This second volume of Anthony’s Tarot trilogy is mainly made up of episodes powered by the exo-planet’s mysterious “Animations,” providing a curious course in comparative religion. There are episodes treating Buddhism, Vodou (elliptically via syncretistic religion on an alien world), and the initiatory mysteries of ancient Egypt. A secular two-chapter arc focuses on the protagonist’s college, with a set of recollections of his student career and a return visit in the future. This pair of chapters seem to have been derived from Anthony’s own experiences at Goddard College, and they sit awkwardly in the future history that the books have provided so far.
Four out of the eleven chapters treat the history of Christianity, with an unusually perspicacious reading of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, a fair measure of “shaggy god story” in which Anthony’s hero strangely usurps the role of John the Baptist, and some not entirely faithful rehearsals from such visionary literature as Langland’s Vision of Piers Plowman, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The book’s hero is a liberal Christian with a strong streak of skepticism, and so this section of the book, as much as any, has him addressing his own religious preconceptions.
After all of that, I began to harbor doubts that there will be a satisfying development of the plot in the frame of Planet Tarot and its society. The Animation concept seems to be largely a device for Anthony to supply himself with a narrative sandbox for discussing social issues and history of religions. In a prefatory note, he writes, “this segment is unified around the social and religious theme,” so perhaps the resolution of the main plot in the next book will supply the coherence that the first two have lacked.
This book definitely had a few high points. The alien sexual ethics of the Nath were cleverly developed, and I especially enjoyed the ritual ordeals under the Sphinx at Giza. The Christian material was about equal measures of hits and misses, but I’m not at all discouraged from moving on to the third and final volume.