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The Six Gun Tarot [Paperback]

R. S. Belcher
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Sep 2013
It is Nevada, 1869, and beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. A half- dead boy stumbles out of the wilderness, the sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck and a shady saloon owner may know more about the town s true origins than he s letting on. Much more. 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. 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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Titan Books Ltd (6 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781169217
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781169216
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 850,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"The mix of theology, frontier justice, and zombies is merely cover for an intense and irreverent exploration of good, evil, and free will." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This book blew me away... The Wild West setting made the whole things unique and exciting, I really couldn't get enough. --Bookshelf Butterfly

If you want to see what Weird Westerns are all about, there s no better place to start. --MIKE RESNICK, award-wining author of Santiago

A steampunk d romp through a Mythic West drenched in blood and magic. --ROSEMARY EDGHILL, co-author of The Shadow of Albion

"This story of magic and guns in the wild west easily makes in onto my 2013 Recommend Reading list." ----Geek Native

A steampunk d romp through a Mythic West drenched in blood and magic. --ROSEMARY EDGHILL, co-author of The Shadow of Albion

About the Author

R.S. Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter and has written for local, state and international publications. He was the Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek Strange New Worlds Anthology contest in 2006 and his short story "Orphans" was published in Strange New Worlds 9 by Simon and Schuster. He runs a comic book shop in Roanoke, Virginia.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This last 12 months I’ve concentrated mainly on the horror genre and as a result almost stumbled across an affinity for the western, initially starting with Tim Curran but there’s some fantastic stuff out there bred by some far from balanced imaginations.

Six Gun Tarot attempts an awful lot in this debut novel, it’s an enjoyable read but the author may just have crammed too much into the story, there’s some fantastic characters, too many really and as he adds depth to them all, the pace of the story suffers a little.
There’s just too many POV characters, I can think of 8 of the top of my head and there could be a couple of others I’ve forgotten, it all deflects the momentum slightly from an otherwise promising story.

Set in 1869 in the town of Golgotha, the western town storyline entwines with a battle of God’s warriors against an evil barely contained and eventually chained beneath the earth, desperate to break free.

The story starts with Jim Negrey, a young man with secrets, to be honest every character in this book has a barrel load of secrets but Jim is struggling across the 40mile desert, or hell’s foyer, when his lucks runs out, both he and his horse collapsed, waiting for the end. When he’s rescued by the Indian deputy of Golgotha, a man named Mutt. Mutt is drawn by something powerful, something that Jim holds dear and unbeknownst to them both, a deadly battle is heading their way.

A religious sect led by the mysterious reverend Ambrose and his deadly deacon, Phillips, have re-opened the silver mine and are digging beneath Argent Mountain with renewed vigour, proclaiming all glory to the Greate Olde Wurm and it seems they have a purpose, a catastrophic purpose.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cowboys versus Evil Many-Tentacled Elder Gods 1 Feb 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
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.

In a nutshell we've got Cowboys, Indians, Gods, monsters and a whole heap of end of the world type trouble. Is it possible that I've finally found a Western adventure that works for me?

I have to admit that I'm not a massive fan of the western genre as a rule. I certainly don't make a point of actively seeking them out. That said, when I first read the synopsis for The Six Gun Tarot, something resonated with me; mixing a traditional western with the supernatural sounded like an intriguing premise. After reading a couple of chapters it became evident that there is a great deal of fun to be had with this concept. Belcher is adept at taking existing conventions and turning them on their head. He plays around with the established elements of the genre and it works well. At first glance the frontier town of Golgotha contains all the classic features you'd expect from a western.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wild West wtih a free Wibble 14 Sep 2013
By Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
I love a mishmash of genres and when you bring the Old West in with a touch of Cthulu all round makes me a very happy reader as you're never quite sure whether the principle player is going to end up a wibbling wreck in the corner or someone just grasping on to sanity by the skin of their teeth.

The writing is wonderfully descriptive, has some great twists and when added to an writing style where the author believes in showing not telling, all round gives you something a little different to sit back and enjoy. Back that up with solid prose alongside a few cracking turn of phrases and it'll be a welcome break to your real world schedule.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not to my taste 11 April 2013
I got this book due to a few recommendations on various blogs. I was expecting an explosive western with lots of gunslingers with a bit of the supernatural chucked in. Sadly for me it was less gunslinging and more of the supernatural so did not really appeal to me. The writing is good and the characters are interesting, with solid backgrounds. I have given the book 3 stars based on the fact I did not finish the book and probably did not give it a fair shot due to it not being my type of book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  47 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Genre-Bender 22 Jan 2013
By H. Pace - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Six-Gun Tarot is a great novel hampered by a classic first novel problem--it is too ambitious and tries to do far too much. For a single novel checking in at under 400 pages, Belcher draws in elements from genres as disparate and wide ranging as cosmic fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, western, steampunk, and weird. He gives us a host of characters, none of whom qualifies as the main character, but all of whom get distinct backstories, motivations, and, more distressingly, plotlines. The underlying philosophical and theological implications are meant to be serious and open-ended, and they are, but Belcher draws from so many influences--mainstream Christian theology, Mormonism, Judaism, Eastern philosophy, Native American beliefs, and Lovecraftian mythology, at the least--and gives enough conflicting information that the final effect is overly confused.

In the world of Six-Gun Tarot, when God said "Let there be light," something was already there. That something wound up chained in the bowels of the earth, a fact that not unexpectedly will wind up mattering quite a bit to the thoroughly odd little town in post-Civil War Nevada where the story takes place called Golgotha (it's biblical). The characters include a boy named Jim who carries his dead father's magical glass eye and has a price on his head, a sheriff who can't be killed and has the noose scars on his neck to prove it, a deputy whose half-Coyote with a big C, a banker's wife whose trained as an assassin, and, well, it goes on like that for a while. Then things really get weird.

Six-Gun Tarot may try to do too much, but it pretty much everything it does it does very well. I had a hard time putting it down after I picked it up, and it left me thinking after I finished it. The characters have depth, the action is fast-paced (although this is by no means an action-heavy book), and there is an ever present growing sense of dread before things really go to h***.

Disclosure: I received an advance e-copy of Six-Gun Tarot through NetGalley.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastical mix of genres in this debut! 24 Jan 2013
By M. Wanchoo - Published on
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best read in one long, delighted sitting 12 Mar 2013
By Rob Slaven - Published on
Per the usual required preamble, I received this book via a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that kind consideration from GoodReads and the publisher, Tor, I give my frank assessment below.

It's been a long, long time since I've read a book that incorporated so many different aspects of so many different genres. Very seldom do you find a novel that includes zombies, angels, demons, heads in jars, ancient religious artifacts, Chinese folklore and gunfights all in one tidy package. "A book that has something for everyone" is an oft-used cliche but this book pretty literally lives up to that.

Since there's so MUCH going on, Belcher's novel defies any early unraveling. So many books telegraph their endings by the 100th page but Six-Gun doesn't so suffer. The reader can't make an early call since there's no telling when the genre might totally shift and there's a whole new story line to keep track of.

Unfortunately, this variety does tend to work against the author in some ways. With so many individual threads, it was sometimes difficult for one to keep track of who was doing what. The book was entertaining but at times hard to keep up with and I regretted at times that I failed to take some notes about who was who and their history.

In summary, Belcher's Six-Gun is a uniquely individual and rich world. Unfortunately, it's almost tiresome in its variety. Once drawn in it was easy to rattle off 100 pages but if you put it away for even a day it can be hard to catch up with all the dangling ends. Best read in one long and delightful sitting.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Ambitious Debut 22 Jan 2013
By Timothy C Allison - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
The basic bones of The Six Gun Tarot are familiar. An ancient evil awakens in a small town, and a ragtag band of locals have to join together to try to stop it. But the details are important, and in this case the details are what separate The Six Gun Tarot from so many other stories.

First, there's the town itself. Golgotha is a Nevada town after the silver mine tapped out. It's not a ghost town yet, but there's a sense that the town is in decline, and may be there eventually. And Golgotha seems to have lots of secrets. We never really learn about most of them, but hints are there - a grave that must be salted, strange murders that have happened. At one point a character asks if the trouble is regular trouble, or "Golgotha trouble".

Of course a town is nothing without its citizens, and the people of Golgotha aren't the inhabitants of "Gunsmoke". There's a mad scientist, a sheriff who can't die, a feminist assassin, a Chinese sorcerer, and other unique characters. The implication is that Golgotha itself has some sort of mystical gravity, pulling people and monsters to it.

The Six Gun Tarot is an ambitious first novel. Given the large cast, and even larger set of ideas, in play, Belcher has a lot of balls to keep in the air. And somehow he manages to pull it off. The first half or so of the book is primarily setup: introducing the characters and concepts that will be needed. In the middle of the book, the tone takes a dramatic shift, & suddenly it's a frantic horror story, with our cast of characters fighting for survival. But it all works. The characters are nicely developed and have distinct voices.

The world building, despite its ambitions, is nicely handled and gives a sense of solidity to this world. Belcher wisely chooses to leave the reader with some mysteries. I found myself wanting to know more about the backstories of several of the characters, and wondered if my suspicions were correct about them.

A book like this isn't for everyone. It's not boilerplate fantasy or SF, with their familiar tropes. But if you're looking for something a bit off the beaten path, or from a new voice, then The Six Gun Tarot could be very rewarding.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars strong four, lots in here and lots of fun 31 Jan 2013
By B. Capossere - Published on
I don't know if I've seen a book as packed with ideas, tropes, storylines, and genres as The Six Gun Tarot, by Rod Belcher. To give a rough idea, here is a mere sampling of what's in the mix: Native American coyote mythology, zombies, a seemingly unkillable sheriff, Lovecraftian/Cthulus mythos, Western genre tropes, acupuncture, Lilith mythos, steampunk, a re-examination of Christian creation myth, romance, Mormonism, Civil War stories, horror, ghosts, pirates (OK, only briefly mentioned, but still), Chinese creation mythology, hidden tunnels, reanimation, hidden pasts, assassins, hidden sexuality, evil preachers, hidden affairs, angels--Fallen and fallen, and, well, you get the idea. And remember, this is a "sampling."

Is it too much? You know, I'm just not sure. You'd think it would be. You'd think somebody--an editor, a good friend, might have said "Ya know Rod, I'll give you the angels, female pirate assassins who live for centuries, and a shambling zombie horde, but do you need the talking coyote and huge tentacle beastie?" If I step back and look at it with a critical eye, I'm sure I'd say, "Focus people! We need more focus!" But you know what--I want that talking coyote. And the zombies. And the local taxidermist/inventor/reanimator/unrequited lover. And the derringer-toting, martial art knowing, trained by a 200-year-old female pirate character. And the sheriff who has yet to find his day to die. And. And. And.

So the heck with playing it safe. You go girl! Er, boy. Rod. Sometimes there's something to be said for just plain exuberance, for swinging for the fence rather than laying down the bunt. And so while in some ways The Six Gun Tarot would have been a "better" book with a some excising of ideas and storylines, I'm not sure it would have been an equally fun one.

The story opens up with a sharp bit of narrative tension: "The Nevada sun bit into Jim Negrey like a rattlesnake," as 15-year-old Jim and his horse Promise are struggling through the 40-Mile Desert, trying to outrun a Wanted poster on his way to Virginia City, Nevada. Instead, Jim ends up in Golgotha, just the other side of the desert, home to a played-out silver mine and a host of folks with mysterious pasts, the lost and the strange, the outcasts and square pegs that the town seems to call to itself, among them:

* Jon Highfather: the town sheriff who, according to rumor, can't be killed
* Mutt: sheriff's deputy and half-breed Native American with a weird family
* Clay: the above-mentioned taxidermist
* Maude Stapleton: the above-mentioned derringer-toting woman
* Harry: the town's Mormon mayor with more wives than he wants

Golgotha though is not just a place where strange people end up; it's also a place
where strange things happen, as one character relates:

What do you think is going on here . . . Why is Golgotha the town where the owls speak and the stones moan? Why is this the town that attracts monsters and saints, both mortal and preternatural? Why is our school house haunted? Why did old lady Bellamy wear the skin of corpses on the new moon? How did old Odd Tom's dolls come to life and kill people?"

What I love about this passage is that none of those things happen in the book. Any of them would have made for their own novel or at least story, yet in Golgotha, they're just asides because this stuff happens all the time here. It's like coming into the middle of season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and listening to the characters nonchalantly reminiscing about vampires and praying mantis teachers and demon dogs and oh yeah, that time Buffy died, not the first time, no the second time . . .

Besides sharing a penchant for supernatural doings thanks to its own version of the Hellmouth, The Six Gun Tarot also shares some of that Buffy humor, sometimes driven by situation, sometimes driven by character, sometimes driven by witty dialogue, and as with Buffy, sometimes driven by undermining expectations based on the familiar tropes.

There is a plot here amidst all the chaos. Ancient (and I mean ancient) evil is rising and a plucky gang of outgunned and outmanned folks have to stop it. If that sounds like familiar fantasy, well, trust me, it isn't. As in, for instance, that plucky band being partially made up of a feminist assassin, a gay Mormon, a half-breed (in more ways than one) Native American, and a kid who walks around with his father's fake eye in his pocket. This is not your father's epic journey to a volcano to deliver a ring, believe me.

But I don't want to get too much into plot because a) there's so much of it, b) it won't make much sense and c) I don't want to ruin anyone's fun trying to make sense of so much plot. Suffice to say you won't be bored.

As for the characters, they pretty much won me over across the board. Jim and Mutt I was immediately drawn to. Highfather took some more time to get to know, though his "can't be killed" was intriguing from the start. Clay started out seemingly simple and really opened up into a far more complex character as The Six-Gun Tarot continued. The same is true for Maude, whose mentor, though existing only for a little while in a flashback is one of the most endearing lively characters in the novel. And all of them have their secrets and mysterious pasts that are slowly revealed in nice teasing fashion. The villains, save for perhaps the biggest one, fare less well, but that was a minor issue.

The theology adds a nice level of moral complexity to the action/adventure aspect of the tale, along with another layer of structural and narrative complexity. And I truly enjoyed the non-singular aspect of it, what with the different take of basic Christianity, the Mormonism, the Native American mythology, Lilith, and Chinese creation tales. As one character says:

Gods are nothing without people and depending on what people you ask you will get many different answers to questions about Heaven and Hell, how the universe was made and how it will end . . . they are all correct; they all exists and have power, within their proper domains" I'm not sure I know how that actually works, but I was OK with that.

The Six Gun Tarot has a few issues. As mentioned, the bad guys aren't all that complex (though one especially is downright chilling). The opening sections shifted a little too quickly through P-O-Vs for me. And there were a few minor distractions with regard to some writing execution. But none of that made any difference to my enjoyment of this book, my strong recommendation, and my hope at the end that Belcher isn't finished exploring these characters and/or this setting. After all, I still want to know about Old Lady Bellamy and those corpse-skins . . .

(received as ARC, originally posted on
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