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Literature / The Golgotha Series

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A very strange Western town.

The Golgotha Series is a series of Weird West novels by R.S. Belcher.

Golgotha is a town in Nevada a bit more unusual than most. They say that the sheriff is a living dead man, who can't die again, and that his deputy is kin to the coyotes in the desert. Everyone in town seems to have secrets: the mild-mannered housewife who is a member of a secret order of pirates and assassins; the unnerving taxidermist who pursues forbidden sciences with the intention of conquering death itself; the mayor who struggles with his faith even as he presides over a vault of sacred Mormon religious artifacts; and the ruthless businessman who may be more than human.

For fifteen year old Jim Negey, on the run from a murder charge in West Virginia, it seems a fine place to go to ground. Maybe he'll be able to find some answers about his father's false eye, an emerald stone passed down to him by Chinese mystics which holds a mysterious power over the spirits of the dead. But his arrival in the town happens to coincide with dark happenings. An ancient evil has awakened at the bottom of the town's played-out silver mine, and the town's residents must overcome their suspicion and distrust of one another and unite if they wish to survive.

The series contains the following books:

  • The Six-Gun Tarot
  • The Shotgun Arcana
  • The Queen of Swords
  • The Ghost Dance Judgement

The books were adapted into audio plays by Graphic Audio.

Tropes appearing in this series include:

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     Series Wide 
  • Action Girl:
    • Maude and her daughter Constance, who both are members of the Daughters of Lilith.
    • The Shogtun Arcana introduces Kate Warne, Agent of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.
  • All Myths Are True: Old Testament religion, Native American religion, Chinese Mythology, Mormonism, Mother Goddess worship and whatever else features in the series; they're all treated as true but not completely so (allowing for any contradiction that pops up).
  • Advanced Ancient Humans: The First Men were immortal humans that crawled out of a cave with no knowledge how they came to be. They learnt and developed wonders and would eventually be the ancestors of early humans. One of these First Men was once known as Merlin would be the one to introduce Anne Bonnie to the Daughters of Lilith.
  • Ancient Order of Protectors: The Daughters of Lilith are an order of women charged by Lilith herself, to protect humanity from evil and the tyranny of men and gods.
  • Angels Demons And Squid: The first book sets up angels, demons, and the Darkling that predates time. It gets weirder from there.
  • Angel Unaware: Malachi Bick, a.k.a. Biqua, who is an angel stationed on Earth to keep watch over the Darkling, and Ch'eng Huang, who is implied to be the Chinese god of the same name.
  • Apocalypse Cult: Golgotha has a number of these.
    • The Church of the Wurm wants to release the Darkling and end the world.
    • Ray Zeal's cult is one devoted to revering murder, rape, and other acts of horror. ALSO, ending the world.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The teachings of the Daughters of Lilith are the originating source of all martial arts, and as such any Daughter of Lilith can instantly learn an unknown martial art just by watching it and then develop a counter to it.
  • Back from the Dead: Gerta, Auggie's late wife, first as a severed head, then as a full person.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Clay is a mad scientist obsessed with reanimating the dead...which he sees as an extension of existing medical science and a way to help humanity, not as a vehicle for his own aggrandizement. Perhaps this is why he succeeds. He also uses his mad science inventions to help investigate the "Dove Killer" (making him a mad forensic scientist) and to fend off Ray Zeal's minions.
  • Big Bad:
    • Reverend Phillips is the high priest of the Church of the Wurm as well as chief agent of the Darkling.
    • Ray Zeal is the leader of a Carnival of Killers and cult devoted to killing God.
  • Blind Seer: Miles, Caleb's son, thanks to his heritage as the grandchild of an angel.
  • Bullet Catch: Maude's training included catching bullets.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Major Aversion. Golgotha has several churches from multiple denominations. Catholics like Augustus Schultz suffer (period realistic) discrimination for their faith.
  • City of Adventure: Golgotha is a failed silver mining boom town that is full of Mormons, prospectors, and every single sort of supernatural creature to be found in the Weird West.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: When Jim sees that Mormon religious artifacts have magical power, he asks if that means the Mormon religion is the correct one. The Angel Biqa responds that enough of any form of belief will grant power.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Part of what the jade eye can do. It allows Jim to speak with his dead father, get a description from Arthur Stapleton of the man who killed him, and gives Harry the chance to say goodbye to Holly.
  • Deadly Doctor: Golgotha has bad luck in this regard with their doctors. Their current doctor, Dr. Francis Tumblety, is a racist and sexist quack who is only tolerated because the town's previous two doctors turned out to be murderous monsters. His predecessor was a monster which turned people to stone and drank their memories, and the one before that was some sort of creature which had to be staked through the liver and buried under the railway tracks. And Dr. Tumblety ends up continuing the streak, as he turns out to be Jack the Ripper.
  • Death by Childbirth: All women who give birth to half-Angel children, Nephilim, die in childbirth.
  • Divine Conflict: All of humanity's myth about the war of the gods, are echoes of a war between the First Men, early humanity and a repentant Lilith versus Typhon, his brother Carcosa, alongside the children that Typhon had with Lilith.
  • Eldritch Location: Carcosa - to the point where Maude ends up in Golgotha after a wrong turn. Luckily, Ch'eng Huang is able to send her back.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The world includes gods, spirits, and magic from a variety of sources, including Christianity, Chinese mythology, and the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Half-Human Hybrid:
    • Nephilim, half-human/half-angel hybrids, such as Caleb and Emily.
    • Mutt, who is the son of a Native American woman and the god Coyote.
  • Losing Your Head: After Auggie's wife Gerta died, Clay reanimated her head. She gets a body again.
  • Mad Scientist: Clay and Professor Zenith. Clay wishes to reanimate the dead, while Zenith wants to use humans as batteries for his diabolical machines.
  • Monster Organ Trafficking: Clay begins keeping some of the worm-like parasites which created the Tainted in captivity so he can harvest their secretions as ingredients in a regenerative serum.
  • Noodle Incident: So, so many.
    • "Sheriff, I've lived in this own my whole life, and I sure as hell know better. Just hope there ain't no damn rat people running around this time. I hated those things."
    • "Harry, it was right before that trouble with the giant bat thing swooping in and carrying people off?" "How could I forget that? We lost the best barber this town ever had."
    • "Why Why is Golgotha the town where the owls speak and the stones moan? ... 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 ow did this little ditch of a town become the final resting place of some of Heaven's treasures?"
  • "Not So Different" Remark: After helping him fight off a lynch mob, Harry admits to Mutt that he understands what it's like to not get to be openly in a relationship with someone, because society won't allow it.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted. The racism, sexism and prejudice of the 1800s is in full ugly display.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Golgotha contains an abundance of ancient sealed evils:
    • The Darkling, also known as Uktena, Chilong, or Nyarlathotep, is imprisoned within the Earth and specifically beneath Mount Argent.
    • One of the graves in the town cemetery contains a powerful evil, which must be kept surrounded by a salt circle lest it break free.
    • A cave in Mt. Argent contains the Skull of the First Murderer, which imprisons a powerful manitou that could cause a humanity-ending Hate Plague if freed.
    • The town well connects to an underground river that runs through a buried temple where Typhon, Father of Monsters, is imprisoned.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: Silver is stated to carry a trace remnant of divine energy, making it a potent weapon against supernatural beings.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: Sheriff Jon Highfather was unsuccessfully hanged three times; the first two were for trying to save African-American soldiers from being executed, and the third is implied to be a suicide attempt. He believes that neither that nor anything else can kill him as it's not his time yet.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink:
    • This is how the Darkling cult has been spreading the Blood of the Wurm, by giving it to people who come to their sermons mixed with moonshine liquor.
    • How the Brechts help prepare Golgotha for Ray Zeal's arrival - by poisoning everyone who eats at Gillian's boarding house and gets food from her.
    • Gillian has been slipping Clay's new serum into Auggie's coffee to help him recover.
  • Targeted Human Sacrifice: The other daughters of Lilith believe that sacrificing Constance is the only way to restore the Blood of Lilith. However, this is because Alexandria has deceived them into believing it, because it's what will free Typhon's brother, Carcosa.
  • Time Abyss: Angels like Bique are over a billion years old. So are creatures like the Darkling.
  • Weirdness Censor: The majority of people in Golgotha seem oblivious to the fact the town is haunted by supernatural forces. The Sheriff's department is the exception with an arsenal of weapons for Hunterof Monsters as are a handful of other citizens.
  • Weird West: A spectacular example of such with the focus being a weird town in the middle of Nevada with demons, angels, mad science, and demigods being some of the less strange things going on in the town. It is also a town riddled with racism, gunfighters, outlaws, mining bosses, and more traditional tropes.
  • Wretched Hive: Golgotha is a peculiar mix as it is a place of murderers, cut-throats, racists, and general scumbags even without the supernatural horrors that afflict the place. It is also inhabited by a bunch of good God'fearing (whichever god that may be) folk who are trying to make it a real home for their children.

     The Six-Gun Tarot 
  • All Take and No Give: What Arthur's marriage to Maud has become with the former no longer loving her but the latter stuck with feelings she can't control.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Jade Eye. Subverted. It is the only thing that can save the world and even then only when combined with the Blood of Lilith.
  • Big Bad: The Reverend Prine and his dragon, Phillips, who want to bring about the End of the World.
  • The Beard: Sarah and Holly to Harry Pratt. While Sarah is fine with this, seeing Harry as a godsend for her and her children, Holly is decidedly not.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Caleb is killed by the cultists off-screen.
  • Bloody Murder: Phillips is nearly invincible, but Mutt is able to harm him using a knife coated in Mutt's own blood. This due to Mutt's blood carrying the spiritual power of his father, the god Coyote.
  • Brain in a Jar: What Auggie has done to his wife's head with Clay's help.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: How Reverend Prine gets the majority of his followers since wanting to destroy the world and bring about Cessation of Existence is a hard sell to most people.
  • Cue the Sun: Once the Darkling has been rebound, the sun finally rises.
  • Domestic Abuse: Arthur Stapleton is both verbally as well as physically abusive to his wife and daughter. Notably, both of them could easily throw him around like a rag doll.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Darkling, which existed in the darkness before the Universe's creation. Not even the Creator can kill it, because it predates the creation of death. Typhon and his brother, Carcosa are the dream children of this being and almost as nasty.
  • Historical Domain Character: Anne Bonnie, the founder of the Order of Lilith.
  • Human Resources: The Blood of the Wurm, an oily black Psycho Serum, is created from the blood of murdered infants.
  • Mother of a Thousand Young: One of the Black Madonna's titles is "Mother of a Thousand Young"; she is the mother of the worm-like parasites that transform people into Tainted.
  • Religion of Evil: The cult of the Darkling worships it and wants to bring about the end of the world.
  • Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: The Tainted can shrug off most wounds; one of the only ways to put them down is a gunshot to the head.
  • Sanity Slippage: Earl suffers this at the start of the book, his mind affected by the Darkling's power. It results in him seizing a store and trying to get wax to plug his ears.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: When the Darkling begins breaking free, the sun fails to rise and the stars are extinguished. This ends when Jim rebinds it.
  • Tarot Motifs: Each chapter is named after a particular card in the Tarot. Counts as a Genius Bonus.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy: Clay, the town taxidermist, is creepily obsessed with death: for instance, he only agrees to help Jim on the condition that he'll get to taxidermy Jim's horse if it dies. He is soon revealed to be a Mad Scientist obsessed with reanimating the dead.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Jim, thanks to him murdering the men who killed his father.

     The Shotgun Arcana 
  • A God Am I: Ray Zeal declares himself the God of Murder and Torture and Pain, and furthermore states his intention to kill off every other god so that he can be the world's only god.
  • Bloody Murder: Prior to Shotgun Arcana, Mutt has the local blacksmith forge a knife and infuses it with his blood as it's being made.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Bick tricks Zeal into following him into Johnny Town, Ch'eng Huang's domain, which has this effect on both of them. This, in turn, allows him to beat him to a pulp.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: A lot of people in Golgotha have come to hate Bick, and wish that someone would give him his just desserts. Unfortunately, said someone turns out to be Ray Zeal/Raziel and his followers, who turn out to be much, much worse.
  • Carnival of Killers: Ray Zeal has a horde of serial killers, rapists, and cannibals working for him. Among them is a demigod and one of the Thuggee.
  • Creepy Crows: Crows appear throughout the story in connection with Raziel and the Skull of the First Murderer, such as the flock that helps scatter the Skull's teeth to Raziel's future followers.
  • Chupacabra: The book begins with Mutt and Jim taking down a chupacabra. It can fly, and has glowing Hypnotic Eyes which fortunately only work on goats.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Subverted. When a local prostitute is murdered, Jim Negey refuses to let her to be simply forgotten. He brings that killer to justice, then personally escorts the murdered woman's soul to Heaven.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Not quite but the discovery that the racist moron, Doctor Tumblety, turned out to be Jack the Ripper.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Biqa is unwilling to kill Raziel, but also knows that there is no prison in the world capable of holding him. He therefore hands custody of Raziel over to Lucifer, who drags him bodily to hell.
  • The Dragon: The Snakeman serves as this to Ray Zeal and is an Evil Counterpart as well as Foil to Mutt.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Raziel is taken to Hell by Lucifer who pretty much says that this is what's going to happen to him and even makes allusions to Prison Rape.
  • Hate Plague: If the Skull of the First Murderer were to be broken, it would unleash a hate plague that would cause everyone in the world to murder one another.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Chupacabras having glowing hypnotic eyes. However, they only seem to work on goats.
    Jim: I think... it's trying to... hypnotize us, Mutt. I don't think it's working.
    Mutt: It'd have a damn sight better chance if it wasn't so backside ugly. Now vampires, there are some hypnotisers, I'll tell you what.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: A recurring theme in the book is heroes having villains at their mercy but choosing not to kill them.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Skull of the First Murderer selects murderers to become its worshipers, and it particularly prefers those with a taste for cannibalism. Examples include Boyle "Liver-Eatin'" Douglass, Charles Cook, Nikos Vellas, and the Brechts.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Holly and Harry Pratt, which causes a great deal of friction between them.
  • Inn of No Return: The Brechts ran one of these before Raziel called them to Golgotha.
  • Ironic Echo: When Biqua confronts Raziel over the chaos he's caused in San Francisco, he asks why God hasn't stopped him by now, if what he's done is so horrible. When Biqua is about to hand him over to Lucifer, Raziel argues that God wouldn't allow it, and Biqua throws the question right back in his face.
  • Kill the God: Ray Zeal believes that God wants him to kill him and all other gods before making the universe into an eternal place of suffering.
  • Living Battery: Professor Zenith has come up with a process for converting living humans into electric batteries. He is unconcerned with minor downsides such as the constant screaming or the tendency to catch fire.
  • Mundane Solution: The climactic battle between Clay and Professor Zenith culminates in a Beam-O-War between their lightning-shooting superscience machines. Zenith's plan is to calculate and implement a precise series of complicated power modulations that will allow his machine to overwhelm Clay's. Clay's plan: while Zenith is busy with that, sneak up behind him and hit him with a wrench.
    "You ever hear of Occam's Razor, jackass?"
  • Names to Run Away From: Ray Zeal, a.k.a. Raziel.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Zeal deciding to shoot Auggie after he talks the mob out of killing Bick, which turns Golgotha against him for good.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: The Donner Party appears in the prologue, with Bick as one of the rescue party looking for them. When he speaks to one of the children, Leanna, she reveals that part of the reason things got so bad was due to the Skull of the First Murderer, which influenced her into bringing it with them.
  • Sequel Hook: Shotgun Arcana ends with several:
    • Maude's father, Martin, has taken Constance back to South Carolina, believing that Maude is unfit to raise her, and she has to go after him.
    • Black Rowan and the Scholar are blackmailing Harry with the fact that he and John Ringo are lovers - and Rowan turns out to be Ringo's sister.
    • Francis Tumblety, a.k.a. Jack the Ripper, has escaped.
    • Gillian is pregnant with Auggie's child, but isn't sure about whether it was conceived before or after Clay brought him back from the dead.
    • Roland Kinloch, one of the children that Mme. LaTour held hostage, has her tooth from the Skull of the First Murderer.
    • Typhon has escaped from his imprisonment under Golgotha.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Professor Zenith converts children into living batteries for his inventions.
  • Shaming the Mob: Auggie does this when the rest of the townsfolk are about to stone Bick to death.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: At the beginning, some of the characters talk about having to deal with a group of vampires with powerful Hypnotic Eyes. Golgotha's cemetery may also contains a vampire; if a certain grave isn't kept enclosed within a salt circle, people mysteriously begin to die of exsanguination.
  • 0% Approval Rating: Malachai Bick by the time of the second book. When Ray Zeal announces his attention to come into town and kill Malachai, no one speaks against him and most people start cheering.

     The Queen of Swords 
  • A Day in the Limelight: The book focuses on Maude, her ancestor Anne Bonny and the order, "The Daughters of Lilith" that they belong to.
  • Artistic License – Law: Even in the 19th century, it would have been very difficult to get a judge to have the matrilineal inheritance of a woman to be passed down to her son-in-law after her daughter's death instead of her granddaughter, especially when she was already married.
  • Big Bad: Typhon is this, the son of the Darkling. Alexandria is The Dragon.
  • Bothering by the Book: In the end, Bella gets the judge and lawyer to sign a contract with Maud that prevents her from filing an appeal. However, their entire legal case is based on the premise she's incompetant to be able to sign her own documentation. It would be extremely embarrassing even if it didn't do them any actual legal harm.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: In his letter to Maude in Queen of Swords, Mutt mentions a curse caused by a vjeestica that made people tell the truth. The end result was sixteen fights, five attempted murders, two successful ones, and twelve new marriages.
  • The Chessmaster: Bella Mansfield sets her opponents up to hang themselves in court.
  • Condescending Compassion: The best the women can hope for in Charleston. While the opposing counsel is outright misogynist, Martin and Judge Davenkirk think what they're doing is for the best by providing for the women yet leaving them no control over their lives.
  • Good All Along: Martin proves himself to be this once he has a Heel Realization at the fact that his daughter loathes him for attempting to squash all her dreams.
  • Hate Sink: Opposing counsel Rutledge has very few legal arguments in the case other than misogyny and sexism. Unfortunately, that's enough in South Carolina during the 19th century.
  • Heel–Face Turn: After her exile, Lilith became the mother of Typhon's monstrous children as revenge on the gods. Seeing the damage that these beings were causing humanity, she repented her action and allied herself with early humans to fight them.
  • Human Sacrifice: The Daughters of Lilith plan to do this to Constance in order to bring back their powers. It's instead a plan to unleash Typhon onto the world.
  • Kangaroo Court: The entirety of the Charleston trial is stacked against Maud due to the fact that not only is she a woman but she's up against a respected wealthy white man. The Judge only entertains her case because he expects her to lose and settle, only to get annoyed when she proves her case.
  • Loophole Abuse: Bella Mansfield destroys the case against Maud by pointing out the fact that it was a contract between Arthur and Maud from before they were married. Due to improper terminology, it's not legally valid and was of very questionable validity to begin with.
  • Retcon: Anne Bonnie never owned slaves but simply employed freemen, not revealing their status to her neighbors during the Civil War.
  • Sequel Hook: When Typhon fails to return from Carcosa, Alexandria takes over as the leader of the Sons of Typhon, dubbing herself Lilith.
  • Shoot the Dog: The Daughters of Lilith believe Constance must be killed to renew their power.
  • Simple, yet Awesome: The Sons of Typhon have their own combat method to counter the Daughters of Lilith's martial abilities. They can't match the Daughters' agility and skill, so what they do is body hardening techniques and self-inflicted nerve deadening to greatly reduce the damage taken. They then build up their strength to inhuman levels so that their martial art of crude, near-random flailing can knock out a Daughter in a single hit when they land a lucky hit.
  • Southern Gentleman: Judge Davenkirk is one and behaves condescendingly but politely to the women.
  • Tulpa: Typhon even describes himself and his brother Carcosa as this. They were the evil dreams of the Darkling made flesh.

     The Ghost Dance Judgement 
  • Big Bad: Izusa leads the armies of the dead.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Much of the conflict in the book is driven by the conflict between Native Americans attempting to fight back against the genocide against them by indiscriminately slaughtering white settlers as well as their families, including children. This is contrasted against the US military who want to use this as an excuse to slaughter them in return. Our heroes are the only people who want to stop the massacres entirely and they're contrasted against the Sons of Typhon.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sheriff Highfather and Mutt both are branded outlaws for their attempt to save Native American lives. Jim is made the sheriff of the town due to the fact he's the only white male deputy left. Golgotha ends up being made into federal land despite the fact the townsfolk won't move.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: The rebels are correct that the United States government has treated the Natives horribly, will continue to do so, and that their word is worthless. Mutt is also correct that organizing an uprising against them that indiscriminately massacres settlers is just going to give them an excuse to destroy them all.
  • Co-Dragons: Snakeman and Caxton.
  • Did Not See That Coming: Black Rowan did not see Harry Pratt sacrificing his mayorship and standing to be with her brother. Nor her brother sacrificing his life to protect Harry.
  • Distant Finale: This book reveals what happens to Golgotha all the way up to 2020, where it has become a ramshackle retro small town illegally existing on federal land.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Clay has always denied the supernatural but this gets extra problematic when he's confronted repeatedly with the evidence of the supernatural, ghosts, spirits, and gods but continues to deny their existence.
  • Hate Sink: General Caxton is easily the worst of the human characters and that includes the Carnival of Killers headed by Ray Zeal.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Ringo kills the Belaviers to protect Harry Pratt's reputation even though it means he'll be gunned down in return.
    • Auggie is a connection to the Uktena/Darkling that needs to be severed. He allows himself to be killed to put it back to sleep.
  • Historical Domain Character: Alan Pinkerton and Porter Rockwell both make an appearance.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Izusa tries to steal the Jade Eye from Jim under the idea he stole it when he inherited from his father and it was a gift from Chinese mystics. While she might assume Jim stole it, under no circumstances does she deserve it.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: General Caxton hates women, negroes (despite being a Union general), and Native Americans most of all. This puts him at odds with the fact Golgotha has women, Native Americans, and black men among its deputies.
  • Sleeping Their Way to the Top: Kate was given favoritism due to her relationship with Allan Pinkerton. However, she's quit them due to the fact that it tainted her achievements there. Allan is not happy she doesn't want to resume their relationship either. Ironically, she's now in a relationship with Jon Highfather.

  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Izusa wants to avenge herself on the white man with an army of the dead because her family was massacred by them. Unfortunately, she plans to release the Uktena/Darkling and destroy the world to do it.