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Harry Connolly – Game of CagesHarry Connolly is the Canadian author of the 20 Palaces series, of which Game of Cages is the 2nd book. The series was put on hold by the publisher after 3 books, and Connolly self-published a prequel to it later.

The book starts a while after the events in Child of Fire, the first book in the series. Ex-con Ray Lilly has, despite killing a number of people in front of witnesses, not been charged with anything, but has returned to his quiet life stacking supermarket shelves.  He still knows nothing more about the 20 Palaces Society.

He gets picked up for a job, but not by his boss Annelise, but by Catherine, an investigator for the 20 Palaces Society. Apparently someone is auctioning off a predator, and they are to investigate the rumour.

You see, predators come from a parallel universe/plain, variously called the Deeps, or the Empty Spaces. They can be summoned by sorcerers, they convey powers in the world, and, if not controlled properly, can get free and start feeding on this world and the life in it – which might well be the end of the world.

So the 20 Palaces Society is hunting predators, and anyone who knows magic and could be tempted to summon them.

The society employs Ray as a 'wooden man', a walking decoy, tasked to go in, draw fire, stir things up, do damage; with the limited life expectancy this implies. Ray is an excellent wooden man – not sure if that's by design or by chance, it's not really something he conscioiusly strives to do/be. He acts more like a peer, a full sorcerer, even if the only spell at his disposal is his 'ghost knife' cast on a scrap of paper, able to cut non-living things and subdue enemies.


The investigation shows very quickly that there indeed is a gathering of other factions, bidding for a 'Saphire Dog' which has had been kept caged for a long while. But things go wrong, people start getting killed, and the predator gets away. One of the sorceres summons another predator (some kind of electric/fire storm) which gets killed by Catherine and Ray. Catherine reports the results of the investigation, and departs – Ray feels he has to stay, and hunt down the predator...

I won't give away more of the story – it's worth reading. Actually, the entire book is much more readable and enjoyable than Child of Fire. The story has much more drive, and there is much less poinless 'dicking about with a ghost knife' which so marred the first book for me. The whole story is told in the first person, from Ray's viewpoint, and is entirely linear. Given how it flows, and makes you turn pages, this is not in iself a bad thing.

What I still noticed was that some of his characterisations definitely are weird. They don't talk, behave, react like humans. Well, not like the humans I deal with (and I'm not sure if some of the characters really count as humans, anyway).

We also don't seem to learn much more about the 20 Palaces Society (yes, there are Investigators), and preciously little more about the world this plays in (yes, there are other groups dealing with magic, artefacts, predadors) or the parallel world where the predators come from, or on how magic works, and how these two things are tied together. Ray does not really develop (despite constant exposition of introspection), or gain abilities – either this is on purpose, to keep him on the same level (and the reader guessing) for the series, or Connolly was really in it for the very long haul (we're talking Robert Jordan levels here) with his overall story arc.

One thing which struck me about the book when thinking back was the body count – people are dying, more or less constantly. This, surprisingly, didn't bother me as much as it sometimes can/does – this might have to do with the fact that the killings are tempered by Ray's dislike for killing, and his compassion for the victims (even the ones he kills, in most cases).

Still, this very much worth reading, and a significant improvement on the previous book. I guess it could be read on its own, although you would miss some background information, but the two stories are not interlinked.


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Title: Game of Cages

Series: 20 Palaces

Series Number: 2

Author: Harry Connolly

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL:

Publisher:  Del Rey/Ballantine Books

Publisher URL:

Publication Date: 2010

Review Date: 130112

ISBN: 9780345508904 

Pages: 338

Format: Paperback

Topic: Urban Fantasy

Topic: Parallel Universes



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