Monday, January 16, 2012
Circle of Enemies
Harry Connolly's third Twenty Palaces novel Circle of Enemies came out in August. As usual I read it pretty much in one go. I was dealing with my father's cancer and shipping a game for Halloween, though, and didn't get my review out at the time.
Connolly's series pits Dashiell Hammett's lowlifes against Lovecraft's horrors. Every blood-free page racks up a tab that will be reckoned before long. The monsters are inventive and varied. They're not evil, just higher than man in the food chain. Let one into our plane and you let a fox loose in a hen house. There is always someone who is willing to make gamble that they'll be able to control a monster for personal profit, though.
Ray Lilly is an ex-con who, between stints working at a supermarket, serves as muscle for a shadowy association of wizards (the eponymous Twenty Palaces society) dedicated to the undercover eradication of eldritch incursions. His wizard boss has outfitted him with some protective tattoos but doesn't otherwise place a high value on his life. Ray looks out for himself, though; a peek into a spell book at one point allowed him to construct a ghost knife, which is a laminated piece of paper inscribed with a spell. It's a bit of a “Deus Ex Pagina” in the stories but overall the magic system in this world seems well-though-out without being explained to death.
In Circle of Enemies Ray is drawn back to LA from his home in the Seattle area. Someone or something is killing the members of his old gang and they blame him (with cause). It's good to see deeper interpersonal relationships in the book. Connolly is a lot like Hammett in not romanticizing anyone; they're all just people and none too good.
I've followed Connolly since the publication of his first novel (I discovered him through the great Big Idea essay he wrote for it). He's published a prequel novel for this series which I haven't gotten to yet, and is working on a fantasy novel at the moment. I've read a bit of his short fantasy fiction and it's deliciously dark, so I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.