Weird Western

Review: The Shotgun Arcana

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Review: The Shotgun Arcana

In the two years since I finished The Six Gun Tarot – the first book of the Golgotha series and R.S. Belcher’s debut novel – I’ve managed to read his urban fantasies Nightwise and The Brotherhood of the Wheel, and enjoyed the heck out of both of them. I just found out that the third book of the Golgotha series is coming out in June, so I’ve now officially run out of reasons to put off reading the second.

The Shotgun Arcana starts decades before the main story, with Malachi Bick – prominent Golgotha town citizen and also exiled angel – joining the rescue party that finds out exactly how some of the members of the Donner Party managed to survive being trapped in the frozen wilderness with no food. Only in this version of 1840’s California, an ancient relic was responsible for sparking the atrocities that winter. The relic’s influence is contagious, and spreading fast.

Twenty-three years later, the most horrible people from around the world find themselves called to Nevada. A tiny town on the edge of the 40-Mile desert is becoming the nexus of murderers and cannibals (and worse), along with angelic battles, mad science, Pinkerton detectives, American-Indian magic, and a trapped horror from the dawn of humanity. Things are about to get very weird in the town of Golgotha.

They might, just possibly, get even weirder than they already are.

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Review: Karen Memory

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Review: Karen Memory

Karen had to learn to do for herself years ago when her beloved Da died, leaving her orphaned and penniless. Working as a high-class prostitute isn’t exactly what her parents would have wanted, but she’s good at it, and she’s comfortably situated at the finest bordello in Rapid City, where the girls are well fed and protected from abuse; any man that tries to cross the line will face the wrath of the proprietress herself: Madame Damnable. The employees of the Hôtel Mon Cherie are even allowed to keep forty percent of their considerable wages; Karen plans in a few years to save up enough money to buy her own stable and become a respectable businesswoman.

And then one night the girls are startled by the arrival of the vigilante Merry Lee, badly-wounded after rescuing one of the many women kept prisoner in the dockside cribs for the sailors’ uses. Hot on their heels is the pimp, Peter Bantle, and his whole posse. Soon Karen’s mostly squared-away life is thrown into a chaos of sadistic flesh-peddlers, secret plots, a US Marshall and his Comanche partner hunting a mysterious figure killing streetwalkers, and most importantly Priya, the half-starved crib-worker Merry Lee rescued who just happens to be the loveliest woman Karen has seen in all her life.

The setting of Rapid City (a fantasy-version of Seattle or San Francisco) in the late 19th century technically puts this book in the Weird Western genre. But with the steam-powered automatons and airships and mind-controlling gauntlets, Elizabeth Bear’s latest novel Karen Memory is one of the most gloriously steampunk books I’ve ever read.

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Review: The Six-Gun Tarot

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Review: The Six-Gun Tarot

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 schoolhouse haunted? Why did Old Lady Bellamy wear the skins of corpses on the new moon? How did old Odd Tom’s dolls come to life and kill people? Why do you still pour a ring of salt around that unmarked grave and how did this little ditch of a town become the final resting place of some of Heaven’s treasures?

I picked up R.S. Belcher’s book from a list of recommended horror novels that I thought would work for a pre-Halloween review. I ended up putting it down for a while, since it seemed to be more Western than horror. It’s a Weird Western though, which was a nice surprise. There are shape-changing Indians, a rough-and-tumble frontier town (with a separate Chinese district, natch), a dandy of a Morman mayor with two wives and a dangerous secret, and a lot of other strangeness that made things interesting, but it didn’t really seem all that scary.

Of course that was before the appearance of a cult which kidnaps people and feeds them to an ancient darkness from before the beginning of time, creating an army of human-shaped drones who drip black-ink poison from every orifice and create more drones by forcing the slug-like creature that replaces their tongue down the throat of another hapless victim. And that was after the appearance of a decapitated and rotting head being kept alive in a jar, and the Devil himself hanging around the town trying to figure out how he can profit on all the things going on. This book got dark kinda fast.

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