Every road, every plan, every step Rune and Brand have taken — inch by bloody inch — has led up to this one, final, glorious moment when Rune Saint John takes up his father’s mantle and ascendes to his rightful position in the Arcana. All hail Lord Sun! All hail the Sun Throne! So … what happens now? Good question. Very good question. Um, someone will get back to you on that. Eventually. Maybe?
Rune is suddenly in charge of two companions (only one of them his), a boyfriend, a prophet, a necromancer, his heir with her powerful aspect, a cook, his ward, a little boy, a Serbian unicorn — that is to say a giant, prehistoric rhino with a temper —and, on top of all of that, an estate. His estate. His home. Sure, it needs millions (if not billions) in repairs, and sure, he has more bathrooms than guards, but it’s his. With all of this overwhelming stress, including having to hire a seneschal to help run his house (or rather, being told by his new seneschal that he’ll be hiring them) is it any wonder he’s almost happy when Lord Tower calls on him for help with another disaster?
The rejuvenation center — where wealthy and powerful Atlanteans go to have their physical youth restored — is trapped in a bubble and no one inside has called for help. Which, along with the blood splattered over a window, means nothing good. When Rune and Brand are able to get inside, they find that this place of health and healing has become an abattoir — a chaotic, violent display of rage and power — and the only evidence they have of the person who did it leads to answers no one wants.
Lord Tower is the undisputed power ruling Atlantis and a figure so terrifying that even the most powerful Arcana — Death, the Devil, the Magician, and The Priestess — bow to him. But this, the very idea of this, makes Lord Tower nervous. Which makes Rune fucking terrified.
I have loved the Tarot Sequence series ever since I read the first book. Edwards writes Rune with such emotion, such poignancy and wit … Humor is always going to be the hardest sell, but this book is funny. Rune and Brand, and Addam and Brand, and Rune and Addam have sharp and sparkling dialogue. Rune is prone to flippancy when tense, preferring to redirect a conversation when he feels too sensitive or brittle to continue it. Brand meets him with sharp sarcasm, helping Rune set up walls around his pain, while Addam wraps around him like a warm blanket, hiding him from the monsters.
Brand and Rune are sworn to one another, bonded since infancy. They share emotions, they share their very lives, and they know one another skin deep. (Though, as we discover in this book, Rune has been keeping something from Brand, something that — if it ever came out — would break everything between them.) Brand’s job is to keep Rune alive, and he will do so at any cost. But he loves Rune, not as a romantic partner, but … something deeper than brotherhood. The two of them share a single soul, and a hurt to Rune is a hurt to Brand, one he will repay with interest.
Addam has given up almost everything to be with Rune, (save his brother, Quinn, who now lives with them), and does so knowing that he will never be first in Rune’s heart. That place is, and always will be, Brand’s. Rune worries that Addam is settling, resigning himself to being given only the leftovers of Rune’s heart, but in this he underestimates Addam. Addam has seen how, again and again, rather than dig out pieces of his heart to give to people, Rune just lets his heart to grow bigger to let more people in. He sees the generosity, the staunch loyalty, the easy offers of friendship. Addam knows Rune better than he knows himself.
Rune’s life has been one of pain. At fifteen his father’s court was invaded and his father killed. All the men and women who worked for him, lived with him, the people Rune knew all the days of his life died in a single night. And for hours, Rune was raped again and again by nine masked men. He was tortured, drugged, humiliated, and almost broken. Lord Tower took him in, helped him heal, gave him what he needed to start his own life … and used him as one of his most valued and beloved tools. And Rune loves him, in turn, but it’s never stopped him from trying to find out the identities of the men who hurt him, or why they did it.
In this book, Rune revisits that moment when an enemy, using time magic, traps him in a loop meant to torture him. And if it weren’t for the fluke that takes Addam along with him, it might well have. But Rune has grown over the past few months. He has learned to lean on others, to ask for help when it’s needed, and accept help when it’s offered. This moment, meant to break Rune, instead strengthens his bond with Addam.
I love this book and I love this series. I love how Rune’s loyalty to those he loves, his endless devotion to his friends has earned him support and respect in equal measure. Even Lady Justice’s own daughter thinks highly enough of him to leave her mother’s court — the court of a powerful Arcana where she is given access to all the money and magic she could want — to come and serve in the small, mismatched court of the Sun. And while she is mostly there for Addam and Quinn, her brothers, she wouldn’t choose to live here and serve here if Rune weren’t a person worthy of her service.
And that’s in many respects why this book works so well. Everything in this book is charged with nuance and emotion. Especially Rune’s emotion. In a world where Rune is one of the most powerful magic users — where he has sigils to boost even his own power into near god-tier — there are people he is scared of, or at the least, respectful of. When Rune flinches back from Tower’s anger, or Lady Death’s, it’s because these two are among the biggest of the powers, and it helps sell them as being just that powerful and that scary. And when there is someone who makes Lord Tower kneel? Someone whose magic is enough to command him against his will? Rune’s horror and panic are what sell that moment. His tension, his reaction, the feel of his heart in his throat make that scene so very beautifully done.
And then there’s Atlantis itself. The author’s ability to create not just a world but an entire culture within that world reminds me of Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles in the deft mixture of modern technology and magic in ways that feel natural, grounded and absolutely effortless. The world feels fresh and alive while, at the same time, it also feels lived in, and I just want to roll around in it. And just let me gush, for a moment, over this:
“You don’t even understand what these are. Null zones? They are anything but. What you call the absence of magic is actually the saturation of it. Your failure to draw on it as a resource is an allergy. It shows how much ability our people have lost. The raw force of these zones constipates you.”
Of all the world building, I found this moment to be the most breathtaking. It’s deceptively simple once you see it, but until it’s pointed out, it’s like missing the forest for the trees. Just the re-framing of magic, of how the characters both understand and use their magic feel like they were summed up in this one scene. I cannot stress enough how good this book’s world building is, how well it works together, how sincere and genuine it is. This is the final volume in the first trilogy of the Tarot Sequence and I absolutely cannot wait for the next book. I am so glad to have discovered this series, and I honestly and truly urge you to go read these books. They’re just that good.