Enter into Neth Space and you will find thoughts and reviews of books and other media that fit the general definition of speculative fiction. This includes the various genres and sub-genres of fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, high fantasy, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, new weird, magical realism, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, slipstream, horror, alternative history, SF noir, etc. Thoughts are my own, I'm certainly not a professional, just an avid reader avoiding his day job.
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.
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
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.
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.