A month or so ago, I had reviewed Burn the Brightest which was a standalone story from Storm Moon Press’ Cast the Cards Anthology. Reading a story outside of a themed anthology can be a bit odd as the author is normally inspired or writing towards a particular theme – in this case the Tarot. I’ve since received the entire anthology from the publisher and have had the opportunity to read all the stories in context of the over-arching theme.
Cast The Cards is an eclectic six story collection which includes general fiction, fantasy, and urban fantasy and all would fall into the erotic-romance with a variety of pairings from F/F, M/F/M, and M/M. Some stories are more graphic than others, but the sex isn’t the focus of the stories – rather the characters and relationships.
It’s interesting to see how each of the authors incorporates the themes of their chosen cards – some are pretty easy to find the inspiration and symbolism whereas others are a bit more subtle. This makes a rather fascinating theme for an anthology as the reader can enjoy the stories as they are or try to look deeper into how the cards shaped the stories and characters. The Tarot is meant as divination but also of introspection – there are so many interpretations to the cards and their relationship to one another and to events in the reader’s life can alter them dramatically.
As in most anthologies, some stories were stronger than others. There was one that I had some difficulty getting through, but it was more likely because of the subject matter not really being of much interest for me. I think the stories with a more fantasy theme were stronger but, once again, that’s more likely my own reading preference showing through. If you don’t mind mixing up your pairings, there are some good stories in this one. Overall I liked it, and one was a stand-out for me with two more coming in as a very close to stand-outs.
The Direction of the Greatest Courage by Erik Moore (The Hermit) The Hermit is a card of knowledge, usually self-knowledge and the acceptance of what one knows and doesn’t. This is a pretty straightforward story (forgive the pun) of a young man entering into a poly relationship. The first few paragraphs resonated with me and made me give this story and the character a bit more attention that I normally would have. One line “Being a bisexual woman is hard enough, but to be a bisexual man is to be erased.” made me stop and think a bit. In this story, Jason knows what he is and struggles with how to balance his attraction to both men and women against the rejection he’s received from partners, and society, in his past.
The Grief of the Bond-Maid by Janine Ashbless (The Hanged Man) The Hanged Man symbolizes self-sacrifice for a higher goal and the chance for renewal. This story captures this theme in the quest that Sjofn, a Skien Witch whose evil wizard master has pulled an Odin, hanging himself from an Ash tree in order to become all-powerful, and she is desperate to find a person who can help her thwart his plans in time. The spirit of the person who she is led to is a Griffin, half lion-half eagle, and it turns out is actually two warriors – Thorkell and Bjarni. Together, they set out and travel through the nine Norse realms that the wizard has replicated in order to stop him. I liked this quite a bit – how can you not love anything that incorporates Norse Mythology? Unfortunately, as this is a short story, what happens in each realm is glossed over and I would have loved more details to have been provided.
Surrender by K Piet (The Tower) The Tower is a card of change – conflict and disruption, often a bit of chaos as the walls come crumbling down – but also of personal transformation. This is an apt card for the story which is a BDSM story in which Aaron, a Dom, finds the tables turned on him at a club and he becomes the Sub. Aaron’s experience causes him to question a lot of his assumptions about BDSM and the roles within it. This is the most graphic of the stories and if you are not a fan of BDSM it may not be for you.
Blazing Star by Marie Carlson (The Star) The Star is the card of Sanctuary and hope, bringing renewed understanding, confidence and peace of mind. This was my favourite. Some short stories are self-contained with a beginning, middle and end. Blazing Star seemed to drop you in the middle, give you glimpses of a much larger story and then leave you with a yearning to know what led up to the events in the story and, more importantly, what happens next. I wasn’t dissatisfied with the story in the least – the author did a great job of whetting my appetite, but I think this one would make a very cool novel. If the author never writes a novel based on this, then this still makes a very cool short story. I’d classify this as Urban Fantasy and I think this story incorporates the Tarot them quite well. Breaking from her family’s tradition of being Hunters, Bea is a mind-reader and spell-caster who has stepped back from the active battles and provides a sanctuary to those who do Hunt. Hope, her lover, returns to her, devastated at not being able to save the family she had been sent to protect and troubled by some unnamed trouble that seems to be brewing. Blazing Star seems to be an oasis in-between the larger story that happens outside the pages of this story, but is wonderfully self-contained with enough glimpses and hints to do a fascinating bit of world-building without even leaving Bea’s home.
Oneiros by S L Armstrong (The Moon) The Moon symbolizes dreams, imagination and the unconscious mind and can be the fear of things past come back to infect the present or future. At the same time, the Moon can illuminate secrets and hidden truths. Caleb is a young man, recently diagnosed as HIV positive, who finds a haven in his world of dreams, where is seduced by Morpheus. Unable or unwilling to deal with what is happening in his life, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Morpheus’ desire. As is always the case, seduction by a God rarely turns out well for the human and Caleb continues to withdraw from the waking world despite the efforts of Scott, a man he meets in the doctor’s office, who offers him an anchor of friendship and love. I loved the premise of this one and enjoyed the story but I must admit I felt bad for Caleb’s cat.