In Gemma Files’ A Rope of Thorns, Chess Pargeter has a fresh new batch of problems in his life, as any new-minted demi-god is likely to have. As his old lover Reverend Asher Rook builds up “Hex City” as both a refuge for magicians (who are otherwise forced to feed on each other’s powers) and a place to sacrifice them to the newly-embodied goddess Ixchel to build her power, Chess goes on the run, Ed Morrow sticking to him fast and loyal. Soon joining them is a young spiritualist lady, Yancy Colder, whose temper and stubbornness is something even Chess can admire. But Chess himself, a hardened killer, is finding that even if his heart is gone, his heart might have survived more than he thought was possible.
First up, I want to say that this book definitely solved, for me, most of the concerns I had with the first one. It kept the strong writing and incredible characterization, but where there was a dearth of characters of color or female characters to narratively counter to the characters’ prejudices in book one, there are plenty more in this one (and only more upcoming, as I plunge headlong into book three even as I work on the review for book two). There are still characters’ casual slurs and assumptions in the narration, so fair warning to brace yourself for that if needed, but the narrative presentation of these characters supports them as individual characters with rich inner lives.
I don’t think it’s speaking lightly to say I loved this book. The narrative was clean and the story’s throughline was coherently built. The characters drove the plot, including those who weren’t point of view characters; every character had their own motivations for how they were acting, and this built the story, rather than outside events happening to shape it. This is by far my favorite thing to read, because everything fits together so perfectly.
And through this whole thing, bad and good decisions and damaged reactions and all, it’s an exciting Weird Wild West adventure with plenty of action, high stakes, revenge, bloodshed, sex, passion, and, yeah, the first strides toward redemption.
Normally I try to space my reviews for a series out, but this one came right after the first because I admit I literally just couldn’t stop reading. If that isn’t a rec, I don’t know what is.