Rating: 4 stars
R.S. Belcher’s debut novel,The Six-Gun Tarot, was enthusiastically greeted by critics and readers, who praised its wildly inventive mixture of dark fantasy, steampunk, and the Wild West. Now Belcher returns to Golgotha, Nevada, a bustling frontier town that hides more than its fair share of unnatural secrets.
1870. A haven for the blessed and the damned, including a fallen angel, a mad scientist, a pirate queen, and a deputy who is kin to coyotes, Golgotha has come through many nightmarish trials, but now an army of thirty-two outlaws, lunatics, serial killers, and cannibals are converging on the town, drawn by a grisly relic that dates back to the Donner Party…and the dawn of humanity.
Sheriff Jon Highfather and his deputies already have their hands full dealing with train robbers, a mysterious series of brutal murders, and the usual outbreaks of weirdness. But with thirty-two of the most vicious killers on Earth riding into Golgotha in just a few day’s time, the town and its people will be tested as never before—and some of them will never be the same.
The Shotgun Arcana is even more spectacularly ambitious and imaginative than The Six-Gun Tarot, and confirms R. S. Belcher’s status as a rising star.
As someone whose reading R.S. Belcher for the first time, this book was an amazing read. Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much is because this book has an abundance of genres. Its part western, steampunk, fantasy, sci-fi, and history all in one. But it’s done in a way where you’d enjoy the story, even if one of the genres mentioned doesn’t always suit your fancy. These genres also aren’t too overwhelming in the story to where one overtakes all the others. They all flow together, make sense with how they are incorporated into the storyline.
Another thing I enjoyed about reading The Shotgun Arcana is you don’t have to read the books in this series in order and the shift in character perspectives. I’ve never read The Six-Gun Tarot, which is supposed to be the first book in this series. But I can still follow along to the storyline because you don’t need to read the first book in this series to understand the characters and events that happen. This is something I appreciate because with some book series, you have to read the books in order to understand what’s going on. But with this series, you can read the books separately and still get a good grasp on what’s happening to the characters. I also like that Belcher had each chapter covered by a different characters point of view. There are quite a lot of characters in this story, each with their own unique lives. So it was nice seeing all of these characters point of view, and seeing how their storyline connects with the overall picture.
What I also enjoyed about this book is seeing some powerful female figures in the story. All of the women in this story grew up during a time when women were still considered property, and didn’t have access to their own funds. But all of the women in this story were pretty level headed and strong, despite the way some of their male counterparts treated them. My favorite female characters in this book were Maude Stapleton and Kate Warne. I like them both because they were the fiercest characters in the book, but in different ways. Most of Maude’s abilities involve elements of the supernatural while Kate Warne is a part of the law. But both characters used their strengths to their advantage, overcoming obstacles that made them the strong women in this book I enjoyed reading about.
I also appreciate that the story didn’t shy away from tough subject matters, like including racism through Mutt’s character. You see this in The Shotgun Arcana through the amount of disrespect some of the townspeople in Golgotha treat him despite that he’s one of the sheriffs in the town. Belcher also brings up interracial relationships with Mutt through his interest in Maude. Every time the two of them are seen talking together, people are always watching them, wanting to make comments about the two of them being together. There’s even a part in the story where Mutt and Maude go on a date and some of the townspeople see Mutt touch Maude so they want to hang him in a tree. What I appreciate about all this is that Mutt doesn’t let any of it get him down. While it’s a terrible thing for anyone to have to deal with, Mutt uses it to make himself a stronger and even better person. So while it’s a horrible thing to see in this book, I’m glad they include it because of the way Mutt handles it.
I also appreciate that this book has a lot of mythological things in it too, such as human characters who are actually angels. You see this through the characters of Biqa and Raziel, both angels in exile for different reasons. Both play a central role in the overall plot of The Shotgun Arcana, and I enjoy seeing them in this book because I find it to be an interesting element to include in the story.
The one thing I didn’t enjoy when reading this book is that I sometimes found the storyline to be a little overwhelming. Part of it was due to the back and forth between different characters. But I also feel like there’s so much going on in this book that it can be overwhelming for some to follow. The chapters that made me feel this way in particular are the ones that give background information about some of the villains who join forces with Raziel to try and take over Golgotha. While I found this information to be enlightening/useful, I also felt like these chapters added nothing to the story. All this information was useful, but I just didn’t see the point of adding these chapters when Belcher could’ve very easily mentioned this information when the characters actually came into play in the story. I felt like that would’ve definitely been a better way to handle them because I honestly forgot the information I read about them once these characters were finally introduced into the story.
But otherwise, I really enjoyed reading The Shotgun Arcana. It’s quite an interesting page turner that has a little bit of everything for those who don’t like reading books with one particular genre. But it also has enough action to get you wanting to see what happens next. I highly recommend this book, and hope to read the rest of the books in the series in the future.