Completed 2/21/2023, Reviewed 2/21/2023
I felt pretty meh about this book. I think it was mostly because it was about something I’m not much interested in…poker. It had an additional complexity of the Tarot mixed in the game, a variation called Assumption which I never really understood, and so many bad guys I lost track until a bunch of them got killed off. It’s basically an urban fantasy/magical realism tale with an alternate history bent. It’s written well with decent prose. But with all this, it never hooked me. It won Powers the 1993 World Fantasy Award.
The story is about Scott Crane, a professional gambler. His bizarre childhood left him an orphan with a prosthetic eye. He was raised by Ozzie and had a foundling sister Diana. In 1969, he played a game of Assumption poker in which he apparently lost his soul. Now, twenty years later, someone is coming to claim it unless he can figure out how to stop him. The story takes him on a journey to Las Vegas with his cancer-fighting neighbor Arky and his estranged sister Diana to prevent him from becoming the new King and Diana the new Queen of an empire of gambling. All they while, they are chased by a myriad of bad guys wanting to kill or protect them for their own gains in this empire.
That’s the best I can do summarizing it. It’s really so much more complex than I can describe. But to start to describe that complexity gives away all the twists in the story. There are some things I think I can tell that won’t be spoilers, because they’re revealed relatively early on. Like the reimagining of Bugsy Seigel from plain old gangster to king of a magical gambling empire. Or the ghost of Scott’s deceased wife trying to tempt him to embrace her and relinquish his quest. Those were two highlights that peaked my interest a little.
Part of what kept me from being drawn into the story was adult Scott. I didn’t empathize with him. He was simply a character in a story. I felt no life from him. Usually, I can identify with characters with self-destructive tendencies, but not Scott. I had similar mediocre feelings for Diana. Nothing really drew me to her. On the other hand, I did like his neighbor who believed that near-continuous drinking of Coors beer would help reduce the tumors growing on his lymph nodes. He was less morose than Scott. Arky was colorful, interesting, and hopeful.
As far as the bad guys go, they all ran into one another, except for one crazy guy who believed Scott and Diana were his parents. I think he represented the Fool in the Tarot’s major arcana. He spouted gibberish and danced on ledges like in the depiction on the card.
I give this book three stars out of five. I think if you’re more intrigued by Las Vegas and gambling, you’d get more out of this book than I did. The book has pretty high scores on various review sites. Powers is a very popular author, writing in various subgenres of fantasy. The previous book of his which I read was The Stress of Her Regard, an interesting twist on the vampire trope. However, I found that to be also a middlin’ three stars. I have one more chance in this Mythopoeic/World Fantasy Award challenge to read Powers. We’ll see if that book hits a homer, or if it’s the third strike.