Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

The Shadowscapes Tarot is one of Llewellyn’s evergreen decks, meaning it remains a consistent bestseller since its first publication in 2010. And that’s no surprise. Oakland-based artist Stephanie Pui-Mun Law is indisputably one of the most talented illustrators to set her hand on to creating tarot art.

This is one of those decks you want to take a magnifying glass to. With the delicate threadbare lines and inlays of elaborate ornamentation, it would be almost disrespectful to not devote hours of meditative study to the details.

Three Septenaries of the Major Arcana. Click to enlarge.

How would I describe the deck art? If Asgard of Old Norse saga and Tianchao, the Celestial Empire of Chinese mythos merged into one kingdom inhabited by factions of magical creatures in which an epic fantasy was set, then you’d get the Shadowscapes Tarot.

In its own words, the Shadowscapes is presented as an eclectic blend of Asian and Celtic fantasy themes. And that is such a cool combo. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other tarot deck that brings those two worlds and cultures together.

The LWB gives short-form essential card meanings, but nothing in the way of card descriptions, which is something I personally like to see in an LWB. That said, it’s co-written by Law and Barbara Moore, so with Moore’s hand in the writing, you know the card meanings are reliable.

The cellular level of detailing on this deck is just phenomenal. You know that consciousness before you awaken from a vivid dream, but you are beginning to emerge back into the physical world, and the events from the dream are fading away? That’s what the aesthetics here feels like with the soft lines and blurred washes.

Suit of Wands. Click to enlarge.

I love the amethyst and steel grey color combination that dominates throughout, with the gentle washes of gold light. By the way, you can click on any of these photographs for an enlarged zoomed-in view of the details.

The suit of Wands features foxes and qilin (a mythical creature of Chinese lore) rendered in a style that’s reminiscent of classical Chinese fine art. These images look like silk scroll paintings.

Populated by fairy queens, foxes, and woodland creatures, Shadowscapes is a tarot deck for the dreamer. This Queen of Wands is a good example of the detailing– the lavender spiral shells that make up the ground, and how the compositions are fully-populated works of art. Your eyes can wander from area to area and there are multiple sub-plots going on within the main narrative of the illustration.

Suit of Cups. Click to enlarge.

Here in the suit of cups, we explore the underwater world of mermaids, koi fish, and sea nymphs. The amethyst darkens into a lapis lazuli blue. Like the gradual darkening and lightening of the sky, there is elemental color symbolism here that designates which suit you’re in. There were stronger gold and red tones in the Wands and here in the Cups you see the rich blues.

As standalone works of art, each piece is indisputably exquisite. Just consider the story unfolding in your mind about the ensnared swan in the Eight of Swords and the hummingbird. I can see the movement of the branches– and are those the skulls of swans that came before on the ground?

Suit of Swords. Click to enlarge.

The emotions, the plotting, the voice of the artist, the superior level of technical skill– all of it comes together in this masterpiece of a deck. I love that severe swath of red in the Ten of Swords and how, when all the Swords cards are lined up like you see above, it’s a gash of a wound across the landscape. Every aspect of this deck at every layer is just so artfully done.

Suit of Pentacles. Click to enlarge.

In the Suit of Pentacles, the color wash blurs into jade and emerald greens. Another artistic detail that’s prominent in this deck that I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before in other decks– weather. In the Shadowscapes, something about it turns my imagination on High, along with clairaudience, and I just feel like I can hear the weather. The winds, the storms, and all the ways that Mother Nature is an animated, fully fleshed out character.

While you won’t get much disagreement from tarot folks that the Shadowscapes is an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful deck, where you do get debate is whether this deck is readable. Can you read tarot with the Shadowscapes?

As a tarot deck for reading purposes, for me personally, it feels like I’m cosplaying, which isn’t a bad thing, and can be exactly what you want on certain occasions, but it is certainly its own thing altogether. It’s like trying to answer love, health, and career questions through Lord of the Rings.

This is a hand-held gallery of high fantasy art that I enjoy taking a magnifying glass to. The ways in which the essence of the tarot card meaning is interpreted are delightful, like that spider weaving a web in the Eight of Pentacles. The Shadowscapes Tarot is one of those decks that will never leave my personal collection because of how much I adore it.

13 thoughts on “Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

  1. Moonlit_Muse

    I just got this deck a few days ago and have felt an instant connection to it. It speaks to the reader in a beautiful language that makes it amazingly easy to read, even for a novice like myself

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree this is one of my top five decks. Also intriguing point about it being Celtic/Asian ascetic mash-up no wonder I love them. Never really thought of it since she grab me with the use of foxes. I remember wait for her emails as she would finish each card. Totally worth the wait. And like you said I can’t use it professionally except for Moon readings. It just resonates for me that soft hidden side of the subconscious- Vaseline lens, moonlight visions. This deck and yours are the only ones I have copies that are only for my own readings and ceremonially. Also, I love that they are a smaller size for my hands, but wish they were bigger to see the artwork.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dawn

    I love the deck and even bought the expensive book to go along with it. Most everyone’s original complaint was they wish the cards were bigger to see all the incredible detail. Her art is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 100% agree. I don’t really read with it anymore, but it’s one of the first decks I ever bought and the artwork is breathtakingly beautiful. Also, I find the guidebook to be excellent in its storytelling. I have the app on my phone as well and I find myself turning to the card meanings sometimes – not to mention it looks STUNNING in full HD retina display on my iPhone.

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  5. Nina

    This is one of my favourite tarot decks and one of my first tarot decks. I downloaded the app so I could zoom in on the artwork when I needed to. 🤣

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  6. I agree this is a stunningly beautiful deck. That said, I don’t think the standard tarot size cards allow the amazing details of the intricate artwork to ….open up and breathe. I find myself squinting to pick out the subtle and ethereal nuances. This is a deck that, IMHO, would greatly benefit from being completely borderless, with the artwork a little larger to better showcase it.

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  7. stankbeest

    Seems like everyone agrees – the cards are a bit too small for the intricate detail. I don’t disagree. Much like the “1001 Nights Tarot” which could also benefit from a larger card size and no borders. I have the dubious ‘advantage’ of being quite near-sighted, so I can take off my glasses and really examine the artwork right up against my nose. But not necessarily an ideal situation either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha. Oh gosh. I know that was not intended to be funny, but it was pretty hilarious. 😂

      Imagine one of those Japanese style houses, with painted art panels, each panel is one of the cards from this deck, floor to ceiling size… 🤩😍

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  8. Shadowrose

    Such a beautiful artwork! Love it. This is just another one tempting me to buy it…
    As far as I could remember she’s also made a small oracle deck and sells her original artworks.

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  9. aob2pt0

    First deck I ever picked up and will remain #1 for me. I The world need a larger version with no borders. Thank you for your review. You are always so insightful.

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