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Harry Connolly – Child of FireHarry Connolly is an American author with, to date, 4 novels and a shared/collaborative short story collection to his name. Child of Fire was his debut novel, and the 1st book in the 20 Palaces series, which runs to 3 books and a prequel; and which is on hiatus as it (as I understand it) wasn't selling as well as the publisher felt it should.

The story kicks off with the two main protagonists, Ray Lilly and Annalise Powliss on the road, apparently on a job to kill. Annalise is a sourcerer, and part of the 20 Palaces society, who controls the use of magic in the world, especially as it has the potential to bring in predators which could bring about the end of the world/humanity. Ray Lilly is an ex-con (framed?), and now Annalise's 'Wooden Man', ie her decoy and cannon fodder, with an explicit role of flushing out and distracting their targets, and of drawing fire in the process – something which suits her, as she'd like to see him dead, but is forbidden to do the deed herself.

We learn that there is a backstory behind the fact – that Ray betrayed Annalise at some point, that he made her kill her best friend, that he has killed his own best friend who was infected with a predator – and also that he has a copy of a stolen spell book, something which would be an automatic death sentence should the 20 Palaces society learn about it. Using this book he created his Ghost Knife which features rather a lot in the story, and he also once looked into the parallel world, also known as The Empty Spaces, or The Deeps. This is where the predators come from, looking for living things (or worlds) to devour. They are drawn to magic, and can be summonded (they love to) and held in place for power (they hate this). And Annalise/Ray are chasing people who have the power to do so, or who have predators, both to stop the spread of magic and to protect the world.

The story plays in a familiar world – if not in the today then clearly in a recent past (I don't recall any mobile phones, for example), and falls squarely in the current Urban Fantasy trend I guess. The setting is reasonably dark, even if the horror felt rather diminutive, and running 2nd to the detective story (who did what when to whom? Who are the baddies?) and some general 'hard man' antics. Especially of the latter there is rather a lot, and I could at times have done with slightly less dicking about, even if it obviously fits Ray's Wooden Man persona.
In contrast to some of the length with that it has to be said that Connolly does rather well with the action sequences once things kick off, which proved to be rather well written and engrossing - several missed stops pay witness to that. Great stuff, except for missing one's stop, of course...

The magic is never really explained, and neither is there any attempt to put a scientific wrap around it. I'm not sure it all ties up, but the next books in the series (waiting on my reading stack) will show how much wriggling he'll have to do to hold it all together.

These books were handed to me on recommendation from Charlie Stross (thanks, I think!). There definitely is a relationship to Stross stories like Atrocity Archives (which I rather liked); although 20 Palaces is much less geeky (which is one of the attractions of the Laundry series for me), and much more hard man with soft centre action; and there are no real fun puns and allusions on the go (or I missed them whilst reading?).

The next book in the series is called A Game of Cages - I rather look forward to it; you'll hear from me in time. In the meanwhile you could buy (and read!) Child of Fire – it's an enjoyable story, and, I gather, the author (and his publisher!) could do with some additional business...

More Harry Connolly

Title: Child of Fire
Series: Twenty Palaces
Series Number: 1
Author: Harry Connolly
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Ballantine/Del Rey
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: 2009
Review Date: 120318
ISBN: 9780345508898
Price: UKP 7.99
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Topic: Dark Magic
Topic: Urban Fantasy


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