A Book of Tongues: Volume One of the Hexslinger Series


  • 2011 Black Quill Award, (A Book of Tongues)

Black Quill Award Winner, Best Small Press Chill (2011)
Nominee for the 2011 Best Novel Spectrum Award

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.

Reviews of A Book of Tongues: Volume One of the Hexslinger Series:

[A] boundary-busting horror-fantasy debut . . . Files smoothly weaves an unusual magic system, Aztec mythology, and a raunchily explicit gay love story into a classic western tale of outlaws and revenge . . . this promising debut fully delivers both sizzling passions and dark chills.
Files' poetic prose is pitch-perfect: languid, precise and full of dark imagery. . . . [A] brooding and deeply sinister novel, which will undoubtedly be a challenging read for some, but Files has definitely managed to create a world complex enough to sustain the series that this book initiates.
—Justine Warwick, Rue Morgue
[T]he easily offended or those put off by a challenging narrative need not apply . . . Gangs of New York rubs against the cross-genre cheek of True Blood, mashed with a healthy dollop pf J.R.R. Tolkien by way of a dusty, mud- and semen-caked Deadwood . . . power-blending pulp fiction with profound, often poetic prose that does what all good horror fiction should do, which is mirror our collective humanity while jettisoning us into the black, blood-drenched ether . . . truly one-of-a-kind, violent, carnal and creepy.
—Chris Alexander, Fangoria
Even Clint Eastwood's stoic gunslinger from those spaghetti westerns might blanch at some of the doings here, as Files describes them with a graphic, unflinching eloquence . . . But a kind of natural poetry runs through even the worst of it, combined with an imaginative view of magic. It's there in the title taken from one of its epigraphs, a poem by Gwendolen MacEwen. That quote opens with the title phrase and ends: Beware! I know a language so beautiful and lethal / My mouth bleeds when I speak it. Such an image transcends mere gore, and so does this debut novel.
—Faren Miller, Locus Magazine
Gemma’s been producing top-notch horror stories for years, and her weird Western Hexslinger trilogy is chock full of hellish horrors.
sheer drama and lyrical, gorgeous prose—Files hooks the reader, hard, and never lets go.
This book picked some TNT, struck the match and stuffed it in my skull. It blew my mind. Her prose is pure creative opium and aphrodisiac. You must have more and more.
Darn’ tootin’ evil, blasphemin’, Bible-quotin’, hex-slingin’ gay bandits wreak destruction across pantheons, life, death.
Gemma Files writes her words and her images as deftly as a straight razor, slicing so surely that the reader isn't even aware that the protective skin of his imagination has opened into two neatly divided flaps, [with] a few seconds of red grace before the pain comes and the screaming begins.
—Michael Rowe, editor of Queer Fear I and II
Boldly, brazenly, Gemma Files pushes her hands deep into the red and seeping unconscious places and finds the bits of treasure worth pulling back out into the light.
—Caitlín R. Kiernan, author of The Red Tree
This is history turned on its head with its chest ripped open and its heart offered to the gods.
[T]his book blew me away . . . The plot is fascinating, a sort of magical what-if about gunslingers with strange and wondrous magics, the characters are vivid and over-the-top and yet still believable . . . it's an amazing read. So worth picking up, and my favorite book of the month. I'm sure it's going to be in my list of favorite books of the year.
Truly a remarkable, bloody and visceral read.
A Book of Tongues is definitely promising—tantalising, even, because it sets up such a fertile scenario and hammers home the themes of love, sacrifice, and apotheosis.
A Book of Tongues is a lovely little book.
I liked it—a lot! It was unique and. . . . 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.
Potent mythology, complex characters, and dollops of creeping horror and baroque gore establish Files's Hexslinger series as a top-notch horror-fantasy saga.

Other Reviews

goodreads 3.58/5 stars more...

Author Info

Gemma Files was born in London, England and raised in Toronto. Her story “The Emperor’s Old Bones” won the 1999 International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Fiction. She has published two collections of short work (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart, both Prime Books) and two chapbooks of poetry (Bent Under Night, from Sinnersphere Productions, and Dust Radio, from Kelp Queen Press). A Book of Tongues, her first Hexslinger novel, won the 2010 DarkScribe Magazine Black Quill Award for Small Press Chill, in both the Editors’ and Readers’ Choice categories. The two final Hexslinger novels, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones were published by ChiZine Publications in 2011 and 2012.