I do this thing a lot where I delay reading a text for fear of it influencing a project I'm working on. Said influence could be an actual similarity of content, but more often than not it's for fear of something more nebulous; theme, maybe, or a dynamic between characters. How do I know if such things are present if I don't read said texts, and since I'm such a pain in the ass about avoiding spoilers? A smell, maybe, or a tingling in the sole of my right foot? No, something even less tangible than that--whatever the source of the wariness, avoid them I do. Of course, I always find that the texts wind up being way different than what I imagined, and not the sort of thing that would have influenced me one way or the other, but the few exceptions are enough to keep me in my weird ways. Blood Meridian, for example, I delayed until the Brothers Grossbart was signed and delivered, and I'm glad I did--not because it would have rubbed off on me and influenced my text, but because I like as not would have despaired and abandoned the project, for McCarthy succeeds in such high fashion at what I was attempting that all one can do is shake their head and say, "well shit, that's how it's done."
Which brings us to Gemma Files's novel A Book of Tongues. Beyond the fact that I put off reading this one for a while until I'd finished a certain project that's currently percolating, comparisons to Blood Meridian abound. Both are powered by an intensely beautiful lyricism that's put to use in loving descriptions of the most horrific violence imaginable, a heady, mesmerizing kaleidoscope filled with kernels of lust, hatred, brutality, and taste-the-leather-and-dirt-tinged-sweat-dripping-down-from-under-your-hat-brim historical detail. Unlike Blood Meridian, however, there's love in A Book of Tongues beyond the love of the author for their creation; McCarthy's masterpiece is many things, but a love story it's not, unless you figure it for a romance between mankind and cruelty. A Book of Tongues certainly captures that essence of Blood Meridian, but there's a literal love story beneath it all, though not of the rock candy variety--think unlouched absinthe, a bittersweet, delicious burning tinged with a licorice twist that's positively wicked riding down on the palate.
A Book of Tongues is also bulging at the seams with the fantastical, which certainly didn't sour the experience for me--a sumptuously detailed, meticulously researched, gorgeously written, cleverly plotted weird western populated by interesting, real characters engaging in badass gunplay, raunchy sex, and nine kinds of gruesome supernatural shenanigans is about all I could ask for out of a novel, frankly. Rook, Morrow, and especially Chess are all wonderfully nuanced characters whose internal workings and interactions blend seamlessly with the bigger picture, so you have that rare thoroughbred that is equal parts great writing, great story, and great character study.
Not only that, but it breaks several of my major personal turn-offs in fiction (HOLY SHIT IT"S A SPOILER GET IN THE CAR: deities interacting with mortals and apocalyptic plots--I tend to like small scale conflict and non-divinely-impacted characters to the Big Picture stuff, regardless of the divinity), but actually pulls them off in a manner that's not only witty and internally consistent, but positively goddamn sinister. When you have an author take something you generally dislike on principle and makes it sing for you then you know you've got a winner, and that's what Files has here--a pedigreed beast full of piss, vinegar, and plenty of other fluids. The best part is we've got two more novels to look forward to; I was a fool to put off reading this book as long as I did, reasons be damned, so don't make the same mistake I did. Go west, I tell ye, go west, and thank me for the directions only after you've thanked the author twice.