Game of Cages: A Twenty Palaces Novel
Harry Connolly’s first novel, Child of Fire, was named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly. And indeed, Connolly proved worthy of the honor—for a first-time author, he showed remarkable skill. With his second novel, Game of Cages, he continues the tale of Ray Lilly, an ex-con swept up in a world of magic and danger.
(Description nicked from the back of the book.)
“As a wealthy few gather to bid on a predator capable of destroying all life on earth, the sorcerers of the Twenty Palace Society mobilize to stop them. Caught up in the scramble is Ray Lilly, the lowest of the low in the society—an ex-car thief and the expendable assistant of a powerful sorcerer. Ray possesses exactly one spell to his name, along with a strong left hook. But when he arrives in the small town in the North Cascades where the bidding is to take place, the predator has escaped and the society’s most powerful enemies are desperate to recapture it. All Ray has to do is survive until help arrives. But it may already be too late.”
I find that I really like Connolly’s writing style. When he sets a scene, I can always get a good picture of what’s going on and what things look like. And it’s clear that he has an active imagination—the predator in this novel is a blue dog-like creature, and the descriptions provided cement the being’s look in readers’ minds. This critter isn’t as terrifying outwardly as the predator in the previous book, but its effects can be just as disturbing.
In fact, Connolly’s decision to have the predator’s power be “devotion taken to the extreme” allows a human element to come to the fore as well: any human who looks at the beast, or who is unlucky enough to be touched by it, immediately loves it so overwhelmingly that they’ll kill to have it all for themselves. So, rather than the predator itself harming people, it induces them to harm each other, which carries its own horror.
The one thing that I’d like to see Connolly improve on just a bit is the plotting. As I said, I like the writing style, but on looking back, not much happens in this book. Ray spends almost the entire novel running after the predator and encountering its victims, never quite catching up to it long enough to stop it. There are four groups trying to possess the beast, and they drop in and out of the story without making too much impact on it. A character from the first novel returns, only to be almost immediately knocked out of commission. And by the end of this second book in the series, we as readers still know next to nothing about the shadowy Twenty Palaces Society.
However, I must say that when Connolly does ramp up the action, he pulls it off in spectacular style. One particular scene near the novel’s end stands out for me (but I won’t describe it and spoil the tale). It’s done with a single, page-and-a-half long sentence that captures the chaos of what’s going on brilliantly. It’s haunting and mesmerizing, and it shows what a wonderful writer Connolly is.
Although I may have a grumble or two about the novel’s pacing, I can’t deny that I finished this book eager to pick up the next one. Game of Cages showcases the author’s evocative writing style and unique worldbuilding. I can’t wait to dig into Circle of Enemies and see what happens next!
Also by this author: Child of Fire
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on July 25, 2011.