This deck by Justine Ternel & Matthieu Hackière (Éditions Véga) could easily have passed me by. I almost didn’t order it. I had read a little bit about it, admired it, meant to order it, promptly forgot, then came back to it again and, with a glut of interesting new decks coming out this year, it subsquently got put onto the back burner. I remembered it again last week, placed my order directly with the artist and it arrived swiftly within a matter of days. At the time of writing, it can be ordered here (or here), but I was in direct contact with the artist via his web page here (and he has an excellent command of English so don’t let not knowing French put you off). Proof of how little I actually knew about this deck is that I assumed I was getting a Majors only deck. This in part because the deck is priced at €29.90 which is extraordinarily good value considering that you get a stunning 78 card deck edged in gold with book (in French with excellent reproductions of the cards and printed on high quality paper) all enclosed in an exquisitely designed, graphically seductive presentation box. This was such a good buy, I have nothing much to include here except a hearty recommendation. The only reason not to buy this deck is if you’re a Rider Waite Smith or Thoth only reader. However, I must add that as I opened up the book in order to take photographs for this review – no abnormal forcing of spine, just laying it open – the binding cracked and the pages came loose; you can see the beginnings of it in the photograph further down. Not really a problem for me as I don’t read French, wasn’t planning on using the book and only bought it for the deck (it doesn’t come as a stand-alone, deck only set.) But worth mentioning. Still excellent value for money whichever way you look at it.
Matthieu Hackière is a professional artist and as far as I know this is his first tarot deck. It is a deck which will obviously appeal more to those who are interested in the Marseilles decks and reading with pip cards. It is a reworking of the French tarot tradition, full of character and melancholy strangeness. The colour palette is very limited – brown, dark green, rich burgundy – and it feels like everyone is wearing rich velvet. The figures stand on what appear to be freshly ploughed undulating fields (some arid, some sprouting shoots) and look out at the viewer with doleful, slightly baleful eyes. It reminds me a little of that 1980s classic Grimaud deck The Maddonni Tarot (that I have seen giddy newbies titter at and I always feel like the older generation when defending it) – the same disembodied feeling, the same blankness – though in this deck not white, more a gentle beige – exaggerated distortion and improbable drapery (see the Papesse). It is worth stating that I cannot reproduce in photographs the real colour tone of these images – the backgrounds look white (which they’re not) and none of the richness of the other colours comes through. In terms of imagery, it’s one of those decks that doesn’t feel chatty; it feels introspective and slightly disquieting. It guards its secrets well, as tarot was supposed to do before all those infinite permutations of beginner kits flooded the market. The artwork is genuinely endearing and it has very richly adorned, quietly sumptuous court cards. The backs feature a mournful, mustard-coloured flower on black (see image at top of post.) I hesitate to say that it copies the Marseilles, but the Minors especially follow it very closely – especially the pip cards – although that doesn’t mean to say that the deck has no character of its own. It has a great deal of character but still manages to feel antiquated and remote. The eyes are sunken and dark, yet look alert and questioning. Perspective is distorted but in a knowing not medieval way so there is something about its sinuous lines and disproportionate bodies that feels very contemporary. It has a little of the naivety and charm of Meneghello’s Le Corte dei Tarocchi, yet a little less sweet (which is how I like it). The more I look at this deck, the more I admire the artist’s work and what he has done with tradition; the more I hold the deck in my hand, the more I warm to its production values .
The Devil card is one of the cards that stands out for me; see how he flounces pot-bellied over yonder fields with what appear to be two tadpoles bizarrely paraded on a leash. I love The Moon card – always a deciding card if the artist gets it right – and here we have tiny, meticulous waves together with squashed perspective of the dogs heads so that at a glance they look like Cerberus. I love how some cards, like the Queen of Swords, Queen and Valet of Batons, Temperance and a few others have such mad, glaring eyes (like “an hare” to quote Chaucer) so that they look a little deranged. I love the Two of Cups; the customary flower has been uprooted. It made me think of a mandrake root torn screaming from the earth. I love the Vieville reference in the Sun card; gaunt, standard- bearing child on horseback, waving his flag. As in the Vieville, the sun looks grouchy and sulky rather than beneficent.
The cards are big. They are the same size (lengthways) as the giant Thoth deck but about half a centimetre wider. Likewise, the same length as the Druidcraft but maybe 1 centimetre wider. They are actually the same size as the MAAT Tarot. However, the cardstock is thicker so the deck is more cumbersome when stacked. I have big hands and can shuffle all decks except the Rohrig (which I have to hold vertically to shuffle) and admittedly this is a chunky deck but I can do it and I like the weightiness in the palm of my hand, that rich gilt edging, the unusually wide format that makes the images feel more painterly and majestic rather than conventionally oblong (like cards). It is a minimal size difference but one that you feel when shuffling. The cards are glossy but not excessively so; not that hi-gloss lacquer of (some post-2004) U.S Games decks and Modiano playing cards. They simply feel protected and sturdy. As I said above; I really have very little to say beyond fully recommending it. A very beautiful and unusual deck. It was my intention to say so in far fewer words.