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A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files
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A Book of Tongues (2010)

by Gemma Files

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Hexslinger Series (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1802299,316 (3.94)14
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» See also 14 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
I found this book to be fantastic.
Recommended by the toronto(ist) website because of where the author lives and publishes, I finally got around to borrowing it from the local library.
Despite the size of the book, it was a great read, and not to be rushed.
Can't wait to read the second Hexslinger novel. ( )
  Eternal.Optimist | Aug 22, 2018 |
(Re-posted from http://theturnedbrain.blogspot.com)

I follow and read a lot of book review blogs. Like, a lot. Sometimes I feel like I read more book reviews then, you know, actual books. Some people question the worth of reading reviews, because after all books are highly subjective and what one person likes you might not and so on. But I think you have to approach reading reviews in the right way. I mean, if there’s a reviewer whose tastes always line up with yours then you might avoid a book just because they didn’t like it, but I think any good reviewer provides enough information that even if they didn’t like the book, you can take their review and make up your own mind.


Which brings me to Gemma Files’ “Book of Tongues.” A book I had never heard of until Calico Reaction posted a review of it. Now, Calico was not a fan of this book, indeed she didn’t even finish it. But she neatly outlines the things that didn’t work for her personally, and they kinda sounded like things that would work for me. So I tracked the book down, and I’m very glad I did.


I honestly don’t understand why this book is not getting more mentions across the reviewing corner of the blogosphere. Not because it’s necessarily fantastically awesome, (although I rather think it is), but because it’s hugely ambitious. I think it’s the kinda book that you have to feel strongly about, either love it or hate it, and it’s these kind of books I’m used to seeing discussions of.


It’s set right after the American civil war in an America where some people are “hex’s.” That is, men or women with some pretty trippy magical powers that manifest on the onset of menstruation (if you’re a women) or upon suffering serious bodly harm (if you’re a man). A really cool twist on the idea is that to hex’s can not spend any long length of time together as they will involuntarily suck the power out of each other until one is dead. When being hung for a crime he didn’t commit Reverend Asher Rook learns he has some serious power going on, and he turns outlaw along with the rest of his army regiment. (Regement? Unit? I don’t know, I’m not down with military lingo…)


This regiment includes one Chess Pargeter, also known as the reason I loved this book so very much. He’s a whore turned Reverend Rook’s fiercely loyal lover, he’s an indiscriminate murderer, he’s more than a little bit crazy and he definitely makes the book for me. The best character I can think of to compare Chess to is George R. R. Martin’s Jamie Lannister. You start out completely disgusted by him, and by the end he’s your absolute favourite (at least if you’re me). Not that I’m equating being gay with having an incestuous relationship with your sister! It’s more the way that Chess kills so freely and so gleefully, he seems wholly without empathy and it’s easy to dislike him. But by the time the novel ended my heart had broken for him ten times over, and I was cheering for him to come out on top. The transition is completely natural, I couldn’t even tell you the moment Chess went from zero to hero for me, and without changing the core of his character either.


It took George Martin four massive tomes to pull that off with Jamie, and Gemma Files does it in just a couple of hundred of too short pages. Impressive? Very. The other characters were just as skilfully crafted. The character arc of Reverend Rook was just as dramatic as Chess’s, and the skill it took to pull it off even more impressive. There is an almost complete lack of women, but given the setting and nature of the book I’m willing to forgive that. (And while the female hex Songbird felt a little flat to me, I loved Chess’s mother, so I’m confident in Files’ ability to write a female characer). The only character I was a little disappointed with is Ed Morrow, our main POV character. He spends most of his time observing and commenting upon Rook and Chess, so we don’t really get to see much of who he himself is. Files does hint at greater depths inside of him, so hopefully the honourable Mr. Morrow will grow a bit in the next books.


The writing style and structure is what I think will divide the people who read this book into those who like and those who don’t. It’s told in an odd mix of flash backs and present day scenes. I say odd because it feels uneven, like there will be three flashbacks and then a present scene and then a flash back and then five present scenes… Like when your iPod shuffle randomly throws up five songs out of ten by the same band? The flashbacks and present day scenes are not quite randomly placed, but not quite structured either, and it sticks out. The writing itself is highly stylised. I think Files definitely captured the voice of the setting. Think the southern twang that leaps of every page of a Sookie Stackhouse novel, or the British manners of Naomi’s Novik’s Temeraire books. If by the end of a novel I’m reading it in my head with an accent, then the author has been effective.


I will say that some of it got a little confusing for me. All of the Aztec names started to run together, but that’s probably because I am entirely unfamiliar with Aztec legends beyond what I’ve learnt from Mountain Goats albums. And there is a lot of religion. Like, A LOT. Rook’s powers come from the bible, like he reads a phrase and havoc is wrought. (Think turned people into pillars of salt, plagues of locusts, ect). Actually, and this coming from a die hard atheist, I found it be pretty unique and interesting. Normally I can’t stop yawning when reading about characters struggling with their religion and god and what have you, but Files definitely handled it pretty well. And she couldn’t very well have avoided it, with Rook being a once pious Reverend now killing people left and right and enthusiastically sodomising his boyfriend every chance he gets.


It is the first part in a trilogy, and the ending is definitely a first part of a trilogy kind of ending. So if you have the patience you might want to wait until they’re all out, but if you’re anything like me you’ll be snapping the next one up as soon is you can! ( )
1 vote MeganDawn | Jan 18, 2016 |
Holy fuck man and hot damn. ( )
  LopiCake | Mar 25, 2015 |
Didn't finish because: 1) don't like any of the characters 2) have no clue what's going on 3) don't like the dialog 4) don't want to read any more. ( )
  pussreboots | Nov 15, 2014 |
Please note: I read this book in November, 2011 from an e-galley I received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Info: Genre: Weird Western/Supernatural Horror/Steampunk
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: Fans of Weird West, horror, those interested in Meso-American religious practices
Trigger Warnings for Book 1: Murder, violence, fairly graphic M/M sex, drug abuse, suicide, rape (m/m; f/m with woman as instigator), human sacrifice

My Synopsis: “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?

My Thoughts and Recommendations: 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.

Synopsis: 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.

Magicians, cursed by their gift to a solitary and painful existence, have never been more than a footnote in history. But Rook, driven by desperation, has a plan to shatter the natural law that prevents hexes from cooperation, and change the face of the world—a plan sealed by an unholy marriage-oath with the goddess Ixchel, mother of all hanged men. To accomplish this, he must raise her bloodthirsty pantheon from its collective grave through sacrifice, destruction, and apotheosis.

Caught between a passel 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. ( )
1 vote Katyas | Dec 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gemma Filesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mackenzie, GordonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mohr, ErikCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0981297862, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:25 -0400)

Pinkerton detective Ed Morrow infiltrates a gang led by Rev. Asher Rook, a former Confederate chaplain who becomes a "hexslinger."

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