The Queen of Swords (Golgotha)
by R.S. Belcher
Cover Artist: Raymond Swanland
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765390097
Date: 27 June 2017 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Queen of Swords can best be described as a spin-off of Belcher's Golgotha series, rather than the third book in that series. Unlike The The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana, this is not a weird western and features only a couple of characters from the previous books--Maude Stapleton and her daughter Constance. While the earlier books belong to the "everything and the kitchen sink" school of gonzo plotting, this book is more tightly controlled and is the better book because of this. And it does not cross the border into horror the way The Shotgun Arcana did.
The book has two main plotlines. In the 1870s plotline, Maude returns to Charleston, South Carolina, to fight her father for custody of her daughter. Maude has been trained as a Daughter of Lilith, an ancient female secret society of assassins/fighters against evil who are supernaturally good fighters. Basically, they are like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And Maude has begun training her own daughter in these techniques. But Maude does not know that after she used the last of the blood in the Grail to save Constance's life (in The Shotgun Arcana), the other Daughters' flasks have run dry. This means no more Daughters can be made unless they can capture Constance, the Last Daughter of Lilith, and somehow reverse what Maude did. Meanwhile, the Daughters' old foe, the Sons of Typhoon, want to kill all the Daughters, but especially Constance who they believe to be the Grail of the Mother. Also, Maude has to deal with a newspaperman who saw Maude use her powers to stop a train robbery and became obsessed with finding out the truth.
In the 1720s plotline, pirate queen Anne Bonny, who turns out to be Maude's Gran, who made her into a Daughter of Lilith, has escaped prison and set out to find a rich treasure trove in Africa. She assembles a team including a mysterious immortal, a drunken Frenchman called The Hummingbird, and the leader of an African king's Amazon guards (after Anne defeats her in battle). In the process, Anne learns about the Daughters and her quest for treasure becomes something greater.
While Constance's grandfather tries to civilize her, hiring tutors to make her a lady, Maude finds a female lawyer willing to challenge him in court. But Constance is having prescient dreams of monsters coming to kill her. These turn out to be the Sons of Typhon, resulting in a three-way conflict among Maude, the other Daughters, and the Sons.
The personalities of Anne and Maude are sufficiently different that the reader never becomes confused over which time period and character is being featured. Minor characters also are well developed. Maude's father is not evil, just a conventional person of his time. He truly wants to do what is best for his daughter and granddaughter; only he believes since he is male he knows best. The reporter could have simply been an obstacle, but instead is developed with an unusual flexibility. Unfortunately, the author does not explore the villains' motivations to the same extent.
The Queen of Swords mostly stands alone. Although one chapter contains a letter from her boyfriend in Golgotha and there are occasional references to past events in the first two Golgotha novels, these are sufficiently explained in the book. The ending plants seeds for both future Maude-centric books as well as participating in Golgotha ones. I look forward to reading them.