A gypsy fortune-teller’s tent, a beautiful but selfish princess who has stolen a throne and an inconvenient and unwilling child who everyone thinks is their saviour prince…everyone, that is, except his sister and two brothers who unwittingly get swept up in a journey and mission that’s out of this world…. literally.

Building bridges not walls and tolerance for differences are the key themes in Cassandra’s Cavern, a contemporary fantasy adventure with a Hollywoodesque flavour which takes four English children from Colchester, Essex on the Fool’s journey in which they meet and experience the 21 archetypes of the Tarot deck.

When Floella, Henry, Albert and Humphrey are taken by their Uncle Sam to the fair in Colchester Castle Park they get more than the usual rides. Instead, because of venturing into a gipsy fortune teller’s tent to retrieve their uncle’s curious dog Muffet, they find themselves in a cavern with no way out.

They realise that they are not alone when they come across another unwitting soul who is as equally trapped and lost as they are; the Fool – an eccentric and humorous court jester from England’s late 15th century.

Together they embark on the start of a journey in another world that will take them deep into the troubled Kingdom of the South Winds whose village peoples are held in the evil grip of the controlling, manipulative and selfish Empress Zilda Tarakanova.

The Empress lives in constant fear of a popular legend that predicts her wicked reign will be ended by a saviour prince who will deliver them from tyranny.

When reports from her spies inform her that mysterious strangers from afar are in the kingdom; and that one of them, the unwitting Humphrey, is being hailed as the prince foretold; she becomes alarmed and through her evil agents, the Schmammelonks, pursues the children, resulting in the hapless Humphrey being kidnapped.

Realising Humphrey is not the long-awaited prince; the Empress nevertheless decides to adopt him and bring him up as her own puppet Crown Prince and present him to the people as the saviour.

As the story unfolds, the travellers meet the central characters in the novel: the double-dealing and sly Magician; the lofty and imperious Cassandra, High Priestess of the Paramount Light; bold and buxom Boadicea the Charioteer, and the humble gardener Jake the Rake, who as Death after the Battle of Glumpy Glen – one of two turning points in the novel and written in verse – ferries the souls of the vanquished to the other side.

They encounter too the cunning and conniving devil Bazoozoo who surprisingly, after possessing Albert, then gives the children the key to defeating the villagers’ adversaries, the Schmammelonks.

Towards the end of the book the children discover that one character who guides them on their journey, the hip-hop Hermit, transpires to be the saviour Prince Sibellian and together they plan an Armada to take back the kingdom from the wicked Empress who is tried and imprisoned in a convent in her half-sister Zoya’s Kingdom Severnia – the Kingdom of the North Winds.

The Fool, the sole character who remains with them throughout most of their journey, in many ways reflects the children’s naïve and innocent hopes. Like him they are embarking on the journey of life. However, the Fool is tragically killed at the end, the last of all the characters who, for one reason or another, abandon them, leaving the children with the realisation that ultimately, regardless of whom we meet and who accompanies us along life’s way, we must tread the path of our own individual destiny alone.

The work is divided into two parts. There are 21 main chapters or ‘trumps’ reflecting the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Each trump is subdivided into several short chapters or ‘scrolls’ representing different aspects of the Minor Arcana of the Tarot.

Psychological:
Fear of abandonment and loss, attachment issues, childhood emotional neglect and neurotic narcissism.

Psychic:
Auras, clairvoyance, the Lotus Sutra and cleansing of karma, New Age.

Political:
The resurgence of 30s style Nationalism, ethnic, political, racial and religious intolerance and persecution, the scourge of corruption and cronyism, the inherent flaws and disunity within the European Union project and the West’s economic anxiety over Far East competition.

Environmental:
The challenges and dangers of manmade climate change.

Target readership:
Teen, young adult and crossover (12-21)

Chris Graeme is a journalist and translator.
He studied Russian and Soviet Studies at Essex University in Colchester and has worked on newspapers in South Devon, London, Moscow, St. Petersburg and in Lisbon, Portugal where he currently lives and works.