15-year-old Cat Harper, the orphaned protagonist of Laura Powell's debut novel The Game of Triumphs, is not your typical wide-eyed fantasy heroine. After witnessing a murder, streetwise, pragmatic Cat becomes an unwilling participant in the Game of Triumphs, an ancient magical contest based on the rules of the Tarot. Success in the Game can win a player fame and fortune, while failure means suffering and loss, but Cat is only a "chancer"—the Game's equivalent of an accidental bystander. With no prizes on offer, Cat has every intention of simply ignoring the weirdness the Game has dragged into her life... until she discovers a horrifying link between the Game and her parents' deaths, twelve years earlier.
The Game of Triumphs kicks off with a bang (Cat is neck-deep in danger well before the end of the first chapter), and the hell-for-leather storytelling pace is maintained throughout. There is an impressive amount of Tarot-related information stuffed into the novel, but the author deftly balances exposition with action. We wish Powell had spent a little more time exploring her characters' pasts, but The Game of Triumphs is only the first installment in a series, so we're hoping the next book will manage to be equally entertaining and a little richer on the character-development front.
On one final note, may we say how pleasant it was to read a fantasy novel about a dangerous game that doesn't feature the majority of participants dying horrible deaths? We understand that The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner were best-sellers, but we have been sent piles of gore-filled YA novels this year. Even stories of pearl-clutching horror are boring when done to excess, so we want to commend Ms. Powell for having the imagination to propose different—but still meaningful—stakes.
Review based on publisher-provided copy.