Review by Bonnie Cehovet
The Last Troubadour - Song of Montsegur is the first book in a trilogy that was twenty years in the making. Set against the background of 13th century Europe, it combines humor, mystery and history in delightful proportions. Being in and of its time, it is also earthy, bawdy, and rowdy ... all of the things that real life can be.
Of note to Tarot aficionados is the use of Tarot as an important part of the story. Armstrong considered the ramifications of including the Tarot ... Was it a strong enough base to bring in significant readership? Would he lose readers because of it? In the end, it became an important tool in the telling of the story. Each major character is an archetype from the Tarot: Ramon Troubadour, the Fool who leads the quest to save the Silver Dame of Montsegur (the High Priestess) from the fires of the Inquisition (fires that took his own mother years before); Nevara, the albino pagan sorceress (Magus/Magician) who heals and plays tricks with equanimity; Hugh d'Arcis, conquering Viscount of Carcassonne (the Emperor); Seigneur, the one eyed "Cyclops" crusader (Strength/Lust); and the Diableteur, the feared witch-hunter (Death).
Armstong has a solid background in the Tarot, and his characterizations are perfect! We laugh, we cry, and we pray with his people. We meet the Templar who chose a solo path (although he does ride with Knights loyal to him), the monk who is suicidal, the Grand Duo who are not at all what they seem, and the Silver Dame who heals with unconditional love, and holds the key to it all.
The story revolves around the Fool (Ramon Troubadour), and his quest to save the Silver Dame from the fires of the Inquisition. Along the way he partners with Nevara, the witch, and Arnot, the disenfranchised Templar. His sworn enemy becomes his greatest support, and a feared woods his escape and sanctuary.
Why is the Silver Dame so important to the Inquisition (and to the Pope)? What sacred religious relics does she hold knowledge of, and why are they important not only to the Pope, but to the two men who are vying to succeed him in office? Who is the Pope's man, the Diableteur, the witch-hunter that all fear, who is after the sacred relics in the name of the Pope?
It is quite interesting to see the archetypes of the Tarot come to life in this amazing setting! To see how important the Templers became not only as warriors but as bankers, and how the shadows in an individual's life can drive them harder and farther than anything visible. Here we see politics at it's finest (and deadliest), and how fear knows no boundaries.
There is such magic in this book, and more to come! With the second book in this trilogy (due out in 2008), we should be seeing an accompanying deck that is in the process of being created specifically for this series.
Kudos to Derek Armstrong ... this is a wonderful work of art, and I highly recommend it to all who are interested in the Tarot, in the history of the 13th century, and in a mystery that crosses many boundaries!
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.