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Obligatory disclaimer: author is a friend.

There are ways in which I've been waiting to read this, because the third one's not out yet, and therefore reading this one means there isn't going to be any more for a while, but Ruth is most of the way through the first one, and upon finishing it would be several thousand miles from our copy of the second if I waited longer. I try not to be cruel like that.

Anyway, this is the direct sequel to A Book of Tongues, and is, as that one was, a violent and glorious alternate-history Western in which magic has more prices that anybody particularly wants to pay. For one thing, it's never a good idea to plot Things To Do To Make Your Lover Insanely Powerful without asking first, no matter how pure your intentions, and the fallout of that ricochets all over this book. There's also a lot of Aztec mythology done in a way that doesn't make me want to throw things and scream, which is... really, really rare and before this series was basically restricted to three issues of The Invisibles (of all things).

I can't talk too much about the plot here, because it really is very dependent on the first book, and one ought to start reading there. But I can say that I find it just as good, a little less tightly structured but for good reason (protagonist running around not knowing what the hell to do about the fact that everything has gone horribly wrong, and it's interesting enough confusion that I can forgive him for not working out a plan, especially since he's not the sort of person who plans much in advance anyway).

I just... really, really love these books. I don't have much to say about them because they hit everything my id wants in a book so hard. Okay, maybe this one had slightly less sex, but, you know, this is writing to all my particular narrative kinks and I want the third and I want it now and I want more people to go out and read these so I have a lot of people to talk them over with and basically this is my favorite series now running and that's all there is to it. They're dark and they're lovely and they're chock full of people one doesn't usually see in this kind of Western; this one, for instance, has a neat little instance of characters Doing Poly Right, possibly to show up how thoroughly the main set are failing at it, although they aren't failing at it for anything like the usual reasons...

So yeah. You need something of a gore tolerance, I suppose, I never know how to calibrate that kind of thing. But if you have ever been violently aggravated by some things about the entire genre of the Western, this is a good antidote, and if you are annoyed that there's not enough gay in fantasy, this helps there too.

Thank you, Gemma. Thank you very much.

Ordinarily I'd use my Twilight Sparkle icon here, which I've been saving for books I think are really good, but the character in my default icon would get along so well with the entire cast of this series I can't even tell you, so there it is.
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So, sometimes-- most of the time-- I try to write these reviews with some semblance of, you know, critic-brain. That thing that tells me when a person's got, in my opinion, too many adjectives or too little structure or whatever. I think I have a pretty good critic-brain. I work on it. At this point, I can write, and I suspect have written, a decent review while, technically, so sleep-deprived as to not really be awake. I mean, after finishing Tristram Shandy I am not sure I qualified as alive. But I had my critical faculties.

And then sometimes, the hell with critic-brain. I loved this book. It is the kind of book I find delightful and cuddly and charming, and I know that that's going to be a minority opinion, because it's a really well-done book which has more violence than, oh, Preacher, and characters I am sure a lot of people think are violently unsympathetic, all of whom I love to pieces. This is the sort of book I sit there grinning through, because it is a fantasy Western full of magic that isn't describable via the word 'system' and gods who actually act like gods, and somebody in this book uses, and means, the word 'antidinomian' correctly as an insult in a scene which is principally a showdown between two gunslingers on one of those mean not-even-really-a-street streets. If your main problem with Preacher was that Garth Ennis fucked his metaphysics or your main problem with Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World was that nobody in it was nearly crazy enough considering, you will like this book. I think. I can't tell. I mean it, I think this sort of thing is cuddly and after a lifetime of having large chunks of the world stare at me and say 'but [Peter Greenaway movies/Tideland/Petronius' Satyricon/etc.] are disturbing and meant to be disturbing' and me looking back at them and saying 'I had not, actually, noticed,' I have not developed the ability to tell whether things will bother other people, though I have started to automatically mention that it is possible content may be disturbing after there is a certain amount of violence in a thing. Which is why I mention here that content may be disturbing.

I really loved this book. I don't know how to say much about why. There is a certain set of directions of my id that this runs with about as far as that can go, and also it bears entertaining similarities to a book I am going to write eventually which is also in other ways completely dissimilar, and I know that this is totally unhelpful to anyone who isn't me, but I mentioned I am not trying to use my critic-brain, here. I mean, I do not even think of this as being in the same genre I suspect other people of classifying it in: I think it will be filed under fantasy, unless it's under horror, but I thought it was the best piece of erotica I've ever read from a professional market. Which should tell you why this isn't acting like my usual reviews, and also why I'm not going to try to say much more about why I loved it.

I am also obscurely proud of the fact that lo this while ago I passed the music of 16 Horsepower along to [personal profile] sovay and she says she passed it along to Gemma Files and in this book I could see where it showed up. I mean it's not a thing you'd notice if you don't know their work. But 16 Horsepower need to be an influence on like all Western-set dark fantasy ever because that is what they are for existentially as far as I can tell. To make up for the general incoherency of this review, a link to their video for Black Soul Choir. I suspect if you like that, you might like this book, but again, I have real trouble telling.


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