I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Queen of Swords by R.S. Belcher
Series: Golgotha #3
Published by Tor Books on June 27 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Format: Finished hardcover
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The nitty-gritty: Belcher is in high form with this epic adventure tale that spans generations, a story that puts its female characters front and center. Stand back, men!
It’s always a pleasure to read a new R.S. Belcher story, and it’s even more exciting when that story is set in one of my favorite universes, Belcher’s weird western world of Golgotha. Technically, this is book three in the series, and you could start here if you wanted to, as Belcher does a great job of filling in some of the blanks, and the story is self-contained. However, I would advise you to read the first two books first: The Six Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana. The story starts soon after the end of The Shotgun Arcana, and lots of references are made to those explosive events. Even I struggled a bit trying to remember what had happened, so new readers may feel lost in places. But folks, this story is just too good to send you away if you’re behind with this series. Belcher’s books get better and better the more he writes, and this is my favorite Golgotha book by a landslide.
I have to admit it did take me a bit to figure out what Belcher was doing with this story, but once everything clicked, his grand scheme quickly fell into place. The story moves back and forth between two time periods and two main characters: Maude Stapleton in 1871, a young woman who has already had her share of adventures but is about to be thrust right back into the action; and Anne Bonny in 1721, the pirate queen of the title who has just come to shore after months at sea, given birth to a baby boy, and promptly left him with her father in order to go on a treasure hunt (and who is based on a real person!). Both women are part of a secret group called the Daughters of Lilith, specially trained female assassins who pass their skills down through the generations.
Maude was trained and indoctrinated into the Daughters when she was a young girl, by none other than her great-great-great-great-Gran Anne Bonny (And right here, I know you’re doing some math in your head, but trust me, it’s not going to work out. Just go with it), and now she is training her own daughter Constance, who is already a force to be reckoned with. But someone is after Constance, another group of Daughters who believe that Constance is the very last one, and in order for the line to continue, her blood must be drained and used to fill up the sacred flask.
Despite Maude’s fierce fighting abilities, Constance is kidnapped and taken away on a ship to a mysterious village in Africa called Carcosa, a sacred place where the blood-letting ritual will be performed. Maude will do anything to save her, and so she takes off after the ship, hoping to stop the ritual before it can start.
In alternating chapters, we get to see Anne’s similarly dangerous journey as she also sets out for Carcosa one hundred and fifty years earlier, hoping to find treasure. Anne’s “take no shit” attitude gets her in lots of trouble, but she certainly ends up getting what she wants. As each woman gets closer and closer to their goals, their paths begin to converge, despite the separation of time. But an evil being named Typhon is waiting in the shadows, eager to destroy the Daughters of Lilith and end their line forever.
The Queen of Swords, despite being a Golgotha novel, does not actually take place in Golgotha (although the characters talk about it quite a bit, especially Maude who considers it her home). And if you’re hoping for a true pirate-centric story, you may be a little disappointed (but not for long because there are SO MANY OTHER GREAT THINGS!). Our pirate queen, Anne Bonny, starts the story off on board a ship, but she soon arrives on land and stays there for the rest of the story. One of my favorite parts is near the end, when Maude and her traveling companions uncover the lost ship the Hecate and sail to Africa to intercept the women who have kidnapped Constance. And that’s when we get our memorable pirate moments. Not only is the Hecate a magical ship, but Maude digs up her grandmother’s old pirate garb from the past and wears it on the journey. It was a great touch that shows just how connected Maude and Anne are.
I’m always amazed when male writers can create such multilayered, kick-ass women characters, and Belcher is one of best at this. I wasn’t kidding in the beginning of my review when I said “Stand back, men!” The ladies have taken over the show, and I couldn’t be happier. In this story, the women are in charge of everything, and the men are relegated to side-kicks, assistants and “bearers” (literally, pack mules!). It’s the men who get left behind when it’s time to trek into the dangerous forest (from which no one ever returns). And what’s even better, the men take all this in stride. In other words, they’re smart enough to realize when the woman is in control, and they graciously allow her to be. What a refreshing change of pace!
Of course I loved Maude and Anne, but every other character is just as well drawn. One of my favorite side characters is a statuesque and terrifying woman named Nourbese, the queen of the Amazons, who Anne must fight to the death. I won’t give away the results of their fight, but let’s just say the twist in their relationship was wonderful. I also enjoyed the male characters, and even though this is a female-centric story, I couldn’t end this review without mentioning two of them. Belrose is a French mercenary who Anne hires to accompany her on her dangerous journey. I also loved the journalist Alter Cline who joins Maude on her journey, and definitely gets more than he bargained for. Even though there is a spark of attraction between them, Maude has already given her heart to another man: Mutt, a fantastic character from the last two books who is waiting for Maude back in Golgotha (and who I do hope makes an appearance in the next book!)
Belcher also adds an interesting and heart-felt side story about Maude’s determination to get back custody of Constance, and to wrest control of her rightful inheritance from the tenacious grip of her father. Because this story takes place during a time period when women had little or no rights, especially when they were married, I loved Maude’s courage—as well as her attempt to work with a female attorney (unheard of!).
I loved the first two Golgotha novels, but they weren’t as tightly and carefully plotted as this one. Everything about this story snaps together like a well made puzzle, and it’s clear that Belcher has taken his writing craft to new levels. The satisfying ending resolves many things, but there are clearly more stories to come. Personally, I’m hoping for a return to the dusty streets of Golgotha in the next installment. The evil isn’t gone for good, and Maude and her fellow Daughters have plenty of work ahead of them.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
My review of The Six-Gun Tarot.
My review of The Shotgun Arcana.