R.S. Belcher’s The 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 The 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 who is half-Coyote with a big C, a banker’s wife who is trained as an assassin, and, well, it goes on like that for a while. Then things really get weird.
The 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***.
4.5 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: I received an advance e-copy of Six-Gun Tarot through NetGalley.