Two moons have passed since I read Magician and Fool by Susan Wands, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Why can’t I stop thinking about it, you ask? Because it’s weird, and if you’re a weirdo like me then you’ll know that calling this book “weird” is the opposite of an insult. It’s the biggest compliment I could bestow upon it. It’s the kind of weird that’ll have you saying,
I believe this with every fiber of my being: A good book will stay with you long after it’s over (feel free to quote me on that). Magician and Fool is the start of what I think will be a very magical series.
Pamela Colman Smith, newly arrived from New York to her birthplace of London, is received as an oddball in Victorian society. Her second sight helps her in her new illustrating tarot cards for the Golden Dawn, a newly formed occult group. But when Pamela refuses to share her creations with Aleister Crowley, a controversial magician, he issues a give up the cards’ power, or he’ll harm her muses.
In the midst of this battle, two of Pamela’s idols, the actors Henry Irving and William Terriss, take her under their wing. Henry, who tutors her as the leader of the Lyceum Theatre, becomes the muse for her Magician card. William Terriss, teaching her by examples of instinct and courage, becomes the muse for her Fool card. As Pamela begins to create the tarot deck, she is almost overwhelmed by the race to possess the magical power of her cards. In order to defeat Aleister, Henry and William will have to transform into living incarnations of the Magician and the Fool—and Pamela will have to learn how to conjure her own magic.
Just Read It
There were a lot of things I didn’t know before starting this book, and I thought I’d share some of them with you before you venture into the magical world Susan Wands has created.
First and foremost, Susan Wands does a wonderful job of blending history with magic in this book, and if you aren’t an expert on the history of the 1800s theatre scene in London then you’ll probably find yourself doing a lot of googling. For instance, I didn’t know that Pamela Colman Smith was a real-life person. She’s most known for illustrating the Rider-Waite tarot deck, which is what this book is primarily about.
(PSA: Tarot is not pronounced like carrot, it’s more like arrow or farro.)
Henry Irving was an actual actor and manager of the Lyceum Theatre and he and his business partner, Ellen Terry, kind of adopted Pamela into their theatre family after her parents passed away. Bram Stoker, who I’m the most familiar with, was the author of Dracula, and he also worked closely with Henry Irving.
Not only do we have reimagined historical people in this book, but there are also secret organizations. A lot of the characters belong to the Freemasons and Golden Dawn, both of which were actual groups (…and still are). Golden Dawn members were known for dabbling in the occult, and this is the group that hires Pamela to create the tarot deck.
Something that surprised me was that Pamela doesn’t join Lyceum Theatre or the Golden Dawn group until about halfway through the book. Much of the beginning is spent focusing on her childhood which is okay because I loved seeing where Pamela came from.
Not only do we get Pamela’s origin story, but we also get Aleister Crowley’s villain origin story. Believe me when I say I LOVE a good villain origin story, and Wands did not disappoint. I can see why Aleister goes nuts. He is the perfect example of why we need to be kind and love one another. Especially to children. Please, I beg thee, be kind to your children.
Susan Wands' book, Magician and Fool, Book One, Arcana Oracle Series, has won two gold medals: the 2023 International Book Awards Winner in Fiction (Visionary) and the 2023 IPPY Awards Gold Medalist Winner in Visionary/New Age Fiction.