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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"Six-Gun Tarot" by R.S. Belcher (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman and Mihir Wanchoo)

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OVERVIEW: Buffy meets Deadwood in a dark, wildly imaginative historical fantasy

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

FORMAT: Six-Gun Tarot is a mix of Weird Western, fantasy, Steampunk, paranormal, and mythology. It stands at 368 pages. It was released by Tor Books on January 22, 2013.

ANALYSIS: (Cindy) Take a little fantasy and magic, mix it with the Wild West and add in some mythology, an apocalyptic prophecy and a dozen innocent characters, and you get Six-Gun Tarot. This rather random combination of elements brought this book to my attention, and without it I would have probably passed on the book altogether.

The entire plot of Six-Gun Tarot revolves around a small mining town in Nevada, known as Golgotha. This mining town was once a main hub of operations, but in the past several years it has slowly started to decline. That decline has caused the town to have a lot of secrets, and the entire novel revolves around shedding light on most, not all, of those secrets.

The first thing that really strikes a reader about Six-Gun Tarot is the rather large cast of characters. Readers are introduced to over a dozen different characters, and given insight into each and every one of them. While this rather large cast of characters allowed readers to really embrace and understand the eclectic town, it at times could be rather distracting. I spent a fair amount of time in the first half of the novel wondering just how all these characters were related and why we were being introduced to the 'mad scientist' or the 'random scene in a parlor'.

These random characters and scenes in the novel may appear at first glance to be just thrown out there, but they really do start to come together and really weave a truly amazing story. One of the scenes in particular that struck me as randomly thrown in was the part about the angel Biqa. There is an entire chapter devoted to the angel and then not much else mentioned until the end of the novel. I read that chapter and noticed it seemed so 'off' from the rest of the book. But it really does work out in the end and everything is explained.

Even with all the sub-plots, plots and characters, one might think that there wouldn't be a lot of world building or any real substance to this book, but there is. The entire 'world' is nicely etched out for readers, with backgrounds and history and other elements that make for great world building. It was nice to see that the desire to have dozens of main characters didn't overshadow the need for a richly developed world.

One of the parts that I really loved about this book its ability to take basic mythology and add a rather unique spin on it. Nothing 'new' is being introduced, but it has a new voice, and I loved it.

There is one slight weakness of the book and I would have to say that would be the pacing of the book. It really felt sort of sluggish in the beginning. This was while things were still being pieced together, readers were discovering who was connected to whom and how they were connected, but it really drew away from the book. I think many readers might just set the book aside and really miss out on an amazing novel.

It should be said that Six-Gun Tarot isn't going to be for everyone. There isn't a set magic system and this novel certainly doesn't have all the elements of your typical SF/fantasy novel, but it is totally amazing.

Overall, this was an amazing novel. I think people who loved Buffy, Supernatural, etc…. will love it as will people who are looking for a new, refreshing voice/story. This novel is either going to run hot or cold. I honestly, don't see there being a middle ground. People will love it or they'll not be into it at all.  Luckily, I fall into the first category and would love to see more from this great aspiring author.

(Mihir): Six Gun Tarot is a debut that almost flew under my radar; it was thanks to Cindy, my fellow blogger that I was able to read it.  The blurb details give you a small inkling about the book’s story but truly nothing truly prepares for the actual story. There are many POV characters in this story and as each chapter begins we are introduced to each and every one of them along with their backstory, motivations and futures. Jim is the young kid who’s on the run from law and his past life on a farm; he has a jade eye, which is the sole memory of his father. Mutt is a deputy policeman who is a Native American and despised by both his people and the white Americans. Sheriff Jon Highfather is the head of the law enforcement and is reputed to be the man who can’t die as he has survived three attempts on his life. Then there’s Maude Stapleton who is a quiet wife but whose silence masks secrets that are without a doubt legendary. There’s also the town mayor Harry Pratt who is hiding a personal secret while managing his Mormon faith and all the secrets and history that his family entails due to their name.

There’s also Augustus Schultz who yearns for his wife and perhaps will do anything to be with her. There’s also the angel Biqa who perhaps doubts the meaning of life, his existence as a servant to the almighty and the importance of the task he’s been given. There are many more characters however these are the main ones who power the story’s threads and make it reach an epic conclusion. Firstly hats off to the author for writing such a massive story, and let me explain what I mean by “massive”. Its not massive in length but in its scope, combining the birth of the universe and earth, mixing that with mysticism from the orient, Mormon theology, native American legends, western story settings along with Lovecraftian horror elements is no simple task. To make a coherent story by mixing these various elements is a herculean one and to be successful at it is even more lustrous. Lastly to have it as your debut story means that you are heralding yourself as a talent to watch out for.

Rod S. Belcher does that emphatically and with some substance, his prose and characterization upends this tale from simply a fantastic idea onto a fantastic story. The characters even though numerous hold their own and each of them alternatively convince the reader of their importance. Each thread feels like it is the most vital one however as soon as the next one begins, one gets drawn into that character’s emotional vortex and thus so forth. I might sound a little too fan-boyish however in some cases it’s justified like last year’s Blood Song and in this case the author’s imagination has to be admired.  The storyline begins on a rather slow note and takes a while to pick up its pace as the author introduces each and every character and sets up their plotline.

Then there’s the meshwork of plotlines and character arcs as each continue to spin on their own and in the latter half start becoming synchronized to come together in a confusing and addictive mosaic that the writers of Lost often aspired to but ultimately failed. The storyline is huge and simply epic because of the all the elements involved and the reader will learn how it all comes together and hopefully be enthralled by the author’s ingenuity. Another thing that I would like to highlight is the fact that author doesn’t whitewash the world with modern sensibilities. It’s set after the events of the US civil war and is set in a small Nevada town and the characters behave as we have read in the histories, they are bigoted. Xenophobic, chauvinistic and all other things that was common in those times. The hatred and disparity between whites, and the Chinese or Native Americans is amply presented without any reservations and this move was a good one by the author to make the tale seem authentic.

The only point that I would say went against the story’s awesomeness is its slow pace throughout the first half of the story as the author lays out all the parts and develops the character plots. This might be a tad confusing for many readers as each chapter rings us a new person with newer predicaments. I would ask readers to persevere as the tale amply pays off in the second half. An apt comparison might be the POV structure of ASOIAF novels by George R. R. Martin, and by that I mean the number of POV characters and complexity of the story. The author has leagues to go before he reaches GRRM’s skills in prose, plotting and characterization however seeing the start I’m very much pleased and will have colossal expectations from next time onwards.

Six Gun Tarot might be an odd sounding name and may seem to be an odd story however it is a gem frankly. An amalgamated gem that manages to blow expectations and showcase amazing skills on the author’s part, and making itself a strong contender for my year-end lists. Very very recommend for those who like epic fantasy, weird fiction, western historicals or basically an amalgamation of all these with a few more twists and turns to make this debut special indeed.


Unknown said...

I saw the book trailer on YouTube and I really liked the concept - glad to hear it's a great read too! I'll keep an eye out for this :)

Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom

az060693 said...

I liked the premise and a lot of the themes in this book, but quite frankly, I found it to be a mess. The author tries to juggle multiple points of views, and it simply doesn't work as well as it should. For this, he should have consolidated it to a few key characters. Instead what happens is that many things aren't explained as much as they should be, and some character subplots remain unresolved or are underdeveloped. One thing that irked me was that the author liked to introduce very minor characters with a small supporting role, yet give them a point of few and flesh them out more like main characters, then take the character development they've painstakingly cultivated and throw it out the window by never mentioning the character again.


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