Harry Connolly is a Canadian author with a growing body of work to his name - Circle of Enemies, the topic of this review, is the 3rd book in the 20 Palaces series, published by Del Rey. When Del Rey did not renew the contract for further books in this series (a shame, really) he self-published a prequel to it; and has since written a game tie-in novel in the Spirit of the Century series and has published a collection of short stories (Bad Girls Die Horrible Deaths) which he describes as Dark Fantasy. His latest venture, an Epic Fantasy trilogy called The Great Way, has been crowd-funded (and is rather over-subscribed), with the first book expected in Summer 2014.
But back to the book at hand. Circle of Enemies is the final book in the series before Del Rey put in on ice, mainly due to falling sales figures, I understand. This is a shame, as the trajectory in terms of writing quality, readability, and enjoyability definitely was pointing upwards - whilst I found the first book in the series (Child of Fire) a bit of a slog at times, and the 2nd one (A Game of Cages) better but still lumbered with some of the same weaknesses in the storytelling, I devoured and rather enjoyed this one, and would really rather have looked forward to further installments. Maybe at some point, after the Epic Fantasy trilogy - ?
Circle of Enemies plays in a roughly contemporary America, with the main difference to ours being that Magic is real (well, I have not heard that it is, but maybe things have been kept quiet…). There are sorcerers with extra powers, there are spell books, and there are creatures (the 20 Palaces Society calls them Predators) from a parallel dimension which can give you huge powers and abilities if controlled and handled correctly. If not then they have the distinct ability (at least the more powerful ones) to destroy this Earth…
And where there is power there are people abusing it, bickering over it, and killing each other for it.
The 20 Palaces Society, as far we we (and Ray Lily, the main protagonist in the stories) know - and we don’t know much, even after 3 books! - tries to keep tabs on things by trying to control who has access to magic (the fewer people the better), killing people with spell books, and killing predators as and when they come across them.
Ray is a Wooden Man - a disposable resource, with little to no power (although some people seem to think differently of Ray) with the role of wading into the action, kicking things up, distracting oponents, and drawing fire. It’s in general not a long-term role…
His boss is Annalise, a peer in the society - nearly immortal, nearly unkillable, at least by conventional means, and really not someone who you want to cross.
Circle of Enemies is the story of Ray’s past catching up with him, especially the events which led him to cross paths with the 20 Palaces Society and Annalise (that he’s her Wooden Man and not a smoking crater in the ground is a very unlikely state of affairs - this is not part of this book, though, but of the prequel). Someone has gained powers Ray has not seen before (including the ability to turn invisible), by using predators he has not encountered before. Initially he investigates on his own, as calling the society would have automatically sentenced his friends to death as they have been touched by/are using magic. But things go from bad to much much worse quickly…
I guess you could read this book on its own, but I would not recommend you do so. There is some background provided, but it’s nothing to actually having read the story so far. And yes, this means that you have to read through the first two books which I found less enjoyable than this volume. Not bad, but harder going, with inferior pacing, and less polished prose. Yes, Connolly definitely has been learning and developing - but that does not mean that I’m going to read his Epic Fantasy now, sorry!
If you have read any of the series then I can strongly recommend that you continue (and maybe contact Del Rey and ask when book 4 comes?); if Urban Fantasy/Magic Realism mixed with secret societies and some kind of Private Detective/Investigation approach is your thing then this series might well be down your street, too. Me, I’m reading it because Charlie Stross recommended it to me…
Title: Circle of Enemies
Series: 20 Palaces
Series Number: 3
Author: Harry Connolly
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Del Rey
Publisher URL: http://www.delreybooks.com
Publication Date: 2011
Review Date: 140719
Price: USD 7.99
Topic: Magic Realism
Topic: Parallel Universes