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

“It’s been proven by all the sciences, m’boy-biolgoy, alienism, phrenology.”

Westerns and fantasy work surprising well together I am finding.  ‘Territory’ by Emma Bull, ‘Half-Made World’ by Felix Gilman, even ‘Red Country’ by Abercrombie are all solid tales with a western vibe.  Add ‘The Six-Gun Tarot’ to that list.

Golgotha, Nevada is a strange little cattle town whose inhabitants do their best to live normal lives.  Sure they have a sheriff who may be immortal or already dead.  There may or may not have been a run of rats that went on two legs a few years back.  And no one really talks about the run of critters around town whom had all their blood drained overnight.  But despite that, they live normal lives.

Into this town comes Jim, on the run from Kentucky, rescued from the 40-mile desert by Mutt, the town’s deputy.  Almost immediately things start happening, again.  A raving man in the general store is only the start of a crazy turn for the town, a showdown of a battle that has been waged since the beginning of time.  Enter a crazed preacher, a bar owner who is way more than he seems, a direct descendent of Lilith, and a Cthulhu like creature.

A lot of debate over what to classify this book is already threatening to take over conversations.  Western fantasy works for me, though there are some steampunk and horror elements. There is a lot going on in this book.  In the big picture, there is a mostly Christian mythos mixed with other religious beliefs (like many in fantasy, belief lends itself to reality in this world).  A battle that started with the phrase “let there be light,” and it leads a different view to the fall of Lucifer as well.  But the book really shines in the smaller picture, remembering the importance of the town people’s relationships, and never letting the larger story overtake that.

The biggest issue I had with this book was the handling of the first character we meet, Jim.  Most of his story was entertaining and worked well.  But his part to play in the final showdown was the most unexplainable.  Through an artifact of his fathers he had some major power, but the earlier limits on that power just went away in the showdown.  The book also left the Chinese in town completely underdeveloped.  Some credit for not ignoring a large immigrant population in this work based on actual history, but there is no sense that he ever knew how to tie them into this story.  The connection Jim has with them through his late-father’s artifact is dubious, at least to me.  A couple real minor problems; a few chapters jumped between characters thoughts in confusing ways, and it is strange the way everyone in town came up with the same name for people with a specific ailment so quickly and independently of each other.

A few things that could bug some readers, but worked well for me.  Almost every character had something supernatural about them, in a land where magic isn’t an everyday thing.  This didn’t bother me much though, as Golgotha was obviously a town that would draw power like this. Maude is set up to be unbelievably powerful, but it wasn’t ever really a problem because the author didn’t abuse it.  A lot of flashbacks are present, some not completely relevant to the main story, but most showed insight into one of the many characters.
There were very few ‘real world’ references outside of the now over civil war and a passing reference to the Ghost Dance movement.  I was forced to look something up when a line rang false, but learned that while most Mormon temples don’t have crosses on them, a small number did.  So the author’s was right on this one, and no gotcha moment was to be had (damn, love gotchas).

The story was great, entertaining throughout.  The characters were realistic, a very diverse cast with some amazing relationships between them.  The town felt alive and real.  I love the visuals of the mythology, from Christian Angels to the Coyote spirit (though it, like the Chinese part in the story, was seriously underdeveloped).  There was a strong conclusion (minus Jim’s part in it), but there is enough left to this town that a sequel seems like a real possibility.

4 stars.  I have no problems recommending this book to almost anyone.

Review copy provided by publisher

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