I saw this deck being used by some fellow Tarotistas on Instagram, and wanted to check it out. I was pretty sure that it would turn out to be a novelty deck, and, because of the dark styling and combination of black backgrounds with orange borders, I expected it to become a Samhain deck, or one that was pulled out for shadow work and darker introspection...but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the deck, despite it's somewhat brooding initial appearance actually has a thoroughly pleasant energy to it, and are a joy to use!
The cards are pretty standard in their size, at 2 3/4" x just over 4 1/2", which is 6.9cm by 11.5cm, and the card stock is 'Llewellyn standard', that is to say it's quite a thin deck, and I worry that it won't stand up to full-time use...it's certainly lighter stock than I'd like for a deck that's used regularly. I'll take Llewellyn to task here and say "wake up Llewellyn, it's not the 80s anymore" - the deck and accompanying book are presented in a larger box that encompasses both, however, the cards themselves only come cellophane wrapped, and the publisher insists on including a larger white cardboard 'standard size' box that clearly hasn't fit a deck since time began, so the cards themselves can either rattle around inside the cheap box that Llewellyn have provided or you need to find a bag, cloth or box in which to house them pretty quickly to avoid any damage to the cards.
Now I'm old enough to remember when this was a standard approach to providing decks, and that they even used to throw in a 'free organza bag' in which to keep the cards...but that extra 20p is obviously no longer cost effective and so they've stopped that habit, but the lack of a simple tuck-fold box for the cards themselves is a real bane to the unboxing process, and one that an experienced and established publisher like Llewellyn should really understand... assuming there's anyone left on their staff that actually uses the Tarot, rather than just churning out decks for the profit margin.
Apologies for that segue there, but with all the competition now in the marketplace, especially from self-published decks, you'd think that the larger publishing houses would be able to do something a bit more than bog standard 'throw it at you, and expect you to lump it'.
The deck is the standard 78 cards, the suits are Coins, Swords, Cups and Wands, and the majors are all titled as a standard deck - no unnecessary buggering about with names, just for the sake of aesthetics. The cards have a consistent burnt-orange coloured border, which is thicker at the bottom where the card name is printed. The card backs are non-reversible, with line drawings of the four suits plus a lemniscate symbol for good measure, again, in black and orange.
The suit imagery isn't entirely consistent through the minors, but not jarringly so - the Coins are represented in most cases by roses, Wands by branches or antlers, Cups by Ravens or feathers, and Swords by tattooed human hands. There are almost no human figures in the deck, except in the Tower and the Fool cards where a single figure is set in silhouette in both cases.
The images on each card are almost all set against a black background, but rather than making the cards dark, the art style - a kind of colourful and bold, yet at the same time somewhat hazy and muted colour scheme - really pops from the cards, drawing the eye to various points during a reading, which makes for some great intuitive leaps!! The imagery is unique, not RWS-standard or Thoth-influenced. I'm unfamiliar with Ms Stiefvaters novels, and so I don't know how much influence there is from the books, but as a standalone deck, they're compelling with some cards stark and bold in their simplicity, and others raucous bursts of energy, light and colour which command the attention.
The accompanying book, entitled "Illuminating the Prophecy" is a 184-page soft-bound book, which gives some background information about Ms Stiefvater and her approach and artwork, some basic information about how to do a reading and a couple of example spreads, with the rest of the book dedicated to the cards themselves, giving a few keywords to assist in the learning of them, and then more detailed description of the cards, which is positive and generally upbeat and constructive, but only for upright cards - the book doesn't talk about reversals at all.
This deck is a excellent one to pick up if you enjoy the intuitive connection and imagery that comes from a non-standard deck, and its colours and styling are rather unique, making it a great addition to a tarot collection, but the joy comes from reading these cards, pressing them into service and really enjoying a unique energy and connection with the deck, that really is illuminating and inspiring. If Ms Stiefvater was to push for future iterations of the deck to be on higher quality card stock, the deck would be a winner - just be prepared, if you do purchase the deck, that you'll need to find somewhere to house the cards, straight out of the box.