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Hot Off the Press: Review of Rope of Thorns by Gemma Files

Where I got it and why: I read an egalley from NetGalley, courtesy of ChiZine press. (Thanks guys!) I leaped at the chance to read this, after reading the first book in the series earlier this year.

Recommended? Absolutely – if you’re okay with huge amounts of violence, foul language, heavy drinking, and M/M sex. (And that’s just one character…)

Review: Okay, this is another one of those books I love so much I don’t know if I can be coherent about, but I will try. I read the first book in Gemma Files’s Hexslinger Trilogy earlier this year, when I spotted it on the shelf at the library and was intrigued by the blurb’s promise of ex-Confederate gay western wizards, and I liked that one, but I *loved* Rope of Thorns.

It’s 1867, the American West, a world slightly different from our own. For one thing, it contains hexes – people who can work magic, frequently violent and nasty (both the magic and the hexes), who live in a constant state of hunger, drawing magic away from their environment and from any other hexes they run into. They tend to be solitary creatures. In Book of Tongues, we meet Asher Rook, a former preacher turned hex after he was hanged for assassinating his commanding officer in the tail end of the Civil War. Now he’s head of his own little outlaw gang, rampaging across the West, taking what they like and killing folk who get in their way. Rook’s lover is Chess Parteger, a gunman, queer and not ashamed of it, red-headed, flamboyant, and nasty. They’re joined by Ed Morrow, a Pinkerton detective, who’d been sent out by his boss to test out a device for identifying hexes before they become dangerous, but who gets sucked in to the gang a little more deeply than he’d expected. Oh yeah, and there’s an ancient Aztec goddess who’s trying to take over the world. She wants Rook as her consort, and she has…plans for Chess, her “little husband’s husband.”

Okay, I’m going to try to discuss Rope of Thorns without giving too many spoilers for the wonderful ending of Book of Tongues. Suffice it to say, Chess is none to happy about how that played out, and Rook is off with his goddess in the newly-built Hex City, while Chess is out for revenge and Morrow is either still following him around or trying to keep him in check.

I love Chess. He’s a wonderful character, full of fire and anger and passion. He changes a lot through the course of the books, but he’s mostly unconscious of it, and it only shows through when he’s called upon to act and does something that surprises even him. The characters overall are great: Ed Morrow still unsure of what he’s doing; Yancey, who rapidly becomes Chess’s female counterpart; Songbird and Pinkerton and the relentless Sheriff Love.

The worldbuilding is glorious too, so deeply believable it seems almost real, like the best of historically-set fantasy. Files’s hexes and gods fit perfectly into the mythology of the Old West that grows in the American psyche. Not just the old stereotypical Hollywood version, either – this series fits right into the modern bleak Western tradition. It reminds me of Deadwood, True Grit, Carnivale. (Lots of Carnivale, actually.) And Rope of Thorns introduces an Apache warrior I hope we see more of in the final book.

The thing I love most about these books is how *fun* they are. I mean, they’re fairly bleak, there’s an apocalypse in progress, and the body count is huge, but Chess is having so damn much fun you can’t help but get carried along with him. I can’t wait for the final book, A Tree of Bones.

Rope of Thorns came out in May – you should be able to find it on bookstore shelves, but if you can’t, order it. It’s worth it.
Book of Tongues came out in 2010.
If you’re interested in the series, I also recommend the author’s blog, where she’s currently discussing a lot of elements of the new book – no spoilers for the new one, but some spoilers for Book of Tongues.

A Book of Tongues, The Broken Kingdoms, Atlantic, Misery

Gemma Files, A Book of Tongues
I grabbed this book after just glancing through it at the public library’s new book shelf, and now I’m buying a copy and preordering the sequel. This is awesome, guys. Supernatural Old West, magic-wielding Confederate ex-Reverends, and a heavy dose of Mayan mythology to top it off. Also, gay characters who are a) main characters, b) not demonized (for being gay, anyway), and c) likely to survive to the end of the series and possibly even get a happy ending. Obviously it’s a trilogy and that last one is far from certain, but I’m thrilled at just the possibility right now.

N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms
The sequel to the excellent Hundred Thousand Kingdoms of last year, and you know, I think I liked this one even better. It seems to hang together better; the book feels a little more solid. I’d have to reread the first one to explain exactly why. (Oh the horror! *dramatic hand to forehead*) It seems, interestingly enough, that the main recurring characters in this series are the gods, not the mortals, but the POV characters in both books so far are the mortal women they deal with. I like that a lot, actually.

Simon Winchester, Atlantic
Finally, I have finished this book! This was another ARC I picked up at ALA in June, and I have been trying to get through it for months. It purports to be a history of the Atlantic ocean, but for large portions of the book it seems much more to be an excuse for the author to show off his superior knowledge of history and his extraordinarily exciting life as an investigative journalist. I was somewhat offended to find that the latter sections, while unbelievably pretentious, were also the most interesting parts of the book. Maybe he should have just written a memoir instead.

Stephen King, Misery
When did Stephen King stop being this good? No, really. I picked this up again after reading Learn Writing With Uncle Jim, where Jim MacDonald recommends it as a novel about how to write a book. And not only does it work on that level – spectacularly well, particularly the scene where Annie makes Paul burn his Serious Manuscript – but it’s also frequently tense, disturbing, and downright scary. I haven’t felt that way about any of the newer Stephen King books at all.

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