Admittedly, I don’t know much about the world of the tarot, but I love the idea of using the cards as a jumping-off point for the stories included here. Fortunately, we’re provided with a little blurb about each tarot card, providing us with just enough information to understand the deeper themes of each story, but not so much as to overwhelm the plot.
Strangely enough, while it was the pair of lesbian romances (Emily Moreton’s Burn the Brightest & Marie Carlson’s Blazing Star) that demanded my immediate attention, they didn’t engage me as much as the rest. Not that there’s anything wrong with either one, but I found that the other stories just overshadowed them . . . and I’m not entirely sure why.
Erik Moore’s The Direction of Greatest Courage is a story I didn’t expect to like, but really did. It’s a potentially edgy story about open marriage and bisexuality, which freely acknowledges the assumptions and prejudices of society towards both concepts of intimacy, but then manages to successfully soften the ‘taboo’ element through the strength of its characters.
Janine Ashbless’s The Grief of the Bond-Maid is one of my favourite cards in the deck, presenting us with a Norse-flavoured high-fantasy tale (complete with a minor quest) that plays with the homoerotic hero-sidekick relationship, and then introduces a woman into the magical mix. I’d love to see more stories dealing with these characters, or perhaps even a novel. It really was that good.
K. Piet’s Surrender is another favourite, and another one that surprised me with how much it got under my skin. On the surface, it’s a straight-forward contemporary gay romance, but one that does a wonderful job of exploring not just the sexual, but also the emotional release that comes from stepping outside your comfort zone and allowing yourself to be dominated. If you’ve never considered yourself the submissive type, you may just be curious enough to play this card at least once.
S.L. Armstrong’s Oneiros is easily the most uncomfortable read in the deck, and another one that I was worried I wouldn’t take to. It contrasts the darkness of living under with HIV (never a subject you expect to lead a romance) with the cleansing light of friendship. The dream sequences are absolutely wonderful, and the overall story is surprisingly uplifting, considering the very dark avenues it could have taken.
Overall, the stories are all very well-written, with strong, interesting characters. For me, short story collections can be hit-or-miss, especially when built around a theme, but I would definitely be open to shuffling through the rest of the deck for another Cast the Cards anthology.