Rune is still haunted by his past, tormented with memories of the nine men who raped and tortured him, and now he has one name, one clue that will lead him closer to answers. But such things take time, and while scavenging through the ruins of his ancestral home, Rune finds only more questions, such as the paperwork his father had on Brand — his bloodlines, his health, how much it cost to purchase the infant child — and even worse, he discovers that Brand, his companion, his sanity, his strength and safety, has a living family in the human world. Parents. Brothers. What this means for them, for him, Rune doesn’t know, but it’s something that will have to be dealt with.
Until then, there’s the problem of Max, his ward and obligation (he is oath bound to see the kid to his 21st birthday and adulthood), who is promised in marriage to the Hanged Man, a powerful member of the Arcana and a monster. What Max hasn’t told them is that the Hanged Man has been sending him letters, and Rune and Brand, unaware of the situation, haven’t known that the clock has been ticking and haven’t been able to plan accordingly. The Hanged Man wants his young, underage groom, and he’s coming to get him.
Rune and Brand will have to use every resource they have to keep Max from being taken by the pedophile whose many child brides and grooms have vanished. They will have to walk in the shadows of sunken ships where Rune will come face-to-face with his own nightmares. With Addam at their side, and the fragile seer, Quinn, they will face ghosts of the past, dinosaurs, and death. There’s no guarantee any of them will live to see the sun rise.
This second book in The Tarot Sequence takes place only a heartbeat after The Last Sun, the first book in the series, and really, you should read the first one, because not only is it a good book, but so much of this story won’t make any sense to you if you aren’t already familiar with New Atlantis. While the author does explain and repeat some information, a great deal of subtlety and good storytelling will be lost on you without being familiar with the characters and their world.
Rune has changed a little from the first book. He’s more sure of himself and more sure of his powers. While he doesn’t have as many sigils as even the weakest scion of a powerful house, the eight he has have managed to be enough up to now. He’s growing into his Atlantean aspect, and as more people need his help, Rune stretches himself and his abilities even farther than he thought he could.
His relationship with Addam continues to grow in fits and starts. Rune still has trouble with physical intimacy and finds himself unable to believe that Addam wants him when Rune can’t give Addam everything he wants to give him. Even when Addam reassures him, tells him that he’s where he wants to be, that he’s in love with Rune, Rune still doubts. Addam is a scion, a young prince of the powerful Arcana of Justice who could have anyone he wanted. He wants Rune, the man who saved him, the man who inspires him, the man who selflessly puts himself between others and harm. Addam sees in Rune the sort of man he wants to be; Rune makes Addam want to be a better person, even if Rune can’t see it for himself. Addam also knows that he’ll never have all of Rune. It’s not just the trauma of the rapes Rune suffered as a child, it’s also Brand, Rune’s other half. The person he’d go through hellfire for — even before Addam, himself. Brand, a mere human. And Addam is alright with that. He understands it in a way others might not. Atlanteans are a fluid people in matters of love and sex. Multiple partners of various genders are more normal for them than monogamy, and Addam isn’t going to come between two people in love. He wants Rune’s love, too, and he’d hardly be worthy of it if he tried to step between Brand and Rune. Fortunately for Rune, Addam and Brand understand one another.
Brand was bound in infancy to Rune, soul deep. They’ve never been apart and never look to be. But Brand has his own life, his own needs and desires, and knows that Rune does, too. Addam is as sincere in his desire for Rune as Brand is, and he appreciates the other scion’s devotion. There’s no jealousy, there, but Brand would put a bullet in Addam’s head if he thought the other man stood a chance of hurting Rune.
It’s less a love triangle than it is a love … atom. Rune at the center with Addam and Brand revolving around him, both bound by bonds of love, respect, and hope while Rune is protected by them, loved by them, and responsible for them in ways he’s both used to with Brand, and unused to with Addam. Rune still isn’t certain what to do, what it’s right to do, or what he wants to to with Addam. Yet.
This second book packs more much story into every moment that it lends itself to a few flaws. The first book had a great emphasis on emotions and the emotional weight of every problem, every resolution. Here, the emotions and relationships take back seat to the action, and even the interactions between characters are second to filling the page with the nightmares of the Hanged Man’s ship or the ghosts of the past. Even the grand moment with the Arcana feels distant and flat as everyone must be described, but without the immediacy of Rune’s narration — such as we had in book one — it becomes just descriptions with no personality.
But my biggest quibble — and it’s a pretty harsh quibble that doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of this book or this series, but does detract from the overall rating of the book — is the grand reveal and, well, every reveal. Perhaps because of the limitation of word count and book length, so many grand discoveries happen off page. Rune asks for information at the end of a chapter, and the next one begins with them taking action. We never learn anything until after the fight has happened. We don’t get to make any connections ourselves and feel pleased for being right. There are no breadcrumbs for us to follow, just loaves of bread at the end of chapters. The biggest example of this is during Rune’s power move. It’s anticlimactic and felt so rushed, so matter-of-fact that I didn’t really care. And when he tells Brand why he did it, I felt none of it. None of Rune’s emotions or caution or even fear or delight that his gambit worked came through on the page. And none of the set up, either. Rune had a thought and then it was done.
Following how intimate the first book was, how much in Rune’s head we were, this felt jarring and made me feel less like I was along for the ride with Rune and his friends and instead I was on the sidelines, watching someone else having fun. It’s a small quibble, but as petty as it is, it’s mine. After such an amazing first entry into the series, this book didn’t quite live up to the quality and characterization of the first story. It’s still a great book, I still enjoyed it, and I know for a fact I’m going to snap up book three as soon as it comes out. So buy this book, and help me encourage the author to keep writing Rune’s story.