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

by R. S. Belcher

Series: Golgotha (1)

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The story has a few things that I am not really a fan of, such as third person retrospective narrative to tell us what happened to a character. Not all of them tell their story using that device though. The sheriff is still a mystery to me, even if he revealed part of his life to another. Still, as much as I didn't like that particular way of telling a story, it worked well here, but I had to read the whole book to see it. While I was reading, it was occasionally annoying to have the main story interrupted like that.

Jim, a thirteen year old is on the run from the law. He is trying to get as far away from his home as he could. His plan, as we find out, is to get to 'Virginia City and the mythical job with the railroad.' Instead, he ends up in a place a lot weirder than anything he could dream of. Golgotha is a special special place. 'Why is Golgotha the town where the owls speak and the stones moan? Why is this the town that attracts monsters and saints, both mortal and preternatural? Why is our schoolhouse haunted? Why did Old Lady Bellamy wear the skins of corpses on the new moon? How did old Odd Tom's dolls come toe life and kill people? Why do you still pour a ring of salt around that unmarked grave and how did this little ditch of a town become the final resting place of some of Heaven's treasures?' This best depicts how special Golgotha is. In the course of the story you find out what exactly Jim had done back home, you get to see snippets of Golgotha's residents' lives, their loses, their fears and their hopes. There are no boring characters in Golgotha.
The introduction of a small group of major characters is really slow. You don't realize they are the most important people until later. The author took his time to introduce us to Maude, a woman whose life turned out to be something her strong grandmother had never expected. It would take the end of the world as we know it for her to remember herself.
Two of my favourites, the sheriff and his deputy Mutt (a coyote shifter), never disappointed. I wish there were more of them in the story. "This is ridiculous! Is everyone with a badge in this dammed town crazy?" "It helps," Highfather said. There are a lot of Mormons in the town, the Mayor being one of them. At first I was afraid this story would become some kind of Mormon story, but fortunately I was wrong. They and their faith do play a role, but it isn't more important than faith of others in Golgotha. If I had to choose just one character to feel sorry for, it would have to be the mayor.

Considering the place and time it is understandable that faith is one of the most important things in the story. Other, uglier things are part of it too - the blatant racism (Mutt gets a lot of that), homophobia (well incorporated into the story) and misogyny (Maude's part of the story). I spent a lot of time being angry and waiting for some of the characters to die. All this made this story pretty real even with paranormal and horror elements. Even if it was annoying and hard to read parts of it, the story is great. If you don't like weird stories that have a touch of Lovecraft combined with various religious mythos, then you might not like this. ( )
  Aneris | Apr 22, 2017 |
I have this bad habit of starting a series right in the middle. Sometimes it’s an accident. I don’t bother looking at the small line under the title that says ‘Book 45 of Awesome Series You Need to Read’. Other times it’s deliberate because, for whatever reason, the library just doesn’t have books one and two.

I was actually more intrigued by The Shotgun Arcana by R. S. Belcher than I was by the synopsis of The Six Gun Tarot . But I was good this time and started at the very beginning of the Golgotha series instead of with book two like I normally would.

And I am very happy I did.

The Six Gun Tarot is the debut novel of R. S. Belcher, and it is one hell of a wild ride through the Weird West. The book is gritty, filled with myth, cults, fantasy, horror, and characters that stick with you long after the last page. If you want to know what Weird Westerns are, this is a prime example and a great place to delve into the genre for the first time.

The plot is centered around Golgotha, a small town in the Midwest during the late 1800s. It was a mining town once, but now the silver’s mostly been dug out and gone, a fact the new owners of the mine seem to be ignoring. The only thing that prevents the town from emptying out and turning into one of the many ghost towns peppering the west is its location. They sit on the very edge of the 40-Mile, a long stretch of inhospitable desert that’s claimed many a man, with Golgotha being the last stop for water and food. Golgotha’s a strange place, though, attracting the lost, the forsaken, and the not quite human. So when Jim Negry shows up just outside of town, half dead, with a mysterious jade eye in his pocket carved with symbols he can’t read, everyone knows he’s just found home. But there are other things in Golgotha, too. Things that should never have woken. Things that threaten not only the town, but the universe itself.

There is a lot held within these 361 pages. The story is told in the third person, the viewpoint switching to many, if not most, of the towns inhabitants at one point or another. If you don’t like omniscient or semi-omniscient point of view, be warned.

The cast is a very varied, rather all-inclusive one. Jim is a boy on the run, having committed a crime back home in West Virginia. Mutt, the deputy, is half-human. The sheriff himself is a man who can’t die; he has the scars to prove it, too. The mayor, one of the most prominent citizens in town and a respected elder of the Mormon community, is very much in love with Ringo, the man who plays the piano down at one of the bars. Maude is part of the Cult of Lilith, a long line of women who were pirates and warriors, now settled down with a banker and a daughter of her own. And that’s only the beginning.

While I honestly loved all of the characters, there were times where it felt as if there were too many competing points of view. Some of the characters never quite crossed paths, their stories never really overlapping in any significant way and had little to do with the majority of the real plot. There were times where I wished the plot would go back to other things – the main plot of the town being consumed by an evil darkness and the thing hidden away in the old silver mine, and what happened to make Jim run from home. Still, the tales involving characters like Gillian and Auggie, were wonderful. They added depth to the town, made it fuller, more alive, and showed what sort of a place Golgotha really is and the sort of people who stumble their way there and call it home.

Though the plot is interesting and exciting, The Six-Gun Tarot can feel very slow. We are bombarded with flashbacks quite often. For the most part, they do a wonderful job of providing the insight and knowledge we need. Every character is interesting, and every background fleshed out, or at least fleshed out enough to make their actions feel real and believable. However, flashbacks are plentiful, and sometimes go one for pages and pages at a time. I found myself snapped out of the action rather abruptly several times. Most distracting was the flashback in the middle of the story’s climax. Being taken out of the action and then dropped back into the middle of it so abruptly was jarring to the extreme.

Despite this, every scene is very deliberate. The actions of characters, their small movements as they speak add great depth to these scenes. The book is written in a very captivating manner. I wanted to linger on the page, really soak it in, before moving on. The places where characters who, though living in the same small town, never seem to meet are usually very, very good. So much so that I am very willing to forgive most of the issues I had with pacing. The scene between Jim and Ringo isn't very long and its the only time they meet in the book. Neither really knows the other to any extent, but Ringo is willing to listen and give advice even as the whole world is falling apart. We learn a lot about both characters in a short amount of time.

Do be warned that this book is dark. Things start out a bit raw and gritty. The setting and characters are all about what you’d expect at the beginning of the story. As the tale progresses the stakes rise to the point where the universe as we know it is in danger. At the same time the story grows exponentially darker both literally (as Golgotha is shrouded in starless, perpetual night) and in a more metaphorical sense. There is a very real sense of horror here, and I think fans of that genre would find a lot to like in this book.

The Six-Gun Tarot is an incredible first novel that has me clamoring for more. Despite any issues I had with it, I found myself really enjoying the book, fully invested in the characters, and surprised at every turn. I already have the second book in the series, The Shotgun Arcana, sitting on my shelf, and definitely plan on reading it. If you like Weird Westerns or dark fantasy this is a book you need to read. If you don’t like slower pacing or dark, sometimes graphic imagery, this one may not be for you. ( )
  kateprice88 | Apr 21, 2017 |
So much happens in this book and it's so different and creative, I couldn't put it down! Well written with fascinating characters like a sheriff that can't seem to be killed, and a deputy that is part human and part coyote, the Six-Gun Tarot is not your average fantasy-western-horror. I love the atmosphere Belcher's writing creates, and the unspoken and mysterious hints of things still to be revealed. Highly recommended! ( )
  LongDogMom | Oct 18, 2016 |
This novel feels like it was distilled from an epic campaign from a role-playing game where the game master let the players come up with the mythological backgrounds for their characters and then had to weave a world around them. It’s clearly stitched together, and the seams show in places, but it’s done with great creativity that makes it well worth the read. Some of the exposition is a little lumpy, and the bang from the various Chekhov guns isn’t always as spectacular as the buildup demands, but I expect Belcher’s craft will improve with more novels.

The only appearance of the tarot is in the chapter headings; if you’re explicitly looking for the tarot as a plot element, try Tim Powers’ Last Call. ( )
  slothman | May 8, 2016 |
Wow. This was a great read. There is so much going on, but somehow the author made it work brilliantly. Can't wait to read the next one! ( )
  GeekGirlM | Dec 8, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765329328, Hardcover)

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.

R.S. Belcher’s The Six-Gun Tarot is “an astonishing blend of first-rate steampunk fantasy and Western adventure.” (Library Journal, Starred Review)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:27 -0400)

"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. "--… (more)

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