Rating: Good / ★★★½
Genre: Weird Western / Horror
Series: Hexslinger, #1
Release Date: January 1, 2010
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Content Includes: Explicit violence, explicit sex, homicide, war, execution by hanging, gore, dismemberment, dubious consent, graphic sexual assault, racism and racist slurs again Chinese, Black, and Indigenous people, homophobia and homophobic slurs, transphobia, child prostitution, terminal illness, addiction, mention of abortion, cultural appropriation
A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files is a beautifully written, moody, horrifying, culturally appropriative work that refuses to contend with the racist notions that it and its characters perpetuate because it incorporates its racism under the guise of authenticity to its historical period and of progressive criticism, but because all the elements of the book are otherwise strong, neither the characterization nor worldbuilding require the blatant injections of racism to embody the western era nor to add to the book’s ongoing discourse. So these additions stand apart as strange and unnecessary choices that eject readers, particularly readers of color, from the text, making this work safest for those that the text is supposedly criticizing: white men, a group that occupies the novel’s full attention as the main characters are queer white men who buck against societal expectations of masculinity during this period and are in complicated, messy relationships with one another. While the development of those relationships is interesting and delicious in its ambiguity, it is also troubled and like the topic of racism, there is little marking of the harm caused within these relationships.