Let's dive straight in with the usual basics about the deck. It's illustrated and designed by Kelsey Showalter, via a (fulfilled very early) Kickstarter campaign - I was surprised to receive them so early, given they were estimated for delivery in September 2017, and they landed in my mailbox in February! Hurrah! Always a fan of under-promising/over-delivering when it comes to timescales!
The cards are a healthy, standard size, measuring in at 4 3/4 x 2 3/4 inches (that's 11.9 x 7.9 cm for those who have never known a Freddo to cost anything less than 35p), are light, but a good quality stock, borderless, with a semi-shine coating, and rounded corners. The card backs are a reversible black and white double-circle design, which reminds me of the old Zener cards, strangely! The cards come in a good quality tuck-fold box, tight enough to grip the cards, whilst allowing access without ripping the little flap off the top!
The LWB is provided in a downloadable format via a link that comes with the deck. It's 22 pages, including some insight about the author of the LWB (in this case it's Chanel Athena Estrada who has put the booklet together), 4 spreads to try, and a paragraph or two about each card, including keywords and reversal info. Nothing entirely out of the ordinary in there, although there are some unusual suit/astrological sign associations, where there's no clear backing for that information, and so I've chosen to 'politely ignore' them...the deck is, for the most part, RWS sympathetic, and so I'm confident that it can be an optional, rather than essential, read, and as it's not been done by the artist of the cards, I don't feel it adds anything to my understanding of the choices and motivations that Ms Showalter had during her creative process.
As for the cards themselves, the colours vary from muted shades, 'not-quite-pastels', to bold reds and blues, and are beautifully illustrated, with gorgeous attention to detail. The cards feel both 'vintage' and fresh/new at the same time, which is sometimes quite strange to get your head around and yet gives them a quirky individual feel.
The deck has a pleasantly surprising amount of nudity involved, paring back those outfits and coverings, and instead allowing the portrayal of the individual, their pose and their accessories/background tell the story of the card. It's a distinctly unusual approach, with nudity in tarot decks seemingly becoming more and more uncommon as they become more and more mainstream, but I'm enough of a tarot traditionalist, and rather liberal minded, that I'm unfazed by the human form, and enjoy seeing the character representations in this way. Often it's used as a shock tactic or in a brutalistic fashion, beyond the usual presentation of Temperance or the Star with bared breasts, but the Illuminated Tarot switch between using clothing and accessories and nudity/semi-nudity to capture the essence and energy of the card and to portray it in a consistently accessible fashion.
I'd go so far as to say that the cards will likely see a considerable uptake by the LGBT community, primarily because of the portrayal of those cards with human figures, breaking some of the stereotypical presentations, and embracing some diversity/gender neutrality (as in the Lovers card)...there's a concession made to different body types and shapes, styles and fashions, although the majority of the court and majors are still represented by the 'toned and tanned' beauty standards.
Suits are the standard Cups, Swords, Pentacles and Wands/Rods, and the Majors are all traditionally numbered, rather than name, so no oddities or strange surprises there. Court cards are traditional Page, Knight, Queen and King and are named only as such, with the their suit provided somewhere in the image.
The deck as a whole is RWS-sympathetic, but there are some notable exceptions that show a departure from the expected imagery and express the card in a different way, much to my enjoyment and appreciation! Little quirks such as the injured Nine of Rods, the unusually placed sword in the Four of Rods, the brooding King of Pentacles, the wounded Queen of Cups and the lady in the Nine of Pentacles sporting a snazzy blue buzz cut are sufficiently different from the usual RWS fair that they offer a sufficient hook and twist to the usual triggers and connections, providing more for the visually stimulated reader to get their intuitive teeth into.
Overall I'm exceptionally pleased with the deck - a variety of stark, muted, bold, bright, piercing cards and images that give the RWS a shiny new outfit, to be appreciated and admired!
The Illuminated Tarot is self published by the awesomely talented Kelsey Showalter, and she has web pages at Behance and Tumblr and a store at Etsy. Supplies of the deck are limited, and there's no information yet about a reprint or second run, so if you're interested, move it or miss out!