A young man on the run, searching for his father. An unkillable sheriff and his demigod deputy. A former assassin and spy, now a loving mother and suffering wife. A small town in the desert recognized and called home by forces celestial and infernal, the grounds whispering secrets from both sides. This is Golgotha, the Weird Western settlement of supernatural occurrences and dark magics, and these are the souls who call it home.
The Six-Gun Tarot is the first installation of R.S. Belcher’s Golgotha series, one I discovered after picking up the second book, The Shotgun Arcana, from a local bookstore. A little known fact about me — I have a soft spot for American Western-style media. So when I see a cowboy lich framed by a magic circle and the words “shotgun arcana”, I’m intrigued. Add to that a pirate queen, a war between Heaven and Hell fought on Earth, eldritch horrors, and steampunk necromancy, and you have my attention.
I’ll try to keep any major spoilers out, as I do recommend this book highly.
No One is a Hero
The biggest issue I personally have with the hero’s journey is its singularity. There’s one hero, going on one journey. Okay, but what about the rest of the cast? Harry had Hermione and Ron, Luke had Obi-Wan. Even beyond the primary entourage, there are more important people in a story than the lucky bugger with top billing. The reader may not have spent as much time with Quincey Morris as they did Jonathan Harker, but Quincey gave his life to take down Dracula, and damn it, that’s gotta mean something.
Instead of a lone hero and cardboard-cutout supporting cast, Belcher creates a living, breathing town and people to inhabit it. Some tropes and stereotypes are embraced while others are delightfully subverted. One of my favorite characters, Mayor Pratt, is a closeted gay man born to lead the Mormon church. The beloved shopkeeper, a God-fearing man, has given to meddling with dark science to bring back his dead wife. Even the generic townsfolk read like people who would live during the mid-19th century, prejudices and ignorance included. The feelings of misogyny, racism, and bigotry aren’t hidden in this small mining town. Instead of focusing on a singular person, Tarot is the story of a city and the people of it, for better or worse.
Tarot‘s biggest strength, in my opinon, is the variety of characters and people shown in Golgotha. Each character has a name, a face, struggles, fears, and problems. From identity to duty to revenge, these themes are explored and tied into the narrative while still remaining personal. Like a giant web of mousetraps and dominoes, each choice leads back to the main plot while also bringing life to the ghost town of Golgotha.
Then Came the Dawn
The Six-Gun Tarot has so much going for it. It has degrees of tension, horror, humor, and sagacity that rival stories told by more established writers. The blend of real-world religions (Native American and Chinese spiritualism, Mormonism and Catholicism, Mother Goddess worship, etc.) and the effects of that blend adds another layer of mysticism to the conflicts both without and within Golgotha. The characters feel real and, if not all relatable, distinct enough to be remembered and understood. But in Golgotha, not everyone is exactly as they present themself. It’s a joy to read, and I absolutely recommend giving it a shot.
As always, this has been Crab. Careful of the mines, don’t summon any elder gods, and we’ll talk again soon.