A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Publisher: Baen
Page count: 345

This is apparently Kate Elliott’s first book.

Sanjay Mukerji and Chryse Lissagaray are newly wed. They’re surprised to find a beautiful deck of tarot cards as one of their wedding gifts. They’re even more surprised when the cards transport them to a fantasy land.

Anglia is troubled. The ruler is Regent, Princess Blessa, the aunt to the 15-year old Heir, Princess Georgianna. Also, many of the rich exploit the poor people ruthlessly and many of the poor people are rising up for their rights, because they’re too desperate to do anything else. They also loath the Regent and many assume that she’s going to do anything she can to stay in power. And they’re right: the Regent is a gifted mage and she uses her own deck of tarot cards, her connections, and her ability to manipulate people to get rid of the Heir in a way that she can’t be implicated.

But Chryse and Sanjay have more immediate problems because they’re trying to find a way back to home. However, while fleeing rioters, they stumble upon Julian and his dear old friend Kate. Both are drunk but agree to help the couple. At the Vole house, Chryse and Sanjay meet Lady Trent who takes an interest in them. Lady Trent is Julian’s grandaunt and she knows many people. She advises the couple to seek an appointment with a famous seer. When they finally meet with the seer, she gives them a task: to find her the treasure from the mythical Labyrinth.

But others are also after the treasure. The Regent is one them and another is the infamous Earl of Elen. He’s arrogant, cold, and has a terrible reputation for abusing everyone he can. Another is Professor Farr. He’s an elderly archaeology professor obsessed with the Labyrinth and it’s history.

This is a mystery fantasy and I quite enjoyed it. It’s not a thriller. It does have a lot of characters. Chryse is the main POV character but there a lot of others, such as the Regent and Maretha who is the only daughter of Professor Farr. Earl of Elen demands that Maretha marries him and she has no choice.

This book has a lot of things I really liked. Of course, Chryse and Sanjay are already an established couple and lovely together. Archaeology is another: most of the book is an excavation trip to the ancient city where the Labyrinth is supposed to be. Tarot cards used as magic is a third.

Also, the book has a wonderful wealth of interesting and different women characters. Kate is a tomboy who dresses in men’s clothing and isn’t afraid to say what she means. She’s an aristocrat but has been disinherited by her parents. Lady Trent is in her eighties and has seen a lot of life. Chryse is a musician and a composer. Maretha is devoted to her father. She’s a very capable archaeologist in her own right but is in her father’s shadow. Maretha’s orphan cousin Charity is living with the Farrs. She’s demure but also vain about her looks and we find quite interesting things about her at the end. And of course the Regent who manipulates everyone around her. Basically, where a more common fantasy book would have male characters, we get woman. Which was great.

On the other hand, the world-building was more common. The world has other creatures than humans, such as ogres and fairies, but we saw them only briefly. Mostly, we got street urchins who don’t look like humans. While most of the magic is done through the cards, there are other magical forces in the world, too. The Earl uses them quite casually. In place of great men, we again got women. For example, Shakespeare and Mozart where both women in this world and so were most of the rulers of Anglia. Also, I couldn’t puzzle the religion together: people talked of the Bible but seemed to revere Queen of Heaven who has both a Son and a Daughter. The Daughter is the Queen of the Underworld who is also called the Sinner. Fascinating but not enough details.