Warning: This review contains spoilers for “The Shotgun Arcana” by R.S. Belcher. Do not read this review if you’re looking for a review that’s 100% spoiler-free!
I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “The Shotgun Arcana” by R. S. Belcher! This is the sequel to “The Six-Gun Tarot.” I enjoyed reading the previous last time, so I’m glad to pick the sequel up to read! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“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.”
Trigger warnings for the following:
Like in the previous book, there is a lot of murder and violence. There is also a lot of religious language involved in the worldbuilding and some of the major plot points, in case you are uncomfortable with such content. There are also mentions of domestic abuse and sexism, as well as racial violence and some racist terminology used in dialogue between a few characters towards both Indigenous and Chinese people in particular, in some chapters. I take into account that this is a reflection of the time period within the book, given that the setting is in 1870, and this is a historical fantasy book. However, if any of these elements are things you are uncomfortable with, you may want to skip reading this one.
Worldbuilding Development: 4 out of 5 stars
Character Development: 4 out of 5 stars
The worldbuilding got even more intense as more and more character identities are revealed. There is even more religious language and/or terminology used in regards to some of the characters, as well a lot more religious and/or theological discussion in general. I think it helps add on to the character development to give them more rounded personalities of how their actions are motivated and/or how they think in general, which is nice. I enjoyed the little scenes where Ch’eng Huang provided bits and pieces of Chinese history and legends to Jim as he is instructing him on how to use the jade eye, for example, as well as the bits where a lot of dark magic and sceience are involved in one of the other subplots.
Familiar characters such as Jim, Mutt and Maude return, and they definitely get some more development in terms of their relationships with each other as well as the rest of the townsfolk. There are also a ton of new characters, too, each with their own interesting backgrounds and established and/or developing relationships. Unfortunately, I can’t go too much into what I enjoy about the characters without giving away major spoilers, but many of them do undergo some form of development, for the most part.
Plot Development: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The pacing of the plot was much better than the previous book. There is an obvious main plot with surrounding subplots (many of them romantic, though some are family and/or friendship-focused), but the main plot is more evenly paced throughout the entire book, rather than being shoved in the second half like the last book did. I also enjoyed the various plot twists, especially the ones close to the end of the book, and I’m interested in seeing how certain plotlines (Maude trying to get her daughter back, Harry and Ringo having to deal with Rowan knowing about their secret relationship) will develop in the next book.
Romance Development: 5 out of 5 stars
There were numerous romantic subplots in this book, and I can say for certain that all of them were well-executed. Mutt and Maude finally became an official pairing, which I rooted for since the previous book. Their subplot was my favourite mainly because both of them have to deal with the difficulties involving the racism and/or sexism they face in general, as well as those difficulties coming to light as the two of them get together. I love how they had to work together and navigate through all of this together.
I also enjoyed reading Harry and Ringo’s relationship. Though they had the least amount of scenes out of all the romantic subplots, I have a feeling that theirs will have a bigger impact in the next book in the series, especially now that Rowan knows that they’re secretly seeing each other.
Gillian and Auggie were also well-written, and same with Clay and Gerta. Unfortunately, I can’t say what about these pairings I also enjoyed, as that will lead to some more major spoilers, but the tension and build-up was fun to read.
Overall, I’m rating this book 4.5 out of 5 stars!
This was a well-improved sequel, though I do recommend reading the first book just to get a general understanding of some of the main characters and the overall worldbuilding.
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