The Six-Gun Tarot – R.S. Belcher

About the Book

Buffy meets Deadwood in a dark, wildly imaginative historical fantasy

Nevada, 1869: Beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck; some say he is a dead man whose time has not yet come. His half-human deputy is kin to coyotes. The mayor guards a hoard of mythical treasures. A banker’s wife belongs to a secret order of assassins. And a shady saloon owner, whose fingers are in everyone’s business, may know more about the town’s true origins than he’s letting on.

A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the primordial darkness stirring in the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town. Bleeding midnight, an ancient evil is spilling into the world, and unless the sheriff and his posse can saddle up in time, Golgotha will have seen its last dawn…and so will all of Creation.

368 pages (hardcover)
Published on January 22, 2013
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage

This book was given to me by the publisher for my review. 

You can purchase a copy of this book here: The Six-Gun Tarot, The Six-Gun Tarot – Kindle

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I’m learning that the longer I review, the more I appreciate authors who dare to write completely offbeat books. Different is good, and it doesn’t really get much more different than The Six-Gun Tarot. I’m hard pressed to determine what genre it best fits in. There’s a bit of everything here: horror, fantasy, American legends, Mormon mythology, Native American Lore and more, all set in a Wild West world complete with all that entails. The incredible thing is that Belcher manages to seamlessly smash all of this together so it actually works quite well.

I should be upfront. I live in Utah. If you drive west for about an hour and a bit, you’ll be in Nevada, which really isn’t that much different from Utah. Also, living in Utah, I’m rather inundated with Mormon, pioneer, and native mythology on a nearly constant basis. Therefore, its not hard for me to picture much of the landscape, or visualize what a lot of the myths and legends the author was dabbling with. It was quite fun for me to read a book that takes place in an area that felt like my geographical neighborhood. That’s a rare treat, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it probably increased my enjoyment a little.

That’s not to say that Belcher kept the myths and legends in their root form. No, it’s rather easy to see where the author got his ideas from, but he twists them enough in the use of them to make them new and unique in The Six-Gun Tarot. Some portions of the book are loosely based on the war in heaven, which is a very well known Mormon teaching. That’s a huge draw for me. I’ve never read a fantasy book with so many unique mythologies and the author’s handling of them was masterful. His ability to keep them fresh and creative even to someone as exhausted by them as I am is nothing short of incredible. In regards to much of the mythology, Belcher also toys with the underlying theme that belief also denotes power. For example, gods are only as powerful as the number of people that believe in them. That’s quite an interesting theme to toy with in a book so rife with numerous belief systems.

Belcher also gets fairly creative with the society he’s built in this old mining town in Nevada. Golgotha, like most small towns, has a pretty engrained social structure. Women know their place. Men run things and everything looks wonderful on the surface while people hide their issues behind big dresses and the walls of their houses. Belcher uses this small town mentality to toy with some social structures. For example, the mayor is married to three women, but he’s also homosexual. The sheriff’s deputy is half human. Issues regarding his mixed and unsavory heritage are peppered throughout the book. A powerful woman has to relearn just how powerful she is after a lifetime of living under her husband’s thumb. While these themes are more subtle than the overarching plot, they are there and it’s interesting how Belcher works in all of these challenges to a cookie-cutter society in a very natural way.

While there is a lot in The Six-Gun Tarot to enjoy, Belcher keeps me from being too enthusiastic due to some writing quirks that just didn’t work for me. That being said, I always assume that there will be some writing issues in a first book, so they were pretty expected. One problem, and perhaps the most noteworthy, is the use of too many points of view. Belcher introduces new points of view for a shockingly long period of time in his book. This has the effect of causing the plot to move rather slowly in the first half of the book. Another reason that the plot felt so slow moving was due to lots of long flashbacks with every new character. While it was helpful to have background information, when the reader wants the plot to move forward, it’s rather frustrating to be thrust back.

The Six-Gun Tarot is one hell of a debut novel. It’s not quite fantasy, not quite horror, and has a whole lot of fascinating mythology that plays on deeper themes. Though the plot does take a while to take off, and the numerous points of view that are almost constantly introduced can feel rather distracting, Belcher really has something promising on his hands. This is a book that’s a lot of fun with enough depth to keep you thinking. Tight writing and a unique setting keep everything fresh and new. The Six-Gun Tarot isn’t what you are expecting; I can promise you that. And that’s part of what’s so wonderful about it.

 

4/5 stars

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