That’s enough, Anna. People are born into their positions for a reason. Fates are a fixed thing, destiny preordained,” the King said.
“But what about our imaginations? How can you put limits on that?” Anna shook her head. “There are things I think about that lie beyond my experience or even my comprehension at times. Pieces of dreams, unfinished thoughts—things I can’t yet weave into my tapestries. But I know one day I will.”
He squinted at her. “People need order, direction. They need to know their place. That is how they thrive.” He paused. “You’re young and have not seen what I have seen,” he added.
“Whose fault is that? I have not seen anything!” Anna wished she could take her words back the minute they left her mouth.
“Watch your tone.”
“I’m sorry,” she said immediately. He held all the power here. There was no point in pushing him. “I really am. I don’t want to debate. I just want to finish showing my gift to you.”
“All right. But no more of that sort of talk. I won’t tolerate it from you or from anyone.”
The King tapped his foot and took a deep breath in, which Anna took as a sign of impatience. There was a lot more she wanted to say to him, but she swallowed it, fearing he would storm off as he had one year ago, when he last visited her. She simply could not wait another year. She couldn’t stand it.
“Over here,” she said, trying to make her voice softer. The King gathered the velvet and silks of his robes and followed her across the room, avoiding the loom.
As he squeezed past Anna’s bed, he took in the austerity of the linens and felt a pang of remorse. Perhaps he had been too harsh with her just then. He thought about his own lavish quarters and wondered if he could somehow make her life of confinement a bit more comfortable.
The truth was, when he wasn’t with her, he didn’t think about her very much. He got caught up in court life, the obligatory viewings with the peasants and the farmers and their litany of complaints. He rode daily and took vigorous walks to keep up his stamina. Admittedly, he always rode out through the northern gates so that he wouldn’t have to see the Tower. Out of sight, out of mind.
He had charged three of his best advisors with raising Anna, and from what he could tell, they had done a good job.
To see her, to stand in her presence, was painful. To witness her as a living, breathing girl twisted him up inside. He hated these visits and the hangover of guilt and ambivalence they left him with for weeks afterward.
“Swords. The land farthest to the North.” Anna held both hands out, presenting the next tapestry.
The King was listening, but his mind drifted. Perhaps now he could bring her back to the Keep with him and raise her properly at court. Truly be a father to her. It had been sixteen years.
He looked up and studied her, but when his eyes wandered to the tapestry, he was once again filled with wonder. It seemed as if the entire thing were made of shining silver and bronze metal.
“Swords is a bustling city of trade, invention, and ambition.”
“What are these?” The King touched the towering structures that looked like they were made of precious glass. They reached far up into the sky, touching the clouds.
“It’s where people work and sleep in Swords.” Anna took a step closer and ran her finger over the greenish threads. They gleamed with hints of purple and gold, like blown glass.
He raised his eyebrows in question.
“Such a thing could never actually exist,” he said, fascinated.
“It’s just a tapestry.” Anna shrugged.
“There are so many people. They look like ants.”
“Yes, it’s the most populated of all the lands.” Anna wanted to say more about how the huge population of people brought vast ideas and talent, but she held her tongue this time.
He wondered if it would be blasphemous to hang these in his halls. They were so beautiful and unique, but they represented fantastical possibilities that opposed his ideologies. And yet, he wanted them. He felt an almost irresistible pull to them.
“Ready to move on?” Anna asked.
He nodded. They only needed to take two steps to reach the final tapestry, raw and unfinished at its borders. He ran his eyes over it and stopped suddenly.
“What is that?” The King could not believe what he was seeing.
“What?” Anna said. She moved closer to him.
“That.” The word sounded like a door slamming shut. He jabbed his finger into a glowing white orb that hovered over the land of silky white beaches lined with tall, swaying palms. People Anna’s age, young people, twirled throughout the tapestry, splashing in a calm, glittering sea. Others tended to small farms or napped in hammocks.
“The Moon,” she said plainly.
“The Moon?” The King looked dumbfounded. “What do you know of the Moon?” He narrowed his eyes. “It certainly has never graced these lands, so you couldn’t have seen it out that window of yours,” he said.
Anna took a step away from the King. She looked from him to the Moon and back again. “The Moon has visited me in my dreams since I was a child.”
“Has it?” The King’s eyes bulged and his face turned an angry red. “Really?”
Anna paused, trying to explain. “Sometimes I feel like the Moon is guiding me. I know it’s not real, but it’s always there, somewhere between dream and waking.”
“Did your advisors tell you about the Moon?” The King tugged at his collar.
“No, we’ve never talked about it,” Anna admitted.
“You never asked them why there is no moon here? In this land?” he demanded.
Anna shook her head.
“Damn him.” The King pressed his lips together. “Guard! I am ready to leave!” The guards, who had been standing at the doorway, snapped to attention.
“Where are you going? Damn who?” Anna tried to think of what she might have missed, but everything was happening so quickly.
The King leaned in close to Anna. “I had a feeling about you. I was right to keep you locked up here, and here is where you’ll stay.” He jabbed his finger at her.
“You don’t even know me! You’ve never given me a chance!” Anna grabbed the King’s arm. “You can’t leave.”
But the King shook her off and stormed past her, crossing the room in just a few steps.
“Father!” Anna pleaded, her voice dissolving into a desperate sob. “What’s happened? Please stay and talk to me.” But the King was already halfway out the door. His guards ran after him. “When will you return?” She was answered with the sound of the key turning in its heavy lock and then the stony, damp silence of the Tower. She pressed her head to the door and heard the echo of a guard’s voice.
“I don’t know why he doesn’t just hand her over to us. We’d take care of her properly. Throw her in the real dungeons and teach her a lesson or two.”
Anna stepped back, picked up a glass jar of charcoal sticks, and threw it against the door. “Damn you, Father! Damn all of you!” The jar shattered, glass cascading across the floor.
“You promised!” She shook her head. “And I was fool enough to believe you.”
She turned and crossed the room to touch the unfinished tapestry—the tropical land, ruled by youth and passion. She pressed her palm onto the shimmering white threads of the Moon.