Posts Tagged Western

The Six-Gun Tarot — An Amazing and Insightful Debut Novel

The Six-Gun TarotVery rarely does a debut novel make a lasting impression upon the reader. Usually, the first novel is the author looking for their voice and haven’t mastered the delicate art of building up the suspense. R. S. Belcher’s debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, destroys those preconceived notions.

The book starts with the young Jim Negrey leading his horse Promise across a barren wasteland of desert in 1869. Near death and with little water, Jim is on the run from the law for a terrible crime. However, before the law can hang him, Jim has to survive the desert known as the 40-Mile. His hopes were to find a railroad job in a new city under a new name. But a shadow, something more than a crime he committed, lingers over the boy. Between dangerous animals stalking him and the desert, he is doubtful he will survive.

Before the desert takes him, though, Jim is found by a strange Indian named Mutt and an even stranger man named Clay. The two men hail from the town of Golgotha, which is the closest town to where Jim wants to go. He accepts their ride into town when they are attacked by the coyotes which had been stalking Jim. Clay kills two, though the coyotes seem to be mildly nervous around Mutt. Jim is taken into town and, for the time being, will live another day.

Or perhaps not. As he’s getting off the wagon, Mutt (who is the deputy sheriff in the town) gets a call for help. A deranged and drunken man has taken hostages inside the general store, and Mutt needs to stop him before he hurts anyone. He deputizes Jim, and they prepare to try and figure out how to stop the man from hurting anyone inside. Before they can do anything which might end up with some bodies, though, the town sheriff gets back to town. Jon defuses the situation with Mutt managing to save an innocent woman’s life, and the town settles down. Jim, uncertain what to do next, is officially deputized by Jon and taken to get some food and some rest. For the first time in a long time, Jim feels like he’s somewhere he belongs.

Intertwined in the story about the crazy town of Golgotha is a deeper story about an angel who, while not exactly defying the Host, begins to doubt nonetheless. Because of this, he is tasked to stand guard over the sleeping darkness. Biqa, annoyed and angry, obeys, though it is evident that he is not happy with his punishment. After a time, though, his watch begins to take on a deeper meaning. Biqa begins to understand the little beings who exist around him, and begins to feel for humanity.

This book… wow. Just wow. There is a blend of religion and folklore in the book that drags you in and makes the reader really think without lecturing. The pacing is fantastic (as evidenced by reading it, for the second time, in less that five hours) and the characters are all very well thought-out and believable. The setting of the town itself is magnificent, and seems to be a character all its own, a breath of life in what would normally be merely a static piece of scenery in any other work. The darker undercurrent of the book, which both drives the plot and lends a creepiness factor to some characters, is wonderfully done. The overall story arc is absolutely rock-solid.

This book is a must-buy. I’d give this to someone asking me if I had read anything good and new lately. The author has done a tremendous job, and I for one can’t wait for the next round.

–Reviewed by Jason

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“Dead Reckoning:” A Zombie Steampunk Western Thrill-ride

Dead ReckoningMercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s new cross-genre novel is DEAD RECKONING.  It’s a zombie steampunk Western set in 1867 that features a trio of intriguing characters, Jett Gallatin (a seventeen-year-old “male” gunslinger), Honoria Gibbons (called “Gibbons” — she’s an inventor, a genius, and is slightly older than Jett), and White Fox (male, about the same age as the other two, raised from birth with the Sac and Fox tribe but most likely 100% Anglo by blood; he’s a scout).  All three are intelligent and spirited misfits, which gives them a quick way to bond while keeping the plotline from getting complacent.

DEAD RECKONING opens with Jett stopping off at a saloon in what seems like the middle of nowhere (but is actually west Texas).  She’s looking for information about her brother, Phillip, who enlisted in the Confederate Army years ago and hasn’t been seen since.  But instead of finding anything out about her brother, she ends up running for her life after zombies — yes, zombies! — attack.

Jett’s a skeptic, so this attack deeply unsettles her worldview.  But more unsettling things are on the way once she meets up with Gibbons and Fox, as these two know from the start that Jett is female (a closely-guarded secret) due to Jett needing immediate medical attention.  More to the point, due to Gibbons’ skill as an inventor (she has a steam coach she calls an “Auto-Tachypode” that usually cruises at a steady 10 mph), Jett realizes she’s not the only non-traditional female out there.

Gibbons, being if anything even more skeptical than Jett, is leery of the zombie explanation, which is why all three youngsters end up going back to the little hole-in-the-wall town Jett started in to look for clues.  Once there, Gibbons attempts several experiments, which lead her to believe that Jett was, indeed, telling the truth.  (Which is lucky for us, or there’d be no story.)

Worse yet, Gibbons and the others quickly realize there’s a corrupt “Man of God” involved, a man known as “Brother Shepherd.”  Shepherd has a way to “bring the dead back to life,” but it’s not a resurrection — instead, he’s actually bringing these people back as undead zombies.  Due to this seemingly miraculous power, a cult of rather gullible people have formed around Shepherd (many of them women); the few men “in the know” are with Shepherd because Shepherd pays very, very well.  (Which admittedly isn’t hard to do if you’re able to loot towns with impunity due to a semi-controlled horde of zombies.)

When Jett is captured while attempting to gain information from the enemy, Gibbons and Fox quickly decide to rescue her.  But will the zombies manage to get to Jett first, especially as Shepherd does seem to have some sort of weird control over them?  And even if the zombies don’t get to Jett right off, will Gibbons figure out how to undo whatever it is Shepherd’s done, as that’s the only long-term way to save Jett or anyone else?

All of this action-adventure is stimulating, interesting, and very fun to read.  But perhaps the best reason to read DEAD RECKONING is how faithful Lackey and Edghill are to the Western milieu, yet how easily they manage to fit both steampunk and zombies into the story without missing a beat.

Bottom line?  DEAD RECKONING is an excellent stand-alone, action-adventure novel.  So if you like Westerns, zombies, steampunk, or better yet, all three, go grab a copy of DEAD RECKONING once it becomes available on June 5, 2012.  You’ll be glad you did.

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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Theresa Meyers’ “The Hunter:” Good Steampunk, Iffy Romance

The HunterTheresa MeyersTHE HUNTER is book one of “The Legend Chronicles,” and is a steampunk Western fantasy romance.  (Say that five times fast.)  Here we meet Colt Jackson, a Hunter of the Darkin (demons, vampires, shapeshifters, etc.), and succubus Lilly Arliss.  Lilly is a kind and gentle-hearted succubus, which she does her best to conceal (supposedly, she’s a demon like any other), while Colt is your average clueless workaholic guy, albeit one transported to 1883 and with the looks and musculature of a young Adonis.  As this is both a Western and a steampunk fantasy romance, Colt’s horse is mechanical and powered by steam, and much of the action happens in the Arizona Territory.

The plot mostly revolves around Colt and his two brothers, Remington (“Remy”) and Winchester (“Winn”), finding the three far-flung copies of “the Book,” which if reunited should prevent Hell from taking over the Earth.  There’s some urgency here because of how many Hellish creatures have managed to cross over in recent months.

One of the first things Colt does in THE HUNTER is to summon a demon from Hell to aid him in trying to recover part of “the Book.” This is because his brother Winn believes that a demon is required even to find where their father’s copy of his part of “the Book” is.  Colt expects to summon a monstrosity, but instead gets Lilly, and of course is immediately and carnally attracted to her.

Lilly and Colt have adventures, most of which reminded me of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” more than anything resembling most steampunk novels; they also try to keep their hands off each other because Lilly is a succubus and once she sleeps with Colt, she’ll have to take his soul.  Both of them know this, but they’re still irresistibly attracted to one another.  This proves nearly impossible, which keeps the sexual tension — and awareness of one another — high.

There’s a worse danger than Colt losing his soul to Lilly, though; it’s losing his soul to Lilly’s demonic overlord, an Archdemon named Rathe.  (Nice re-spelling of the word “wrath” there.)  Lilly’s doing this job mostly because she wants to once again be a human being, as she only became a demon to keep her sister from having to become a prostitute.  But part of why she’s the one Colt ended up summoning is because Rathe wanted it that way; Rathe believes Lilly is the one to bring Colt, one of “the Chosen” Jackson brothers, down.

Colt, of course, wants Lilly to become human again for a very different reason: he wants to sleep with her.  He romanticizes this by saying that Lilly is the one woman (er, female creature) he’s ever wanted to be with more than once; because of his romantic notions, he vows to Lilly that he’ll help her do anything she can to regain her humanity, or die in the attempt.

So, will Rathe get his way and get “the Book?”  Or will Colt and Lilly not only foil Rathe, but find a way to stay together?  (Hint, hint: it wouldn’t be a good paranormal romance if they didn’t.)

The steampunk here is well-conceived; even the more far-out bits, such as Lilly and Colt’s adventures on the way to get “the Book” (where they go through a sequence of caverns where they have to avoid being shot, having acid flung on them, or being decapitated), are plausible within the steampunk genre.  There also is a rather nifty scientist fellow named Marley Turlock, who created all sorts of futuristic things that Colt uses to destroy the worst of the Darkin, and I really enjoyed and appreciated his character no end.

That said, the romance here was lacking for many, many reasons.  Here are just a few.

1) Lilly and Colt are both described as drop-dead gorgeous (well, Colt’s described as “man candy,” which seems pretty similar to me), so it’s hard to root for either one of them.

2) Lilly is a succubus, so no matter how tender-hearted she is, if she sleeps with Colt, she’s going to have to take his soul.  This is why for the first three-quarters of this book, they do not sleep together.  The point is made over and over again by Meyers that Lilly doesn’t have a choice in the matter; if you sleep with a succubus, you’re going to lose your soul.  The end.

Yet when the “big moment” finally arrives, guess what?  Colt’s soul is still intact! 

This is a major plothole, because either Lilly can choose to take Colt’s soul, or she can’t

3)  Still on that subject, consider this: up until they actually “do the dirty deed,” Lilly believes it’s not a choice.  Then, because the plot demanded it, Lilly suddenly could choose not to take Colt’s soul if she slept with him.

This is what is called a “deus ex machina” plot device.  It cheats the reader.  It weakens the story.  And it was completely unnecessary, as the next part of the book demanded that Colt go to Hell anyway in order for him to try to help Lilly.

And, finally . . . 4) Colt goes from hating all the Darkin, even the well-intended ones like the shapeshifters (who are not demons and do not have to do evil) and vampires (who need humans because humans are the vamps’ main food source), to appreciating them far too quickly and easily because of his liaison with Lilly.  While romance can and often does change a person’s point of view, Colt’s mostly thinking with his nether regions during this novel and surely isn’t doing any of the work on himself (the introspection needed) which would promote such a change.

So here’s the deal with THE HUNTER, folks; it’s a good steampunk paranormal in many ways.  It’s inventive.  It’s fast-paced.  It has moments of humor.  And it held my interest until the very end.

But the drawbacks are fairly significant because this book includes that dreaded deus ex machina plot device, something that was not only unnecessary, but pointless.  The romance is just too easy between these two; worse yet, I didn’t like Colt overmuch because I felt him too impulsive on the one hand while lacking brains on the other.  And while I did like Lilly, and wanted her to regain her humanity, I kept wishing that someone other than Colt was the putative hero of the story because I kept thinking she was worth a lot more than Colt Jackson.

This makes grading this novel extraordinarily difficult; while this is an inventive book filled with heroic deeds, the fact that this is supposed to be a romance really doesn’t sit well with me due to all the reasons listed above.

That said, it’s worth buying in paperback if you really enjoy steampunk or if you don’t expect much out of your male romantic leads other than a whole lot of testosterone — and nothing else.

Grade: a very generous B-, mostly because the invention should be praised even though the romantic male lead is sorely lacking. 

— reviewed by Barb

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