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A Book of Tongues, by Gemma Files

I’ve been lucky enough to read this as the author has written it, and it’s totally blown my mind. It’s like nothing I’d ever read before, and it taught me a new thing: I can too like dark horror literature—if it’s brilliantly written, with compelling characters.

A Book of Tongues, from ChiZine Publications, is brilliantly written, with compelling characters.

It takes place in an alternative post-Civil War American West, where the notorious Pinkertons are trying to round up and get control of hexs—folks with the power to fling spells around, folks like the Reverend Asher Rook, who survived a hanging and now, turned bandit, wreaks death and destruction through black-letter quotations from the Bible. Ed Morrow is the Pinkerton agent who infiltrates Rook’s gang. Assigned the task of finding out just how powerful “the Rev” is, Morrow learns more than he bargained for not only about Rook, but also about Rook’s flame-haired lover, Chess Pargeter, a preternaturally talented gunslinger and remorseless killer.

I’ve never read more terrifying descriptions of hell than the ones we visit in this story, a Mayan-Aztec hell where the air itself is a rain of knives and the Goddess of Hanged Men wears a cloak of living dragonflies and feeds on melons that are human skulls. We definitely do not want to see the “Rainbow Lady,” as the goddess is also euphemistically called, reestablishing a reign of blood sacrifice in the upper world, but that’s what she intends, and it’s for that purpose that she’s claimed Rook for her own.

What impressed me most about this book, though, was how Gemma brought me into sympathy with Rook and Chess. She pushed it as far as it could possibly go, and then some, and just when my heart and mind couldn’t take it anymore, she offered a spark of hope for some kind of redemption, some sort of way out of a future of death and killing. Having set up the players and the conflict, she then surprised me continuously, so that I had absolutely no idea how the story would end—the ending turned out to be surprising, and just right. (Note: insofar as it’s an ending. This is just Book One. The ultimate battles will occur in Book Two, and it’s only in that book that people’s ultimate loyalties and futures will be decided. If you commit to Book One, you’re going to want to read Book Two.)

This book won’t be for everyone. It is horror; there are some awful images, and some pretty terrible things happen. But with all the killing and violence, it’s at its heart about love, freedom, sacrifice, and devotion. There are two people on my friends list whom I definitely think would enjoy this book (littlemoremasks, cucumberseed), and probably others. I myself wouldn’t appear to be a candidate to enjoy this book, not on the surface of things, but I enjoyed it completely.

Unfortunately, at $50, this book is extremely pricey. But if you have a well-heeled friend who’d like to give you some good reading material, or even a number of moderately heeled friends who’d like to chip in for your reading edification, the publisher is taking orders through the end of January, and you can place an order at the Horror Mall.

ETA: Good news for those of us who are cash-strapped: Gemma's editor says
You might want to tell your friend that the $50.00 price tag is for the limited, signed, foil-stamped hardcover collector's edition, not the trade paperback (which is $20.00). The hardcover has to be ordered now, but the trade will be out in bookstores in May. (March, at World Horror in Brighton, as a special preview/launch.)

So hey, that’s more reasonable, right?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 10th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! I'm all a-blush.;)
Dec. 10th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
You totally deserve it--I didn't begin to do justice to the story, the beauty of the language.
Dec. 10th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
I got as far as "It takes place in an alternative post-Civil War American West, where the notorious Pinkertons..." and stopped reading--I'm going to pick this up quick, whereupon it will cut at least a few places in line in the to-read stack. ChiZine puts out great stuff (and I'm not just saying that because they've published my short fiction!) and the mingling of the West with horror/dark fantasy has been chronically underused, in my opinion.

Oh, and a random aside--my mom worked for the Pinkerton Agency in the late 60's but was disappointed to find it little different from any other file clerk job. Back then I suppose they were still being romanticized as heroes.
Dec. 10th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
Your mom worked for the Pinkertons! That still wins about 50 awesome points in my book, even if their glory days of mayhem and strikebreaking were long in the past.

Yeah, this book blew me away--I'm expecting yours (which I have! It's here on the floor of my squirrel's nest study) to do similar.
Dec. 11th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)
That sounds wonderful! I love good horror, where you are left wanting to sympathize with every foe.

Man, though, May! I feel like I will be a completely different person by the time May rolls around. O_O
Dec. 11th, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
I'm sure you'll only become mellower and deeper, right? :-)

(it's a great story--creepy great! You'll like it, come May!)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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