Book Review: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files

A Book of Tongues (Hexslinger, #1)A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m always up for a good Weird Western, always up for interesting LGBTQ characters, and always up for excellent Canadian science fiction and fantasy. This book fit the bill perfectly!

Ed Morrow is a Pinkerton who has been assigned to infiltrate the gang of one “Reverend” Rook, former Confederate soldier hung for shooting his commanding officer (which he didn’t,) now transformed by his near-death into what they call a hex; a powerful sorcerer. He’s supposed to gather a sense of how powerful the man’s magic is. But what he doesn’t know is that Rook’s lover, Chess Pargeter, is more than just an angry, violent, hot-headed young man who has a talent with gun – he’s also a hex; who doesn’t know it.

Hexes aren’t supposed to be able to work together, because they can’t resist feeding off of each other’s magical energy. But since he doesn’t know he’s a hex, Chess doesn’t know he’s being used. Rook has a plan to save him from himself; if it doesn’t kill him. And Ed Morrow is the tool he needs to help do it.

It’s a page-turning, on-the-edge-of-your-seat adventure, unpredictable, horrific, beautiful and glorious. It was like jumping the back of the Pale Horse itself and hanging on for the ride! The language is positively poetic. I wish I could write like this!

So why did I only give it four stars instead of five?

Two reasons. The first is an unrelenting deluge of stuff like this:

And here Songbird raised her face to what light there was, revealing herself as a truly spectral vision: twelve years old at most, a porcelain doll dressed all in red bridal silk whose features matched those of the painted courtesans decorating her walls almost exactly, aside from one peculiarity– a near-complete lack of colour in the face under her sheer red veil, pig-pale skin, crone-white hair and faded hazel eyes all bleached by some hideous trick of nature. Her hands she held folded in her lap, interlaced fingers covered with long-filigree spikes which gave off a dry, squeaking tone as they rubbed together, a distant cymbal’s crash.

Later followed by:

Songbird screamed out some new phrase, prompting Morrow to look up just in time to see– her whole bottom jaw unhinge, snake-wide, and a stream of live bats pour our of it like fluttery black vomit, filling the air around all three of them with shrieks and teeth. Chess pivoted with one of ’em already clinging fast to the side of his head, and emptied both guns in a matter of seconds. The results, though spectacular– delicate wings shred-torn, furry bodies popped apart like clay pigeons full of blood– were so sadly inefficient overall, he was soon reduced to trying to pistol-whip the damn things to death.

The technique is called an eyekick – a kickass visual in comics, science fiction, fantasy or horror which is meant to stun the brain with overwhelming imagery. And Files does it really, really well. The problem was, she never stopped. Whipsawing back and forth from beautiful to horrible to disgusting and back to beautiful, by the time I got two-thirds through, my mind-eyes were swollen shut, I was punch-drunk, and I could hear nothing in my head but a test pattern. It was just too much. I really don’t think the explosive ending had as much impact as it ought to have as a result.

The other is that the style and point of view shifted suddenly and without warning, just as you started settling into the perspective you had. It was a bit like trying to watch a 70s French art film. While I don’t agree with a lot of the other reviewers I’ve seen in that I did not find it in the least “confusing,” the overall effect gave me some mental whiplash.

In the end, between the two, I felt a bit like I’d just been on an all-night acid trip and someone had tried to mess with me the whole time.

However, Files also has a talent for making you care about characters who, on the outset, seem to have little to recommend them. By the end of the book you like both the Reverend and crazy little Chess, unrepentant murderer and arrogant, lippy bastard though he is. That’s impressive! And somehow, although he is WAAAAAYYYYYY outpowered and, through most of the book, apparently helpless, Morrow manages to keep from being just a meat puppet. Pretty amazing!

I will certainly read the rest of the series! I have the second book already. It’s just that… I think I’m going to give myself a little while to get over the hangover first.

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