I first heard about THE SIX-GUN TAROT by R.S. Belcher on the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast (website, Facebook, Twitter). It was the first time I had heard the term “Weird Western.” I was intrigued by the idea of a story that blended fantasy and horror with western tropes. It was one of those “Duh, of course. Why didn’t I think of this before?” moments. To me, it seemed like a natural mix. Westerns are filled with stories of good guys vs. bad guys (the white hats vs. the black hats), antiheroes, desperate odds, tough guys, tougher women, love, liquor and violence. These are elements you’ll often find in fantasy, so why not mix them together? Sorcerers and six-shooters? What’s not to love? Well, when it comes to THE SIX-GUN TAROT, the answer is “not much.”
Although the cover art and the first chapter would have you believe this is the story of Jim, a 15-year old heading west to outrun his past, THE SIX-GUN TAROT is really about the town of Golgotha. It’s a typical Western town–a boom town next to a busted mine that has probably seen better days, situated on the edge of the desert. But it’s population is anything but typical. There’s the sheriff who can’t be killed, the deputy who is part coyote, the mad scientist on the edge of town, the heir to a near-immortal female pirate, and more. Lots more. I haven’t even mentioned the gods or the angels. This impressive cast of characters must all come together to fight off an evil older than existence. You see, something is stirring under that silver mine, something that threatens to eat all of Golgotha, Earth, and the universe.
This is a really impressive first novel. Belcher has not only created a rich, detailed world, but he has also populated it with characters that are detailed, sympathetic, and clever twists on common tropes. He has a real flair for description: choosing precise, colorful terms to describe people and things of a religious, mystical, superhuman nature. Additionally (and amusedly), Belcher has provided Golgotha with a bizarre history, and this story feels like only the most recent episode. I hope we will get to learn more about this town in future works.
I only have a couple of quibbles with this book. The first is that some descriptive passages were a bit repetitive. For example, every opened door or withdrawn curtain seemed to reveal motes of dust floating in a beam of light. Also, while I felt that Belcher kept the backstories and flashbacks from slowing the story down too much, I would understand if other readers were put off by it. Lastly, the female characters were drawn a touch weakly in my opinion–they are different, yet all are described and defined by their relationship with their husbands.
But, like I said, this are minor complaints. This is a fun read, with one helluva climax that will have you turning the pages and staying up late. I can’t wait to see what Belcher writes next.