I’m very excited to be participating in the blog tour for The Shotgun Arcana, hosted by Jean Book Nerd! You can click that link, or the banner above, to check out the rest of the stops on the tour.
I’m very picky these days about joining blog tours, so when I do, you know it’s for an author that I really want to support. I read the first book in Rod’s series, The Six-Gun Tarot, almost two years ago (my review) and loved it. He doesn’t disappoint in this sequel, and you can read my review below.
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.
The nitty-gritty: An exciting and worthy sequel, a cast of colorful characters, a brutally violent western, balanced by humor and emotion.
I gleefully devoured The Six-Gun Tarot nearly two years ago, and I was chomping at the bit (hey, this is a western, so that metaphor is apt) to read Belcher’s follow-up. I was not disappointed. The Shotgun Arcana is a wild ride, with a large cast of quirky characters and a fair amount of blood flowing through the dusty streets of Golgotha, the remote desert town where the story takes place. Belcher builds his story carefully and methodically, and even though it started out a bit on the slow side for me, it picked up momentum with each turn of the page.
Although this is technically billed as a sequel, and many of the same characters from The Six-Gun Tarot are part of the story, The Shotgun Arcana can easily be read as a stand-alone, good news for those of you who haven’t read the first book yet. Some story elements are carried over, like the magical jade eye that Jim carries with him, but Belcher smoothly incorporates these into his narrative without confusing the reader.
Just like the Hellmouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Golgotha acts as an evil hub, drawing in a hoard of nasty serial killers who want to take over the town. (The reason for this relates back to the first book.) But before they arrive, there is another serial killer at large. Someone is murdering girls from the Dove’s Roost and leaving their gruesomely mutilated bodies in the back alleys of town. Sheriff Jon Highfather and his deputies Jim and Mutt have their hands full trying to catch the killer before he claims another victim. They are joined by a trio of brave and feisty women: Kate, a detective who works for the famed Pinkerton; Rowan, a pirate queen; and Maude, a returning character from The Six-Gun Tarot who is about as fearless as they come.
But this killer can’t hold a candle to what’s coming—and it’s going to take every good guy in town to hold back the evil that’s on its way.
This is one crazy story, and I mean that in a good way. A LOT is going on, and Belcher gives us a huge cast of characters to deal with. I’ll admit it was sometimes overwhelming, and in the beginning the multiple points of view seem as if they’ll never come together—but don’t let that deter you from reading this book. By the end, everything fell into place beautifully, and I am already looking forward to the next book in the series.
Some of my favorite parts of The Shotgun Arcana were the humorous exchanges between characters. Belcher has a great talent for capturing the Western sensibility, and the book is dripping with sarcasm, snark and western slang, which gets my hearty seal of approval. There’s nothing quite like a story that can make you laugh one minute, and cringe in horror the next:
“A word to the wise, Jonathan,” [Tumblety] said as he went about his task. “A man in your position must show great care in trucking with adventuresses. Their horrid female sex is replete with disease that can lay a man low faster than any bullet. Beware, I caution you as a physician, beware!”
“I’ve seen better sawbones in a Chinese brothel,” Kate said. Tumblety’s face grew ruddy with rage and he strode toward Kate with hatred glazing his eyes. “Shut your mouth, you haughty bitch! I’m going to beat the sass out of your whore gob!”
Highfather moved to stop Tumblety, but by the time he rested a restraining hand on the blustering doctor’s shoulder, Tumblety was staring into the short barrels of two .36 Colt revolvers Kate had cross-drawn from under her short jacket. Tumblety stopped abruptly and gasped.
“Are you just?” she said coolly, cocking both guns. “Tell me, you pompous gasbag, who’s going to reattach your ugly face when I blow it all over the walls?”
Belcher’s true strength lies in his characters. This story is chock-full of awesome women, who really steal the show and turn out to be stronger and smarter than most of the men. One of my favorite characters from The Six-Gun Tarot, Maude, is back with a vengeance. Maude has serious Ninja skills, which she learned from her grandmother as a child. She can practically sense where a bullet will end up, and she’s fast enough to get out of the way before it hits her. Maude is joined by Kate and Rowan, two other badass women who join in the fight against the evil that is threatening to destroy Golgotha. Kate is a whip-smart detective who’s come to see the supernatural evil for herself, and Rowan is a pirate who shows up to help as well. You may be wondering, what the heck is a pirate doing in a story that takes place out in the desert? In this book, it’s best not to ask too many questions, and just go with it.
And yes, there are bad guys aplenty. One of the most interesting and conflicted is Biqa, a fallen angel (remember, I said not to ask too many questions?) who has created his own empire in Golgotha. It’s hard to tell exactly what side he’s on, which is one of the things I loved about him. And then there’s Clay Turlough, the local taxidermist, whose skills in preserving dead animals evolve into, well, let’s just say Clay is the Dr. Frankenstein of Golgotha and leave it at that. (I’ll leave you, the reader, to discover that gem for yourself!)
The story takes place in 1870, and Belcher fills his tale with references to many historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln, Allen Pinkerton, Edgar Allen Poe and even the infamous Donner Party. I loved the way he weaves these people into the story, and never once does it feel forced. He doesn’t mince words, either, so those of you who may be offended by politically incorrect terms, beware. In this story, “ladies of the night” are “whores” and that’s just the way it is in the old west.
The final battle is bloody and violent, much like the real old west, I imagine—but with Belcher’s unique supernatural elements added in, The Shotgun Arcana is unlike any western you’ve ever read. It ends with a couple of dangling story lines, which leads me to believe (and hope!) that a third book is in the works. (Again, Goodreads ain’t telling me anything about that.) So fellow readers, strap on your pistols and get ready for the bullets to fly. You’re in for a hell of a ride!
Big thanks to Tor for supplying a review copy. Above quote is taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book (but I hope it doesn’t!)
About the author:
R.S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter. He has been a freelance writer for over a decade. He has written for local, state and international publications.
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book and game store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has done Masters work on a degree in Forensic Science at The George Washington University, as well as worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly’s State Crime Commission.
Rod has written and edited for magazines like Starlog, Virginia Living, Virginia Business, Verve, and The Roanoker. He was managing editor of The Vinton Messenger newspaper and editor for numerous trade publications. He has done technical writing and has ghost-written political editorials and advertising copy. Both the politics and the advertising greatly honed his fiction writing skills.
He has been a writing guest at numerous conventions and writing conferences for many years. He is available for Bar Mitzvahs…
Rod began writing stories when he was 9 years old, selling stories and self- drawn comics to his mother’s beauty shop customers for a quarter a piece. That first quarter was the start of his road to Hell…
In a creative writing course he was selected for in 6th grade, Rod was told his SF/Fantasy writing was “silly trash” ( kinda true, but hey, I was in sixth grade…) but the lack of support from an adult “expert” made him feel like he couldn’t “really write” and he stopped writing for a few years. Thanks to the love, encouragement and support of his mom, Mabel, Rod started writing again when he got a typewriter for his 12th birthday. Thanks Mom.
You can write. Yes, you. You have a story, maybe a bunch of stories inside you screaming to be let out. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t write, or that your writing is no good. It’s good for you, good for the thing inside you that demands you get that story out somehow. Don’t write for praise, or for money, write for you, only you, and to hell with the rest of them.
He was once told by Elizabeth Taylor, he was “hot” and once told by George Takei he “looked terrible” ( he did). He watched a man die in the electric chair, investigated homicides, pissed off politicians and located missing children. The CIA told him to “clean up his act”- this was one of his proudest moments.
In his spare time ( which he has damn little of these days), Rod enjoys reading, hiking, shooting, gaming ( mostly tabletop RPG or board games, but some console), comics, researching the weird, spending time with his amazing kids, and long, thoughtful, walks in the rain…OK, the last one is crap, but the rest is true.
He lives in Roanoke, Virginia with his children: Jonathan, Emily and Stephanie, Three cats and two dogs.