Sink Your Teeth into The Vampire Tarot

By Sheri Harshberger

The Vampire Tarot by Robert M. Place

Published by St. Martin's Press

ISBN: 978-0-312-36162-4

The Vampire Tarot by Robert Place is more than just another Tarot deck featuring vampires, when you bring this deck and book combo home, you've gotten something you can really sink your teeth into... pun intended!

This very timely set, published by St. Martin's Press, is packaged very nicely in a sturdy box with a snugly fitting lift off lid.  Because the box is very sturdy and the fit very snug, it can take a few minutes to work the lid off the box... but it is well worth the effort.  Within the box, the top content is the 227-page companion book to the deck.  It is high quality and well made, good enough in fact to sit on a bookstore shelf in its own right, but more about that later.

Lifting off the companion book, the deck is nestled in a "bed" carved for it in a plastic insert in the box.  There are indentations on either side to facilitate the removal of the deck from its bed, which it also fits in perfectly snugly.  It is a bit surprising to see the deck at first, it is larger than expected and seems even more in comparison to the box it and its book come in, as it measures a substantial  5.25 inches by 3.5 inches.

The cardstock is sturdy and flexible.  Because the cardstock is a bit thicker than a standard deck, the deck "stands taller" than most other decks.  When picking up the cards, it may initially appear they would be too stiff to shuffle... but this is not the case.  I was able to easily shuffle the deck like playing cards.  They are very flexible.  One thing to note though is that I have large hands.  Someone with smaller hands may not be able to shuffle in the same way.  The finish is glossy. The corners of the cards are not rounded.

The imagery is as stunning as one would expect from a Robert Place deck.  His signature style makes me think of a cross between old-style woodcuts and colorful graphic novels.  Distinctively beautiful.  The backs are black and feature a reversible, stylized vampiric head wearing a crown with fangs bared.  The deck follows the traditional 78-card, 22-card Majors and 56-card Minors structure.  The Majors are numbered beginning with The Magician through The World.  The Fool, called Jonathan the Fool is unnumbered.  The Courts and the Majors have card titles.  Strength is numbered XI and Justice is VIII.

Usually at this point, I discuss what is in the card imagery.  However, this is a case where it is really imperative to talk about the book that comes with this set.  It is an amazing source book for both the history and mythology of vampires, and for the history and mythology of Tarot.  In this book, Robert Place merges the two together to create a gobsmacking read.  This is an amazing book and a quick read.  

I highly recommend reading the book before using the deck because it is the deck with which Robert Place immerses us in the visual world he builds for us in the book.  A world in which Mina is the High Priestess, Van Helsing is the Hierophant, the MadMan as the Hanged Man.

The traditional Tarot suits of Wands, Swords, Pentacles, and Cups have been replaced with the "Tools of the Slayer:" Stakes, Knives, Garlic Flowers, and Holy Water, respectively.  The Courts are represented by Knaves, Knights, Queens and Kings, with each member of the Court representing a person of importance referenced in the book, such as Bram Stoker is the King of Garlic Flowers, Edgar Allen Poe is Knight of Stakes, and Pamela Coleman Smith is Queen of Holy Water.  The Pips are somewhat scenic, in that there is more than just the number of elements on the card, but the imagery is minimal.  The deck includes imagery with vampires relatable to the "movie" vampires we grew up with as well as the Nosferatu-style creepy ones.

My favorite card is Strength.  The image is of a beautiful lady vampire in white, floating through woods, accompanied by a wolf.  Her fangs are bared and she's looking at us.  In every other deck that has a similar scene, i.e., a woman with an animal... lion, big cat, big dog, etc., she is exerting mastery over it, to the extent, it seems, that she and it are separate entities.  In THIS Strength card, the woman exhibits the attributes of the beast that is within her.  Here, it is OK to let a bit of that beast out... in a controlled way.  It is OK to experience a bit of the dark side.

There is so much to this deck and book set that it is hard to do it justice in a review like this as I've barely scratched the surface.  I can't think of a better way to spend my Halloween evening than to curl up in front of the fireplace with this book and deck and celebrate both the vampire and the Tarot in me.

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