Fantasy Review: ‘The Shotgun Arcana’ by R.S. Belcher

Sometimes taking a story all the way over the top just flat out works. It is not enough to The Shotgun Arcana (Golgotha, #2)have angels on earth, zombie outbreaks, Frankenstein-ish scientists and various shape shifters in a Wild West town. It would be much, much better to add in some ninjas, ancient orders of mysticism, and a large number of the nastiest killers in the world to the mix. When in Rome and all that jazz (mixing clichés is even more fun that mixing metaphors, you should try it). Here is the weirdest thing about all of this though; every single strange element I just listed is present in The Shotgun Arcana yet somehow the story avoids feeling like pure pulp.

Really it shouldn’t surprise me that this works so well as the ‘everything goes into the pot’ approach is used in the urban fantasy sub-genre to great affect all the time. And when picking a classification the UF label works as well as any other for this series despite taking place a good hundred plus before most urban fantasy tales.

Anyway… The Shotgun Arcana is the follow up to The Six-Gun Tarot which set the stage for this weird west town named Golgotha and the strange happenings with in. The first book was overly ambitious and while I enjoyed it immensely it was all almost too much; it wanted to do everything and I felt there were a few things that fell through the cracks by the end. Shotgun Arcana benefits from having the mythos of this world pre-established and was able to move right in the story. As such it felt like a tighter and more focused book all around. From beginning to end the pressure is never let off; right up to the end as loose ends are neatly tied while new threads are purposely unraveled.

A basic plot summery boils down to rival angels competing for the direction earth will take; final showdown taking place in Golgotha. Serial killers from around the world appear to be converging on a town that is doing its best to forget the crazy transpirings from a couple years before. Those standing to stop them from destroy the town (and eventually the world) include an immortal (allegedly) sheriff, his part coyote deputy, a decedent of Lilith with near super powers, and a few other over the top and completely awesome personalities. Expect lots of action, lots of blood, and a few things that can’t even be explained by the supernatural.

Dark but occasionally funny this a tale that balances characters one can’t help but love and a setting /mythos that will leave a person dying for more. I admit I was hooked, flipping pages at a pace I don’t get to do much of anymore and threatening to bite anyone who asked me to put the book down. I wanted to know who all these serial killers I was meeting in random interludes were; and gave a self congratulatory pat on the back to myself when I figured out just what it was they were all carrying. I was rooting for the various love interests despite some of them being incredibly creepy. And when it was all over I was a bit sad that the next book in the series isn’t out right now.

A small note about Golgotha itself. It is a city with life and realism. Mining camps outside of town, various churches, people everyone knows and people completely marginalized- all are present.  Belcher gives he women professions other than prostitute (and though that profession is present the ‘happy whore’ trope is thankfully not in affect). He remembered enough about U.S. history to include a strong Chinese contingent in a town affected by the building of the railroad. Though some of his characters are suspiciously modern when it comes to their views the town still fights with racism and other strong ‘views.’ And the characters fight real fights against these views; some winning small victories and some sadly losing the fight.

4 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.


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