Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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

Jim Hawkins, Listens-to-Wind, Renly Baratheon, Mina Murray and Odin in the Wild West fighting Cthulhu.

If that sounds like fun then The Six-Gun Tarot is exactly what you need in your life.  R. S. Belcher’s Fantasy Kitchen Sink1 of a first book is essentially The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Deadlands Edition. When Jim Negrey stumbles into the sleepy mining town of Golgotha, he becomes embroiled in a bigger mystery than the one he fled, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

The Cast:

Page of Wands
            “I want a raise.”2
Jim Negrey is sorta the main character?  He vanishes for bits of the narrative, but it’s him in the cover art and has an Artifact so dammit he’s the main character. He’s very believably young and afraid of what’s happening, but he has such a good heart, and cares about his horse3.  He’s also narrator in my favourite scene, which describes the cacophony and heat and chaos of a shootout magnificently.  His backstory is revealed slowly as the novel goes on, forming a mystery in itself.  Someone needs to give this kid a hug.

The Moon
            “You'd have to be nine parts crazy to one part stupid to be Sheriff of this town.  Sounds like a job for a white man.”4
I love Mutt.  Deputy, Werecoyote, Magical NativeAmerican, Only Sane Man.  The town hates him for his herritage, but he’s too noble to run off and abandon them.  His choice between the world of men and the world of beasts handled subtly, but poignantly.  I was also a fan of how deftly Belcher handled his affection for Maude Stapleton.  So human, so sad.  Mutt's words speak louder than mine:
“I say a man that lets his religion git in the way of his drinking is a fella with his cart 'fore his horse.”
“Enough!” Mutt said, interrupting the villain’s monologue. “You damn white people talk too much!”

            “They kissed. The love in it was strong, welling up from deep inside of them, giving them power, making them gods.”5
I dunno why there’s this rule that Mormons Men in Fiction are Gay, but very few of them wield angelic swords and armor, and Harry Pratt is technically Biromantic, so…subverted trope?  Also, while it’s sadly brief, the love between Harry and his lover is intense and sweet.  Harry’s struggle between his faith and his sexuality lend a lot of weight to the novel, and packs emotional punch.  This is the second book in a row (after last week's Wytchfire) with a gay action-hero protagonist, and I'm quite glad to see this trend.  Please let it continue onwards towards the mainstream. 

I'm also very glad that Mormonism was handled delicately in the book. It's easy for religious minorities to be full of strawmen, but that was deffinitely not the case in this book.  The Mormon characters that make up ~1/3rd of Golgotha are respectable, varied characters.

Queen of Swords
            “Guns are like men – only useful for a little while.  They can go off at a moment’s notice when you don’t want them to and they make a lot of damn fool noise doing it.”6
Maude Stapleton is the successor to Anne Bonny in a line of women who drank the blood of Lilith in order to become, basically, Slayers7.  This woman has concentrated badass in her blood, but she’s also growing old, and it’s hard to keep running.  Her backstory is probably the coolest thing to hit the shelves in a long time.  Immortal Anne Bonny, Wiccan8 Rituals, and massive libraries.

The feminism is...weird, in this book.  Maude is a badass mom who doesn't back down and don't need no man to defend her, but her primary motivation is her daughter in many cases.  Interpret that how you will.  I don't know enough feminist theory to touch it.  I think it was fine, but I could be way wrong. 

The Hanged Man
            “Not my Time.”9
As Sheriff of Golgotha, Jon Highfather10 has seen some shit and some shit accessories11.  What I love about Jon is his “But for me, it was Tuesday” approach to the upcoming apocalypse.  Armies of cultists who cry midnight?  He haint even bovvered.  It’s a realistic, but also fresh approach to a man who’s been killed more ways than Phil Connors12.  He's a sad character as well, and you get the impression that some of the hanging scars on his neck are self-inflicted.  We don't really find out why, but the writing's on the wall.  I'd love to see more about this character.  He's the action hero we need, just not the one we deserve right now.  The Reconstruction Era is when everything changes, and Jon Highfather is ready. 

Adding to the motley bunch of characters, each complex and interesting in their own right, Not!Frankenstien, Not!Mr. Freeze (no, really), Cheng Huang, Not!Caleb, RileyFinn13, Lucifer and Not!Aleister Crowley all turn up at some point or another. 

All these characters are dealing with the fact that The Great Old One 14 is getting loose and trying to end the world.15  It’s basically the Book of the Dun Cow IN THE WILD WEST.  The Nevada atmosphere is great too, drenched in sweat and slang.  I can see Golgotha so easily in my mind, can imagine every turn of the street, from the main road where the Paradise Falls theatre is putting on a production of The King in Yellow to the thunderingly-racist-yet-accurate-to-historical-attitudes16 twisted, non-Euclidean streets of "Johnnytown."

It’s a great book, great stories, great characters. The Six-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher.  Go pick it up.
 "You water down your Whiskey" Lucifer said incredulously.
"The Good Stuff is for the paying customers."

No comments:

Post a Comment