The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher
Synopsis from GoodReads:
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.
I don’t read a lot of what are called ‘Weird Westerns’ – steampunk-meets-wild-west-meets-fantasy. This is probably the first novel from that particular sub-genre that I’ve read. And I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
Let me start by saying that the world-building is phenomenal. The world felt real, large – and very typical of the 1860’s/70’s (yes, that includes homophobia, sexism, and racism; consider yourself warned). Belcher melds the real with the fantastical, granting the different religions and sects and beliefs their place in making up the tapestry of his world.
Speaking of belief, I loved the underlying message about its power that Belcher included: human belief is what gives things power, but it’s hard to take advantage of that because the world is set up to discourage true belief. Ch’eng Huang tells a tale of creation that echoes the one we see through the eyes of the angel Biqa, with only minor details changed to show the divergence between the Chinese man’s beliefs and the Christian angel’s experiences. Multiple characters outright state that the one thing all deities have in common is that they require mortal belief – it is this belief that brings them to life and gives them power.
I also loved how the chapter titles were taken from Tarot cards. As someone vaguely familiar with Tarot, I was able to predict some of the characters who would have focus in a given chapter due to the title or I could figure out what direction the story would take. Not to say that everything was spoiled, because it wasn’t, but my knowledge allowed me what I felt to be a deeper enjoyment of the story.
Now onto the things that bothered me. Starting with the characters.
It’s not that I didn’t like them, because I found quite a few I liked and quite a few I didn’t care for at all. But it was difficult to develop a strong attachment to any of them until later in the novel because of the many P.O.V. jumps. Each chapter has a different narrator and sometimes the narrator changes mid-chapter, usually signaled by a page break. This meant that I didn’t establish a strong connection to anyone right at their introduction because I was immediately pulled away to a new character. And of course this means that some I just never sympathized with, even when I was probably supposed to.
My other main complaint is the pacing and climax. Things feel like they’re moving slow even when they’re going quickly because of the way the novel is written. There’s a sense of urgency, but it never really ramped up enough for me – not even during the climactic fighting scenes. There was tension and unease – the setting was fantastic! – but it didn’t transfer over into action.
Overall I enjoyed this novel but I felt no burning need to get back to it when I put it down, not even when I had to walk away mid-way through the final battle thanks to work!
3 out of 5 stars.