Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

I love that brief time that happens when I’m between books (I tend to only read one at a time) – when I search my mood, search my bookcase and Nook and try to figure out just what I want to read. I’m never without good options and the decision is often challenging. After the exhaustion of reading the last book of a 14-book series that I have invested nearly 20 years in, I wasn’t sure what I looking for. Then I came by The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). It’s fantasy but not epic. It’s historical, but not really. It’s set in an out of the way town bordering a desert in Nevada where the local silver mine has gone bust. I live in the West, spend a lot of time in the desert, and occasionally work at mines in Nevada – so, it just seemed to fit.
Golgotha is town where odd things happen – and usually people die as a result. The sheriff is rumored to be immortal, bears the scars of multiple hangings, and keeps a supply of silver bullets handy. His deputy is the son of a coyote trickster, the local tinkerer reads Mary Shelley way too literally, the local land baron has been around a long time, mysterious things happen over in Chinatown and a new kid stumbles into town, hiding from a wanted poster and carrying the eye of his dead father.
In The Six-Gun Tarot, Belcher seemingly throws everything he can think of into the mix, and it somehow works. On one hand this is standard western with a mysterious kid coming to an even more mysterious town. One another hand it’s tale of religious fervor and the end of the world with a bit of Lilith mythos thrown in for good measure. On yet another tentacle, it’s the horror of zombies and a Cthulhu-like mythos that includes Mormons, the Chinese and even a Fallen angel or two. It’s the battleground between creation and the void. It’s been likened to steampunk, weird westerns and ‘Buffy meets Deadwood’ – and as cringing as the last one sounds, it sort of fits in a good way.
Of course, throwing so much into the book is also one its biggest flaws. Belcher has a lot of points of view in this book, and especially in the beginning, and this can lead to confusion. Some points of view seem to reveal info they shouldn’t know, and the info dumps are often a bit to clumsy. In combination with the pacing issues common in debuts, the story can abruptly grind to a halt and jarringly pick up again.
As I often see in first-time writers, their enthusiasm can get ahead of them. Belcher has a tendency to over-write in some areas, seemingly showing off. Occasionally it’s eye-rolling bad. But, overall, the prose is good. There is subtlety that is played well. The town of Golgotha, a character in its own right, has a history. A history that is often mentioned off-handedly, yet the in a few lines deep meaning is portrayed. Those are stories I’d like to hear about, but appropriately, those stories aren’t told in this book.
Belcher also creates some endearing characters. If there’s a main character, it’s probably Jim – a young kid on the run. He’s one you can cheer for, even if he’s probably the weakest of the lot. His back story, told in flashbacks, is one tragedy after another – literal punches in the gut. However, it’s Sheriff Highfather that is probably my favorite – his complicated past is only hinted at – a man with a just and open mind, a man who does what needs doing. Whether that’s keeping up the supply of silver bullets or salting an unmarked grave. The others are well done too – Maude and her history, Mutt, Augie and the Widow Gillian, and the mayor – who’s battle with his sexuality and religion, is well done side-plot.
By the end of The Six-Gun Tarot, the pacing issues and point of view confusion were forgotten. I was completely immersed in the story and I couldn’t not put the book aside. I loved the crazy, anything can happen in this town vibe. I love the way people banded together, often in spite of very real differences. I love the history of the town that we only see hints of. The fact that I stayed up late to finish is one of the biggest complements I can give a book – I’m nearly always sleep deprived and when I put a book before needed sleep it’s saying something. Belcher’s debut surprised me in just how much I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next out of Golgotha – but I’ll be honest, I hope it’s not too wrapped up in the Frankenstein hints that populate the novel.


Icarium said...

Dude, I like your reviews but this one was riddled with a LOT of typos. You might want to read them twice before posting them...

Neth said...

Wow, proof reading has never been my strong suit, but there were quite a few typos in that. I think I got most of them now.

Woodge said...

This sounds intriguing.

Also: it's subtlety, not subtly.


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