The Game of Triumphs: A Review

The Game of Triumphs by Laura PowellFifteen-year-old Cat is well acquainted with London’s seamy underside–one perk of living across from a casino and on the same block as a strip joint. The tawdry Soho neighborhood doesn’t bother her. Cat is used to moving around with her aunt/guardian Bel. She’s used to blending into the background and being invisible. Neighborhoods don’t change that.

But a mysterious game played out on the streets of London and in a strange world called the Arcanum can change everything. A chance encounter on the Tube draws Cat in the dangerous but alluring world of the Game of Triumphs where players use Tarot cards imbued with powers to compete for the ultimate triumph–fame, fortune, justice or something else entirely–it can all be yours with the turn of a card.

Cat doesn’t play games and she doesn’t believe in any of the Game’s magic nonsense. But as Cat learns more about the Game she realizes this isn’t the first time she encountered the Game. Playing can be deadly but with stakes so high surely the rewards are worth the risk in The Game of Triumps (2011)* by Laura Powell.

The Game of Triumphs draws heavily from Tarot cards for the symbolism behind the Game’s cards and the nuances of their play within the Game. As someone with a passing interest Tarot and card games, I was immediately drawn to this book (the intriguing cover didn’t hurt either). Unfortunately, the book did not live up to my expectations.

Cat is a surly heroine, determined to go it alone even if that might be to her own detriment. Her reluctance to accept help or any kind of support got old very fast. Similarly her dismissive tones about Tarot and role playing games were irritating–particularly as her attitude persisted even as she drew deeper into the game. While Powell went to great pains to explain Cat’s past and her motivations, none of it ever felt truly authentic.

Her companions in the novel felt similarly one dimensional, partly because they were introduced so late in the story and partly because I never connected with any of them. Worse, the characters never seemed to connect with each other instead merely falling in together for lack of better options.

The world Powell has created as well as the Game itself are very complex and well-realized. While readers will start the book as confused about things as Cat Powell quickly explains everything readers need to know. Sadly, with so much setup for the background of the story, the actual plot felt rushed with most of the action being packed into the last hundred pages of the novel.

On one hand, that makes The Game of Triumphs a book that moves rather slowly with an abrupt ending. On the other hand, there is now the potential that the sequel The Master of Misrule** will be a much stronger, much more exciting book. Only time will tell.

*This book was originally published in the UK in 2009.

**The Lord of Misrule was published in the UK in 2010. Since the first book was picked up for US publication by Knopf it stands to reason that the sequel will eventually make its way here as well.

Possible Pairings: Rise of the Darklings by Paul Crilley, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Card Turner by Louis Sachar, Misfit by Jon Skovron