6 Rated Books 7 Rated Books Book Reviews Manga Appreciation Week Smuggler Specialties

Manga Appreciation Week: Joint Review – The Tarot Cafe – The Wild Hunt by Chandra Rooney

Title: The Tarot Cafe -The Wild Hunt

Author: Chandra Rooney

Genre: Light Novel, Manhwa, Romance, Fantasy


Publisher: TokyoPop
Publication Date: January 2009
Paperback: 240 pages

Stand Alone or Series: First spinoff novelization based on the popular Tarot Cafe manhwa series (check out Ana’s review HERE). The Wild Hunt can be read as a stand alone novel, and is the first in a planned series of “light novels” based on the manhwa.

Why did we read this book: Our official honorary Book Smuggler, Karen Mahoney recommended the novel to us, being a fan of both the manhwa and of Chandra’s writing. In fact, The Wild Hunt is the whole reason behind our Manga Appreciation Week! We’re always up for new authors and genres, so of course we accepted.

Summary: (from TokyoPop.com)
Based on the best-selling manga!…Bryn McMillan’s boyfriend, Jack, has gone missing. She has the nagging suspicion that something terrible–and otherworldly–has happened to him, a feeling that only increases when she has vivid visions of Jack being chased by a vicious hunter intent on owning Jack’s soul. Always one to consult psychics, Bryn finds herself at The Tarot Cafe seeking a way to aid Jack in his spiritual struggle. But when she discovers what has happened to him, Bryn finds herself with an impossible choice between a life without love or an eternity of pain by her soul mate’s side.


First Impressions:

Thea: I’m at a distinct disadvantage with The Wild Hunt as I haven’t had the chance to read the original Tarot Cafe manhwa as Ana has. (On the other hand, I suppose you could say I have as fresh a perspective as any new reader!) In any case, I generally liked The Wild Hunt. Even without having any background with the series, I didn’t find myself lost or having any problem following the story–although I did feel that I was missing out on some subtext for the main characters, especially concerning the tarot reader Pamela. Also, I had the general impression that the plot was laid out in a way that seemed better suited for manga than a prose novel. Despite these misgivings, however, I found The Wild Hunt to be a solid, enjoyable novel.

Ana:I decided to read the manhwa series before The Wild Hunt as this was the original publication progress. I had just finished reading the manhwa series when I picked The Wild Hunt, not without a certain amount of anxiety. I loved the series and I wanted to read MORE about those characters, especially Belus of course. At the same I was worried – would the story work in a different format? What about the characters –old and new – would they work?

The answer is basically yes and generally speaking? The Wild Hunt manages to be faithful to the original at the same time that it brings something new to The Tarot Café world. I needed not to worry.

On the Plot:

Bryn McMillan is a beautiful, selfless young woman. An aspiring actress coming off a very successful serialization of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bryn has just landed what could be her Big Break as the star of a new tv show. Everything in her life seems to be falling into place–she has a family that loves her dearly and supports all her choices, her career is finally taking off, and she has a fiancee whom she loves with her whole heart. The only problem is that Jack, her fiancee, has suddenly turned distant and cold–and one day, he disappears completely. Bryn has terrible nightmares about Jack, seeing him as the victim of a hellish hunt, pursued by cold, possessed riders on horseback, who will never stop trying to claim Jack for their own.

Bryn realizes that her life will never feel complete no matter how successful her career is, without her soulmate by her side, and so she turns to the one place where she can receive guidance: the Tarot Cafe.

Thea: Plot-wise, this is a very straightforward tale. A young woman must choose between a life of material happiness and success, or joining her one true love in a possible eternity of torment. It’s not a complicated story, nor is it a new story–but, for what it is, it’s a satisfying story. The theme of self sacrifice, and Ms. Rooney’s astute understanding that every decision comes with a price is probably what I loved the most about this novel. I detest unrealistic, cookie cutter endings, and I loved that Ms. Rooney does not cheapen her novel by trying to make everything fit prettily together. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the ultimate ethical message of the novel, I appreciate the frankness Ms. Rooney has employed in delivering it.

That said, I had a few issues with the writing style and with the overall structure of the novel. For the majority of The Wild Hunt, Bryn is having a tarot reading done by the seer Pamela. Each time Pamela flips over a tarot card, both characters launch into flashbacks and memories. I can see this technique working seamlessly in a comic book or manga format, but unfortunately in the novelization the whole transition process feels awkward and unrealistic. And a tad tiresome. I’m not sure if this is a technique that was employed in the original manhwa, but the LOST-style flashback techniques in writing felt choppy and wasn’t particularly to my tastes.

The other quibble I had was with the writing style itself. The prose seemed overly-ornate, for example:

As her deep, chocolate eyes scanned the room, they met ones of tragic blue over the heads dotting the cafe booths…These were haunted eyes, their irises barely able to contain the secrets struggling to claw free, eyes that overwhelmed their face, its turned-up nose at war with elegant cheekbones and lips. The woman who belonged to the face seemed familiar, with her ink-stain hair falling across ivory skin, but Pamela couldn’t place where they might’ve met.


It wasn’t because she didn’t love him. Bryn wore her love like a perfume, and its intensity flavored the air. Breathing in that adamant affection all day would make it difficult to smell the pain held by words spoken without realization of their barbs and broken glass syllables, or the way they poured poison into the listener’s ear.

Again, some folks might like it, but it comes down to a personal taste issue for me. Instead of drawing me into the story, these ornate descriptions made me notice them, in a bad way.

Ana:Thea, you are absolutely right – it is down to personal taste indeed. I really liked the writing – which I found lyrical. In fact, the very quote you use as an example above is the quote I chose as my favourite!

It wasn’t because she didn’t love him. Bryn wore her love like a perfume, and its intensity flavored the air. Breathing in that adamant affection all day would make it difficult to smell the pain held by words spoken without realization of their barbs and broken glass syllables, or the way they poured poison into the listener’s ear.

I think not only the quote is beautiful in itself but it also points to one of the themes in the novel: that sometimes love is not enough and one has to work for it. Even though Bryn and Jack loved each other they still had their problems, they still spoke words that hurt.

I think this is one of strongest points of the novel and of the plot – to talk about the weakness of the human condition – evidenced by their own choices and by The Wild Hunt itself. The Wild Hunt is a medieval myth in which a group of hunters ride through the night forever and they capture humans to joint their hunt and they have NO CHOICE in the matter, they become part of the hunt whether they like it or not. What can I say?

I am a sucker for books that incorporate folk tales and I think Chandra Rooney did a splendid job here. Not only because The Wild Hunt in itself is an interesting, dark tale but because it FITS so well in the dark, unapologetic world of The Tarot Café.

If I have one problem with the book (and this is where I must agree with Thea) is that the format, in which there is a Tarot reading and then Pamela and Bryn have flashbacks did not work very well in a novel. It was one of my favourite things about the Manhwa series but I didn’t think the transitions from past to present and back again was as smooth as it would have been with the aid of imagery.

On the Characters:

Thea: Here is where I feel like not having read the manhwa hindered me the most. By far, the most interesting characters for me were Pamela, the teen wolf Aaron, and the mysterious Belus. From Ana’s review of the manhwa, I now know that all three characters are pivotal to the original series, and the tantalizing tidbits thrown in about them are meant to enhance their roles in the original work. Other than the fact that I was infinitely more interested in these secondary characters over Bryn and Jack, I never felt lost or confused. The flashbacks to Pamela’s past and her own lost love, the dragon Ash, were skillfully written and provided invaluable insight to the character. The glimpses we see of the lovable Aaron and the cold Belus are similarly enticing–and I want to know much more about these players in subsequent novels.

Then, there are the main characters of Bryn and Jack themselves. Jack is absent for almost the entire novel–until the dramatic finish, the audience’s only glimpses of him are from Bryn’s memories and dreams. As such, I couldn’t help but feel like Jack was somewhat short-changed. We know from Bryn’s thoughts that she truly loves Jack and that she sees him as her soulmate, her one true love, etc, ad nauseum. But for all of Bryn’s memories, none of the happy times with the couple are actually seen–all I got a picture of was a distracted, self-interested dude that could not find happiness with his fiancee, so he turns to other muses for inspiration.

And then, there’s Bryn, our intrepid heroine. Or, perhaps I should say, our intrepid doormat. She’s a beautiful, delicate woman who is a Giver (with a capital “G”). She has her life ahead of her with a promising career, a loving family, adoring fans, and her own youthful beauty…but she has a complex about enjoying any of those things. She feels incredibly guilty for everything: for pursuing her acting career and making Jack float the rent for a while; for having a loving and supportive family when Jack’s family tries to sabotage his art career; for having a designer-brand handbag.

I kinda felt as though I was having some nasty Twilight Saga flashbacks myself when reading The Wild Hunt–like Bella, Bryn will sacrifice everything that she is in order to be with her truest, dearest love…and while that’s all very romantic, it sends out a message I’m uncomfortable with–especially considering this novel is probably going to be read by young teenage girls. Although, I should say that unlike the Twilight debacle, Ms. Rooney extracts a hefty price from her characters for their choices–and I appreciate that.

Ultimately, when it comes to Bryn, I gotta go with the more pragmatic Belus here:

“Sounds about right.” Belus flicked something off his wool coat. “Someone who would throw away a loving family and a promising career deserves the Hunt.”

Like the Meatloaf song goes, I would do anything for love…but I won’t do that.

Starting with the old characters– Pamela, Belial, Belus, Aaron – they all make an appearance and they are all very faithful to the original Manhwa series which is one of the positive points in The Wild Hunt. It was like revisiting old friends and I had a knowing smile as I read the book because I just knew who and what the characters were.
I had hoped that The Wild Hunt would pick up the story where the series left of but it is actually a parallel story before the happenings at the end of the series with a new episode of Tarot reading which brings to the surface a new discussion topic for Pamela and Belus which fits really well with their story in The Tarot café. In that sense, the fact that I read the Manhwa series beforehand helped me appreciate The Wild Hunt even more.

As for the “new” characters themselves, Bryn and in a small measure Jack, I wasn’t particularly fond of either of them for what they were but I loved what they brought to the story. I explain myself: I feel that The Wild Hunt is less about Bryn and Jack and more about the choices she must face and as with the manhwa series, how her story and her decision affect and/or reflect on Pamela and Belus. And in the end, these two are the ones to voice the possible interpretations for Bryn’s ultimate choice. Pamela being the “romantic” voice and Belus being the “cynical” voice.

Bryn’s guilt over her success maybe something that leave a sour tastes in our mouth – but I feel is something many a woman face in their daily lives. It is not always that we can make the wise choice or do the “right” thing and even though I don’t agree with what she eventually did (gotta side with Belus on this one – as usual. Sorry, Pamela.), I appreciate how her choice comes with dire consequences attached. Even so, I still think she took the easy way out fuelled by her love (or is it obsession) for Jack. In any case, the simple fact that the story can ignite such discussions about love, fate, choices, and selfishness is a major positive side of the Wild Hunt.

So yes, Thea, in the words of the Great MeatLoaf, you took the words right out of my mouth.

Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:

Thea: Overall, I quite enjoyed The Wild Hunt. It wasn’t spectacular for me, but I would continue to read the series. If anything, I find that my interest in the manhwa is piqued, and I intend on getting my hands on a copy of the original series!

Ana:I really liked the novel and I think I benefited from having read the Manhwa series first – it made it all the more enjoyable.

Notable Quotes/Parts:

The novel has 10 illustrations of the Tarot Cards of the Art Nouveau deck by Park Sang-sun and just like in the Manhwa series, the characters from the book replace the usual figures in the Tarot card.
A couple of examples:


Additional Thoughts: Come back tomorrow for an interview with author Chandra Rooney and a chance to win a copy of the Tarot Café, The Wild Hunt!


Ana: 7 Very Good.

Thea: 6 Good, recommended

Reading Next: The Briar King by Greg Keyes

You Might Also Like


  • Karen Mahoney
    January 15, 2009 at 4:59 am

    GREAT joint review, ladies!! Thanks for doing this and putting the spotlight on Chandra’s work – and on the wonderful Tarot Cafe world. 🙂

  • azteclady
    January 15, 2009 at 8:21 am

    I will confess here that I’ve never read (or been tempted by) any manga/manhwa before now. You ladies are good!

  • Thea
    January 15, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Karen–No no, thank you! You’re the one that got us finally to give Manga a long look, and we’ve really enjoyed it. I need to read the original Tarot Cafe series now.

    Azteclady–Hehe. We’re always happy to enable irresponsible book addictions 😈 I really hope you’re able to give manga a try!

  • Chandra
    January 15, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Again, thank you both for your fair and excellent review!

  • splendid
    January 15, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Manga Appreciation Week: Joint Review – The Tarot ……

    Bookmarked your post over at Blog Bookmarker.com!…

  • Psychics Reading
    January 15, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    With the government kept off tribal roads, the region remains a haven for smuggling. Psychics Reading

  • Thea
    January 15, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Our pleasure, Chandra 🙂

    Splendid–Thanks for the link! I had never heard of Blog Bookmarker before.

    Psychics–I guess that’s a problem? 😐

  • MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Bonus weekend post
    March 1, 2009 at 6:05 am

    […] Reload (Kuriousity) Juile on vol. 17 of Skip Beat! (Manga Maniac Cafe) Thea and Ana on the novel The Tarot Cafe: The Wild Hunt (The Book Smugglers) Ana on vols. 1-7 of The Tarot Cafe manhwa (The Book Smugglers) Snow Wildsmith […]

  • Adalisa
    January 29, 2015 at 2:09 am

    Uhm… excellent review, just a bit of an issue. Those tarot cards? Are NOT from a tarot by the manga author. They’re copies of the art noveau tarot by Antonella Caselli, published by Lo Scarabeo. If the mangaka copied her? That’s plagiarism… and a good reason not to buy the book.

  • Angelina
    March 30, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    Adalisa, if you look carefully, it is not an exact replica. Because tarot is the theme of the series, the artist park sang-sun recreates images from popular tarot decks as chapter breaks and draws a character or characters from the story into the picture, usually in a meaningful way, or the particular theme of the tarot deck relates to the characters or theme of the story. Vampire tarot for a story about a vampire, Halloween tarot and Tarot of the wolves for the werewolf character, etc. Usually on the side of the image will be the words “illustration from ____ tarot”. So the reader knows which tarot deck was the basis for the image.

Leave a Reply