RogerBW's Blog

A Book of Tongues, Gemma Files 20 May 2021

2010 western fantasy, first of a trilogy. It's after the American Civil War, and there are a few magicians out there. Also gods, or at least things that want to claim they are.

The setup and ideas are interesting: most magicians get their start when they take near-mortal wounds, but the actual forms their magic takes vary depending on their personal mythology. Magicians can't cooperate, because their instincts make them try to eat each other's power, which is why there's still society. When the Reverend Rook, former Confederate chaplain, reads verses from his Bible, the letters take flight and cause the effects he wants; meanwhile his lover Chess Pargetter hits everything he shoots at and recovers from wounds almost at once (and it's meant to be a big revelation that he has magical talent).

But they're both horrible people, as is Ed Morrow the other character with any personality (he starts off as something of a good guy, though that won't last, and the others are casual murderers, Chess in particular deliberately flaunting his homosexuality to give him an excuse to shoot people for reacting to it). The narrative jumps back and forth in time to try to pep itself up. There's lots of sex, much of it distinctly nonconsensual. Everybody's trying to get one up on everybody else. The Mayan Goddess Ixchel has a plan to turn the Earth into a charnel house and I wish her the best of luck with it.

Alas, because I liked the setup, but I have absolutely no interest in reading any more about any of these people.

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  1. Posted by John P at 07:55pm on 20 May 2021

    Have a look at “Dragon’s Hand” by David VonAllmen. It's a short story you might like.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 07:58pm on 20 May 2021

    Thanks - I'll keep an eye out. Looks as though it's only in one collection so far.

  3. Posted by John P at 08:25pm on 21 May 2021

    It's at

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 08:19pm on 23 May 2021

    Well, I'd certainly be happy to read more in that world! As a stand-alone work, well, I'd call it a vignette more than a story, but I know a lot of people regard that as just as narratively satisfying as the full beginning, middle and end.

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