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The Book of Paradox by Louise Cooper
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The Book of Paradox (1973)

by Louise Cooper

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“An occult odyssey through the Tarot to an inner world beyond the portals of Death”

Aloethe’s life is taken by a jealous prince; Aloethe’s love, Varka, serves as a scapegoat to the murder. Sentenced to sacrifice at the temple of the Darxes, Lord of the Underworld, Varka awakens and is encouraged to find Aloethe in Limbo … if he can find the place. Varka is also empowered with the Book of Paradox, a magical book with pages/verses are cryptic, dynamic, and crucial to understand.

“You are indeed a thing of paradox,”[Varka] muttered under his breath, addressing the Book. “When I need you most, you tell me nothing, and when you are useful your words are impossible to understand.”

The actual Book of Paradox has 22 chapters, each named/influenced by the Major Arcana of the Tarot. A forward by the author’s first husband Gary Cooper explains the design: “The Book of Paradox represents the journey of the Fool through the initiations of the various cards. This is Varka’s fated quest, and one which leads him and the reader through many strange lands, into contact with many strange people, as will the Tarot itself.”

Louise Cooper was only twenty years old when her debut novel came out, and she was graced with a breath-taking Frank Frazetta cover (called “Paradox”). Each chapter has a frontispiece with an illustration by Barbara Nessim of the card influence in the current chapter along with a paragraph explaining the interpretation. Many mini-stories span 2-to-3 cards/chapters; for instance, the cover of Varka approaching vampire women is a scene from a story spanning (a) Chapters VII: The Chariot (Reversed) and (b) VIII: Fortitude.

This is a trippy adventure into an underworld that is more dream-like than it is horrifying. It is short and reads fast. The pacing and style is reminiscent of Michael Moorcock (known for his Elric novels) and there are some echoes of Jack Vance (1926-2013) and his Dying Earth series--iconic in RPG/D&D history since the naming of Items and Spells was simple: Magic Items such as Expansible Egg, Scintillant Dagger, and Live Boots...and Spells such as Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, Call to the Violent Cloud, Charm of Untiring Nourishment. There is an echo of Vance flare here, in that Louise Cooper offers location and titles similarly: Castle Without parallel, Queen of Blue, the Cave of Souls Passing, and the titular Book of Paradox.

The Tarot design is interesting but not obviously crucial/integral for the story; i.e., the Book of Paradox carried by Varka begged for a stronger connection to the Tarot cards, but the connection, if any, was not obvious. Nonetheless, it is a fun tale. Louise seems better known for her Time Master and Indigo series, which I plan to read.
The Initiate and Nemesis ( )
  SELindberg | Jul 1, 2017 |
A good heroic journey Fantasy novel, with a crisp writing style. Not overly memorable, but entertaining enough. The imagery is heavily Tarot influenced, perhaps to the detriment of the flow of action. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Mar 1, 2016 |
Varka did not know what the women had seen in the temple below the ground, but he knew that they had not seen him in his clumsy disguise. He had been something other than human, something possessed, something all-powerful. Now he stood in the small clearing, and he raised his stolen sword in salute to the howling wind. The wind laughed anew, long and loud, and parted the tops of the great trees so the bland face of the moon shone down and turned the dull sword into a streak of silver fire.

When Varka is unjustly convicted of murdering the woman he loves, he is sentenced to be sacrificed to Darxes the Lord of the Underworld. But Darxes takes pity on him and sends him on a quest to find Limbo and return Aloethe to the land of the living, giving him the Book of Paradox to guide him on his journey.

The book is divided into 22 chapters, each named for one of the cards of the Major Arcana, beginning with the Magician (Reversed) and ending with the Fool. Each chapter begins with a description of the card's symbolism of the Tarot card, and if the card is reversed it explains how that changes its symbolism, so the reader has a general idea of how Varka's quest is going to go and who he will meet along the way. This is an unusual way of telling a story, and quite different from the way Tarot cards are used to tell stories in "The Castle of Crossed Desires" by Italo Calvino. Varka meets with paradoxes throughout his journey and the story ends with the biggest (and most intriguing) paradox of all.

This is the most interesting fantasy book I have read in a long time. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Sep 17, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Louise Cooperprimary authorall editionscalculated
Nessim, BarbaraIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my husband, Gary, for all his love, help, and encouragement
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The Magician, thought by some to be a personification of Hermes or Mercury, god of communication, represents Will.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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