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.
I must admit I like a measure of grit and brutality alongside the weird and the Western, and that's what you'll find in this award-winning novel. Files is daring and bold in her storytelling, just like her characters. It's like being double-dog-dared to ride into dangerous magic and bloody fights, and being unable to resist. – Blair MacGregor
"[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."– Publishers Weekly
"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."– Mike Allen
"Sheer drama and lyrical, gorgeous prose—Files hooks the reader, hard, and never lets go."– Brit Mandelo, Tor.com
"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."– The Book Smugglers
"Darn' tootin' evil, blasphemin', Bible-quotin', hex-slingin' gay bandits wreak destruction across pantheons, life, death."– The Write Thing
The dream was always the same.
She appeared above him, blown by a black wind, her back-sloping forehead girded with a hissing serpent, her swirling hair stiffened with mud. Her round face was set with jade scales, irregular as leaves. The lids and orbits of her wide-spaced eyes were decorated, mosaic-style, with tiny chips of shell, mother-of-pearl and obsidian. Her breasts were bare, high-set, the nipples pale and small — a virgin's, or even a child's. Sometimes he thought this meant she must have died young. Other times, however, he looked deep into her painted gaze and knew that it meant she might very well never have actually lived at all.
Little king, she called him every time, little hanged man — you who are mine by right, as well as by choice. And he saw a great darkness rise up around her, spreading wide: a hissing cloud of dragonflies whose wings dazzled, every colour in the world at once. Like a rainbow.
Water rose around his feet, burning cold, lapping at his ankles. The sky shone yellow and black. Knives fell like rain.
To either side, grey stone walls retreated into shadow, studded with what seemed at first glance to be rough, irregular stones — but a closer look revealed that the stones were grinning, all leering teeth and empty nose-holes. An endless rack of skulls from whose orifices flowers bloomed at random, luscious pinky-red as heart-meat.
Around her long neck a rope dangled, twisted from corn-silk and stuck all over with thorns. She held it up, looped around both thumbs — spread it wide, a cat's cradle, a pair of opening jaws.
Use this, she told him. Use it, while you still can. Kill what you love, choose your ixiptla, make your necessary sacrifices. Pierce your tongue, run it through the hole, and pray words of blood.
The time of earthquakes is at hand, little king.
The time of great floods, when the upper crust cracks, and the Sunken Ball-Court overflows.
The Gods return, at long last. What we have been promised, we will have. So feed us once more, and apologize, before it is too late.
He didn't know what she meant, by any of it — never had, and never expected to. But then again, maybe it wasn't even his dream to begin with.
Twenty days later, though, there he was again — right smack back in the same place, slogging through black river water to his knees under the jaundice-yellow sky. Skulls to the left of him, flowers to the right, the very air itself an obsidian storm through which knives swirled by, drawing blood 'til it felt like all he had left for skin was a single walking wound. And as he struggled grimly forward, the only thing he could think was this — over, and over, and over —
Son of a bitch. Son of a bitch.
. . . that Goddamned son of a bitch, he went and left me behind.