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A Book of Tongues: Volume I of the Hexslinger Series [Paperback]

Gemma Files
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 14 2012
Two years after the Civil War, Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow has gone undercover with one of the weird West's most dangerous outlaw gangs—the troop led by “Reverend” Asher Rook, ex-Confederate chaplain turned “hexslinger,” and his notorious lieutenant (and lover) Chess Pargeter. Morrow's task: get close enough to map the extent of Rook's power, then bring that knowledge back to help Professor Joachim Asbury unlock the secrets of magic itself. Because magicians, despite their awesome powers, have never been more than a footnote in history: cursed by their own gift to flower in pain and misery, then feed vampirically on each other—never able to join forces, feared and hated by all. But Rook, driven by desperation, has a mind to shatter the natural law that prevents hexes from cooperation, and change the face of the world—a plan sealed by unholy marriage-oath with the Mayan-Aztec goddess Ixchel, mother of all hanged men, who has chosen Rook to raise her bloodthirsty pantheon from its collective grave through sacrifice, destruction, and apotheosis. Caught between a passle of dead gods and monsters, hexes galore, Rook's witchery, and the ruthless calculations of his own masters, Morrow's only real hope of survival lies with the man without whom Rook cannot succeed: Chess Pargeter himself. But Morrow and Chess will have to literally ride through Hell before the truth of Chess's fate comes clear—the doom written for him, and the entire world, in A Book of Tongues.

Frequently Bought Together

A Book of Tongues: Volume I of the Hexslinger Series + A Tree Of Bones / Hexslinger, Vol 3 + A Rope Of Thorns/Hexslinger, Vol 2
Price For All Three: CDN$ 41.04


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About the Author

Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer, journalist, and film critic. Her short story, "The Emperor's Old Bones", won the International Horror Guild Award. Five of her short stories were adapted for the television series The Hunger.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They don't wear white hats. April 4 2011
Format:Paperback
Do you love a good western? Sure you do, but do you love evil westerns? Well, I think that's exactly what you're going to get when you read Gemma Files' debut novel, A Book of Tongues, whether you use that adjective in a complimentary manner or not.

The novel is set in a world set a couple of years after the American Civil War, but with one key difference from ours: it's populated by wielders of magic known as hexslingers. In this world, a Pinkerton agent named Morrow is tasked with infiltrating a criminal gang led by a hexslinger known as Reverend Rook. Rook, aided by his right-hand man and lover, Chess, isn't on some mere mission of petty theft and murder. The former preacher is haunted and under the influence of an Aztex goddess bent on reentering the world and bringing a few of her friends back as well.

That right there sounds like a simple enough setup for some good ol' pulpy western fun, but there's more to this story than just that. Heroes are pretty hard to come by in this novel, for one thing. Just about every major character we experience this story through has either some serious emotional baggage or just a mean-spirited streak running through them. There's also a strong "in over my head" vibe from both Morrow and Rook, as Morrow finds undercover work with the gang especially daunting when Chess' violent nature regularly rears up when out in public, and Rook's gradual discovery of what his magical powers are capable of doing and where they could lead offer a bleak future ahead of him.

The story comes off a bit disjointed in parts, not only with the switches between points of view that really affect the pace of the novel, but there are also these little preludes at the beginning of each of the three acts that feel quite disparate from the rest of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, Gorgeous Feb. 16 2011
By bookie
Format:Paperback
Highly, highly recommended!

This beautiful, disturbing book achieves something almost impossible in the fantasy genre: it sucks you, body and soul, into an alternative world without wasting any time on scenic description, character portraiture, or technical explanation about that world. Okay, there are three pages of dense, mystical Prologue setting up the Aztec-deity framework, but by the time you're halfway through the first page of Chapter One you've forgotten all about that, because you've just been introduced to your first openly-gay wild-west outlaw, Chess Pargeter, and he's already leaving a trail of corpses in his wake.

I don't read Westerns. Or Horror. Or Gay Erotica. But I love encountering the unexpected in fiction: a plot that keeps twisting beyond my ability to predict what'll happen, imagery that leaps off the page and makes me shudder with delight, a collapsing of good vs. evil until I'm not sure whom I should be rooting for. This book is gruesome, but never gratuitous.

Gemma Files is a wordslinger. She conjures a scene with such grace and delicacy that moments of vicious violence and raucous sex (and there are plenty of both!) seem. . .uplifting? This was the final surprise for me, reading the novel: that such a dark romp of a tale could tell me something true about human emotion. I think it's because the protagonists feel as deeply as they act. The nervy, quick-draw Chess, the preacher-turned-wizard Rook, and the double-agent Morrow'all three are complex, troubled characters whose loyalties and insecurities boil down to the love of one man for another, and the costs of that love.

The Hexslinger series is an epic love story, even if it is splashed across the canvas of a world gutted by greed, war, self-righteousness and the vengeful plans of extinct gods.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They don't wear white hats. April 4 2011
By Wag The Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Do you love a good western? Sure you do, but do you love evil westerns? Well, I think that's exactly what you're going to get when you read Gemma Files' debut novel, A Book of Tongues, whether you use that adjective in a complimentary manner or not.

The novel is set in a world set a couple of years after the American Civil War, but with one key difference from ours: it's populated by wielders of magic known as hexslingers. In this world, a Pinkerton agent named Morrow is tasked with infiltrating a criminal gang led by a hexslinger known as Reverend Rook. Rook, aided by his right-hand man and lover, Chess, isn't on some mere mission of petty theft and murder. The former preacher is haunted and under the influence of an Aztex goddess bent on reentering the world and bringing a few of her friends back as well.

That right there sounds like a simple enough setup for some good ol' pulpy western fun, but there's more to this story than just that. Heroes are pretty hard to come by in this novel, for one thing. Just about every major character we experience this story through has either some serious emotional baggage or just a mean-spirited streak running through them. There's also a strong "in over my head" vibe from both Morrow and Rook, as Morrow finds undercover work with the gang especially daunting when Chess' violent nature regularly rears up when out in public, and Rook's gradual discovery of what his magical powers are capable of doing and where they could lead offer a bleak future ahead of him.

The story comes off a bit disjointed in parts, not only with the switches between points of view that really affect the pace of the novel, but there are also these little preludes at the beginning of each of the three acts that feel quite disparate from the rest of the book. It's an engrossing read though, unhindered by the fade-to-black moments. Some of the language, particularly relating to the mythology was a stumbling block for me--but I'm a dullard with that sort of thing anyway. A real anglophone, I am. But on the other side of that coin is Files' way to weaving the dialogue and the narrative into a rich tapestry of this magical wild west. It feels utterly authentic, and by the time I reached the end of the book I was ready for more, which is just as well because the book clearly points the reader towards the next book, A Rope of Thorns.

I've read other reviews that express a certain discomfort, or simply surprise, as it relates to the unfiltered homosexuality that exists between Rook and Chess. I didn't really have any qualms with that at all. Frankly, I thought it was a nice change of pace from the cut-and-dry westerns I'm so used to watching or reading that make zero reference to gay characters, particularly genuine gay characters. In fact, the relationships between the magical elements of hexslingers and the sexuality demonstrated between them was a fascinating aspect of the novel.

For a debut novel, it's an ambitious yarn Gemma Files has spun, and is yet another example of Chizine's eye for stories off the beaten path. I'm looking forward to reading A Rope of Thorns, but all the previously published short story collections of Gemma Files, because this author is one to watch in the years ahead.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hexes and guns Sept. 27 2010
By Terry Weyna - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A western horror story full of gay gunslingers and the Pinkerton men they seduce - sometimes you can understand why people ask writers where they get their ideas, because Gemma Files sure had a humdinger of one with this first novel. Throw in some Mayan mythology and a lot of magic, and you've got a plot that comes at you so fast and furiously that you have to put the book down just to catch your breath.

A Book of Tongues is Volume One of the Hexslinger Series, to be continued (soon, I hope) in A Rope of Thorns. Two characters dominate this volume: Chess Pargeter, an incredible shot who thinks as little of killing another man as you or I think of killing a mosquito; and his lover, Reverend Asher Elijah Rook, an ex-Confederate chaplain who becomes imbued with magic when he undergoes the punishment meant for another man. The story is told mostly from the point of view of Edward Morrow, a Pinkerton man sent to infiltrate Rook's gang and get a reading on his magical abilities.

Rook is a reluctant hexslinger, one who uses Bible verses to shape and charge his magic only when he sees no other alternative - at least, that's the case at the outset of the novel. He falls into a life of crime pretty much by accident, the same way he falls into a sexual and emotional relationship with Chess, but once started down that road, he has to figure out how to deal with it all. He wrestles mightily with all of this, none of which he asked for; some might say he became a bad man solely because he chose to be a good man on one occasion.

Chess believes he is simply a gunslinger who happens to be a homosexual. The son of a San Francisco whore, he seems himself as something similar, a man who uses sex to get what he wants - except when it comes to Rook. He fascinates men who consider themselves heterosexual, and they seem to fall in love with him - truly in love - with surprising ease. Is this Chess's own magic, or is there something else going on here?

Morrow tries to figure the whole thing out, and to measure the magic Rook gives off for a special study the Pinkertons are doing, but he finds himself involved in the gang more deeply than he expected. When Rook goes on a sort of magical mystery tour and drags Chess and Morrow along, things get very ugly.

Files writes about graphic sex and violence in way that does not spare her readers in the slightest. You're likely to wind up with things you'd rather not have in your head, in a kind of detail that you can't easily shake out. Yet despite this, or maybe because of it, the pace of A Book of Tongues starts to flag around the middle of the book. Files, who has written plenty of short fiction, doesn't yet seem to have the pacing of a novel figured out, much less the pacing of a series of at least two books. The power of the images she builds with her horrific descriptions dissipates the longer she writes, so that one becomes inured to it and wants merely to know what happens next, and becomes impatient with yet another bloody scene.

There is a strong talent at work here. As Files polishes her work and her technique, I expect that she will be writing novels strong enough to compete with the best in the horror field. Despite my misgivings about the pacing of A Book of Tongues, I'm left wanting to know what happens next to these characters. I'll definitely be seeking out A Rope of Thorns.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suffers as the first in a series, but this vivid, brutal book is as compelling as it is unique. Recommended May 20 2010
By Juushika - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Two years after the Civil War, Pinkerton agent Ed Marrow goes undercover with a dangerous outlaw gang lead by Rook, a Reverend turned hexslinger, and Chess, skilled gunslinger and Rook's lover. In a version of the Wild West where magic is a real and present danger, Rook is an even bigger threat: he is haunted by an Aztec goddess with her sights set on bringing gods back into the world. A Book of Tongues is, perhaps, one of the most unique books I've ever read. Hexslingers mingling with gunslingers in the Wild West, Aztec mythology, and shameless homosexual content make for a premise far off the beaten path, which may be unappealing to some readers and--because the premise infiltrates every aspect of the book right down to its narrative voice--require adjustment and adaptation from even more. And even if gay mages in the post-Civil War South seems to you like normal fair, A Book of Tongues is so bloody, bold, and resolute that it comes like a swift punch in the gut: sudden, solid, and breathtaking. Files never shies from the worst, and her book is replete with authentic antiheros and despicable behavior--yet, somehow, she build characters and a plot that demand the reader's care and personal investment, perhaps because the unique narrative voice, precise and gritty language, and colorful characters are so immerse and, therefore, convincing. Whenever the vivid characters or slightly indulgent sex scenes begin to run away with themselves, Files draws it back with a universal willingness--almost a willful glee--to destroy. Nothing in A Book of Tongues is sacred, but many things are true.

For all this, the book is not perfect. It suffers a bit as the first in a series (and not just because I dislike series): as it draws the first act to a close and sets up the many events to come, the end of the book tends towards more talk than action. It's not so much as to create an annoying cliffhanger (although it's a cliffhanger, all right), but it may make the reader wish the book were shorter or longer, so as to contain less preparation or more action. Some content, the sex in particular, tends towards fanfiction-esque wish-fulfillment. And the originality of the style and premise sometimes makes the book a little strange, difficult to pick up, and hard to get into. Indeed, this is never a book that I would have picked up on my own without the benefit of an enthusiastic recommendation. Even with its weaknesses, I now offer it an enthusiastic recommendation of my own: if only that I may share my enthusiasm with others, give A Book of Tongues a try. Brutal, vibrant, and truly one of a kind, it defies expectation by digging so deep into its premise that it works its way down to a raw, hitherto unseen level all its own.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully weird and unique story of the Weird West Nov. 30 2011
By K. Sozaeva - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Reverend" Ash Rook and Chess Pargeter run one of the most notorious gangs in the weird west, using Rev's hexes in order to rob and murder their way across the country. They are also lovers, as in love as two apparently soulless outlaws can be. However, hexes don't mix, and that is a serious disadvantage to the Rev's future plans - so he sets out to make it possible for hexes to work together. In doing so, he will raise a pantheon of lost gods back from their own hell and set them loose upon the world. Agent Ed Morrow of the Pinkerton Agency has infiltrated their gang in order to try to establish parameters that it is hoped will help the US find hexes before they come into their power and nurture them, in order to have them work for the government. However, Ed is found out by Rook and ends up a part of Rook's plans, all unwitting. Will Rook end up sacrificing everything he ever loved in his quest for power? Will Ed survive the whole experience? And will the world survive the cataclysms that may arise along with the ancient Meso-american gods?

This was a ... very strange book. I liked it - a lot! It was unique and I definitely enjoyed all the Aztec/Mayan legends and lore that were worked into the story. Rook and Chess' love affair was so beautifully dysfunctional, and the supporting cast of characters were all developed in such a way to give them depth and interest. I particularly liked Hosteen. If you enjoy steampunk, "weird West," and adventure, and are not bothered by m/m interactions, you should find something to enjoy in this delightfully strange and different story.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars oh yeah. Sept. 28 2011
By Robert Beveridge - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Gemma Files, <strong>Hexslinger, vol. 1: A Book of Tongues</strong> (ChiZine Publications, 2010)

I had somehow gotten it into my head (and onto my spreadsheet) that <em>A Book of Tongues</em> was Gemma Files' first young adult novel. That particular misconception lasted exactly three pages into this bloody, profane, ugly, violent, utterly enchanting western. For the second time this issue, I'll throw out the disclaimer: there's no way I can write a biased review about a Gemma Files book. While she hasn't quite earned a spot yet on the Shelf of the Immortals (where reside such authors as Kathe Koja, Sonya Taaffe, and Ira Sadoff, people I would unhesitatingly move my family to Utah to marry if they asked--yes, even Sadoff), I have yet to come across a piece of her writing that isn't so hugely enjoyable that I can resist throwing hyperbole around like Crisco during a Falcon Studios prison drama food fight, so take this review with as much salt as necessary. But the simple answer is, "this book is just as awesome as every other Gemma Files book I have ever read."

I should also probably mention in passing that another reviewer's comment of "well-written but tasteless" is dead on the money. Those of you who are experiencing Gemma Files' work for the first time may not be quite prepared for that. I'd strongly recommend going back and reading some of her short stories in comparison; "Skeleton Bitch" and "Every Angel" are fantastic starting places for getting a handle on Files', ah, unique aesthetic when it comes to things that squick out the Constant Reader. But then adding that compels me to add that there's a kind of number line of squick. And while everyone's particular definitions of "that's just gross" rearrange that line to suit said person's own tastes, I'll tell you that on my personal line, Files is out beyond the pale of Poppy Z. Brite's infamous dissection scene in <em>Exquisite Corpse</em>, but can't see Charlee Jacob (<em>Haunter</em>), Pan Pantziarka (<em>House of Pain</em>), or Monica J. O'Rourke (<em>Suffer the Flesh</em>) over the horizon.

In any case, what all the fuss is about: in this alternate-universe America, the Northern government, during the Civil War, worked on a program to cultivate destructive magicians, nicknamed "hexslingers", for the war effort. One of them, a former camp pastor, went very dangerously rogue. Fast-forward a few years, and Asher Rook is the head of an outlaw gang who's been terrorizing the entire western territories. The Pinkertons are after him, and to that effect, they've planted a mole in his organization--Ed Morrow, the ostensible main character of the story. (While Morrow's identity as a Pink is a minor spoiler for the first few chapters, it's mentioned both in the jacket copy and PW's review, so I figure the damage has already been done.) Ed is attempting to keep his head on his shoulders and keep his mission a secret while also trying to puzzle out the odd, complex relationship between Rook and his number-two man, Chess Pargeter, which goes far beyond the carnal, as well as try and figure out where his loyalties lie when, inevitably, he has to make choices that will benefit one group to the detriment of the other.

The American West has become the new stomping grounds for trailblazers in this sort of worldbuilding, and it's produced some real barnburners. This is one of them. Files keeps her grounding in contemporary horror and dabbles a bit in steampunk (the device Morrow is supposed to use to read the magical aura, as it were, of Rook could have come right out of one of China Mieville's Bas-Lag novels--or, perhaps more to the point, one of Cherie Priest's Dreadnought novels, set during the same time period), but the book definitely put down some strong roots in the Old West. It would not surprise me in the least to know that Files had not only read McCarthy's <em>Blood Meridian</em>, which it echoes more than once, but also Chamberlain's <em>My Confession</em> (the book upon which <em>Blood Meridian</em> is based). Which brings up another salient point for those who wonder about the extremes of sex and violence to be found here: the Old West was as lawless and ugly a place as those sections of the big city you won't go anywhere near after dark, except the chances of a patrol car coming by were even smaller back then. While no one has ever denied Chamberlain probably exaggerated a bit, and no one denies McCarthy embellished some of Chamberlain's exaggerations, I doubt either one of them extended that carp more than a few inches beyond its actual length. Files only makes a lateral move here with the inclusion of the paranormal; her readings of human nature are, as always, dead on.

Or you could just set all that aside and skip to the last paragraph, where I tell you "if you read only one bizarro western this year, it should be Jordan Krall's <em>Fistful of Feet</em>. But when you're done with that, you'll want another, so you should immediately pick up Gemma Files' <em>A Book of Tongues</em> and hop to!". Seriously. Read this, preferably at your earliest opportunity. It's awesome. ****
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