I just finished Kresley Cole’s Arcana Rising. I have no idea how this author puts out amazing paranormal romance, intelligent YA post-apocalyptic books, and adult erotica that will sizzle your skivvies—and all in one year! As you know, I don’t normally like young adult or post-apocalyptic fiction, and I usually stay away from love triangles. However, The Arcana series has all three, and I can’t seem to get enough. The series offers a very interesting premise about the incarnation of the the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck, and the battle for dominance a la The Hunger Games and Highlander—in the end, there can be only one.  Each of the major characters is one of the Tarot cards—Evie, the heroine, is the Empress, and one of her love interests is the Death card. Other cards appear as well and in this book we get to know Sol, the Sun card. Sol is a “layered” character (his description), and while he loves to watch people battle to the death in gladiatorial games, and he’s allied himself with the bad guys, he’s also got some compassion and a moral compass that can flicker towards true north.

When Evie spends time with Sol, she is struck by the pageantry of his set up and the way he interacts with his followers.  Sol has fashioned himself a God, and looks for worship from his adoring crowds.  When Evie comments on the grandiosity of the display, Sol tells her, “Presentation is everything.”  He has a point. There is a lot to be said about the power of presentation, and also its unsavory underbelly.

Sol models his organization on Ancient Rome, because, in his view, those guys knew how to throw a party—or a dictatorship. He could have chosen Louis XIV or the Catholic Church. Hell, Sol could have pointed to Donald Trump as a man who understands that presentation is paramount. Versailles, the Vatican and Trump Tower are all designed to elevate the builder.  Kind of reminds me of Lord Farquaad from the movie Shrek—his very large, very phallic looking palace had nothing to do with insecurity about his statur—according to him. And there is NO PRBLEM with The Donald’s manly man-parts. Yeah, right.

Compensation aside, however, there is something to be said for putting on the Ritz and making a good impression. I think I’ve told the story of how I wore blue jeans and red suede elf shoes (complete with pointy toes)to my Harvard interview, confident that my superior intellect would outweigh my disrespectful outward appearance.  No dice. And no Harvard. Presentation counts. How we present ourselves will influence how people see us. I used to counsel young women starting out in the national security field to be careful with their wardrobe. Rocking our femininity is fine, but being valued for how we look instead of our professional performance was a sure way to forfeit promotions. Presentation counts.

And because a good presentation can definitely hide the void below, being able to see past the staging is an important skill. It’s vital to be able to see the veneer beneath the veneer, as one of my friends puts it. Because sometimes there is no there there, but we’re too hypnotized by the razzle dazzle to notice. In my experience, most of us could use a little help with our ability to penetrate the presentation and see the reality underneath.

By the same token, it’s equally important to be able to see the potential of something without all its window dressing.  Not everyone has the capacity to “see” how something will look when it’s been “prettied up.”  It’s why those with vision can see a major “fixer-upper” house and project an image of how it will look with new paint and maybe a new bay window and a custom kitchen. Others among us can’t imagine how it will look, and so they need to see a prospective house already finished and furnished before they can even think about buying it.

And sometimes, a good presentation isn’t just hiding emptiness or superficiality. Sometimes a pretty exterior is shielding an ugly interior. Form over function doesn’t work when the form is masking something dysfunctional. After all, putting lipstick on a pig just gives you a slightly better-looking pig. In the final analysis, it’s still a pig and you’re not gonna want to kiss it. Similarly, I’ve never been particularly interested in an asshat with nice external packaging. Not worth it. A pig is a pig underneath the nice lips.

Sol’s role in Arcana Rising is important. Evie, like the rest of us, needs to be reminded that putting on a good show can serve a useful purpose. But it’s also vital to avoid judging a book by its cover. Discernment and depth are key components to success, as Evie will have to learn if she is going to win the “game.” For the rest of us, as long as we’re not hiding something dark underneath our light, like Sol, then we should be able to do good and look good at the same time.

 

 

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