Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book #55

Last Call, by Tim Powers. Unabridged audio.

This novel has some of the trappings of a traditional fantasy story. There is a fight for a crown between warring factions, family debts that need to be repaid, and vengeance to be meted out along the way. There are creatures with strange powers, including the power of body-jumping.

But Last Call does not take place in a faraway make-believe world, because this is not a typical tale of epic fantasy. The setting is the Las Vegas of today, and the characters are immersed in the world of card-playing. And the crown that is being sought is that of the Arthurian Fisher-King. And the battlefield is the mysterious game "Assumption," a bizarre blend of poker and tarot. To some, the game is about gambling and winning sums of money. But to some, it is about claiming the souls of opponents. The mix of tarot and poker is intriguing, as it brings to the surface questions of randomness and chance, along with those of fate and destiny. One can cheat at cards, but can one cheat fate?

This book lies somewhere in the murky world between the genres of "urban fantasy" and "magical realism." There is powerful magic, but only a few people in our world recognize what is happening. Most of the world is unaware of this battle, and the consequences that the world may face depending on who wins the crown. There is a love story, but that is a subplot -- the main thrust of the narrative is the Fisher-King battle, tied into the poker-playing drama. But the plot-centric nature of the story does not mean that character development is lost. Powers does a fine job giving us moments of character development along with keeping the plot moving.

There have been modern takes on the Fisher King, such as C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, Susan Cooper's The Grey King (from the Dark is Rising Sequence), and Matt Wagner's comic book Mage, and this is an excellent one. Actor Bronson Pinchot does a find job narrating the audio version of this book.

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