So, I know I have fallen a bit behind on my book reviews lately, but with the start of a new month I thought what better time to post a new review! First, let me start off by saying I have hit a dry streak lately when it comes to amazing books that I felt comfortable reviewing (I only post reviews for books I enjoyed). Second, after reading The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack, I felt inspired to write a review for this amazing book and incredible author.
As am avid reader and a writer, my favorite genre to work in is Historical Fiction and this book does not disappoint! When I saw this book, it really piqued my interest because the plot centers around a tarot deck and manages to weave through different historical timelines without feeling confusing and overwhelming.
Our main character is Semele Cavnow, an antiquities appraiser for a very high-end New York auction house who is sent to appraise an extensive library of rare documents and manuscripts and comes across a manuscript written in ancient Greek which, as she translates it, turns out to be a prophecy arcing through history from the time of Cleopatra to Semele’s own life. This manuscript appears to predict the future—including the dangerous journey set in motion by the woman who discovers it. As the oracle traces her line and reveals the history of an ancient set of symbols that eventually come to comprise the modern tarot deck, Semele’s professional interest is piqued. When the manuscript suddenly addresses Semele by name, she becomes obsessed with discovering the connections between the manuscript’s fortunetellers and her own life. As Semele learns more about the tumultuous histories of the oracle’s descendants, she also learns that the people she thought she could trust are not what they seem.
The author alternates back and forth between a whirlwind history that spans thousands of years and the suspense of Semele’s search that I found thrilling and incredibly fascinating. Womack weaves with seamless precision narrative threads from the past, the present, physical reality, and digital reality together in a way that transcends space-time and yet, remarkably, is easy for a reader to follow. At no point was I confused about what was happening, where it was happening, and who the characters were, which speaks unequivocally to Womack’s writing talent and command of technique. Additionally, Womack’s prose is rich with memorable one-liners. My favorite being, “The future has a course, yet our lives remain fluid like water, leaving us with a choice in all things.” We learn that straight from the Oracle of Wadjet in a flashback.
I loved how the novel pokes fun at tarot superstitions, namely the one about how it’s bad luck to buy your own tarot cards, which our main protagonist Semele does. “She had purchased not one, but two decks at the bookstore…More bad luck. Lovely.” As someone who enjoys the tarot and is also a history nerd, I liked how interspersed throughout the novel are psychoanalytical and divinatory arts such as graphology (handwriting analysis), astrology, palmistry, crystal ball scrying, and even vision questing in caves. Womack delights the history nerd with obscure mythological references and even historic holy sites. Additionally, there’s even archaeological commentary, such as when Theo gives a lecture on the importance of modern day digital preservation, comparing digital files to papyrus and parchment.
This book is classed as a romantic thriller, but I would say this is a love letter to libraries lost throughout time. I would say The Fortune Teller is a symbiotic blend of historical fiction, mythology, occultism, New Age theories, and a fast-paced adventure/thriller novel. The author cites well-known texts on tarot history and origins as her sources of inspiration, including Dean Radin, Michael Dummett, Ronad Decker, Thiery Depaulis, and Mary Greer. Womack is the Dan Brown for the tarot world. It is also worth pointing out that you do not need an understanding of the tarot to be able to enjoy this book, as the card meanings aren’t relevant although they do make good chapter headings as the characters travel from ignorance of what is ahead to better understanding of the big picture and things coming to a conclusion, which is exactly the journey taken over the 22 cards of the major arcana. Ultimately, I found The Fortune Teller to be a luscious and enchanting read. I highly recommend you add this to your must-read list!