by Tim Powers
Book Reaction (not a full review)
Last Call is a weird little alternate history that mixes poker with tarot. My ability to enjoy this book was probably impeded by the fact that the last time I played poker was in the fifth grade (we played for mechanical pencils), and basically the only thing I know about Tarot is that it doesn't rhyme with "carrot."
The general idea is that Tarot cards have magical powers that are also carried in the more mundane playing cards, and certain individuals (including Bugsy Siegel) used them to gain power. The book also weaves in the story of the Fisher King in a fascinatingly bizarre juxtaposition. I really enjoyed the Fisher King bit-- Powers even plays with the whole double king confusion-- but the rest of the book didn't do much for me.
From my reading so far, Powers' protagonists tend to be very ordinary people put into very extraordinary situations. However, like Christopher Moore, he defies standard trope: while most such protagonists are transformed by circumstance, Powers' protagonists remain weak, fallible, and awfully ordinary--beta males, if you will. In this book, we have the additional problem of the cards corrupting protagonist Scott to make him even weaker and less likable. To me, it felt as though the characters were stripped of agency, their courses set by the inexorable tides of destiny, their cards dealt and their hands forced. Given the setup of the book, the outcome is as predictable as it is inevitable, but it takes an awfully long time to get there. Even so, Powers has a gift for the weird, and he is unmatched in his ability to build alternate realities that are as intricately consistent as they are bizarrely creative.