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Twenty Palaces Paperback – December 17, 2013
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About the Author
Harry Connolly spent two years writing his first novel, Child of Fire. He has held a variety of jobs in the past, from customer service to landscaping to stay-at-home dad. He lives in Seattle.
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Twenty Palaces is possibly the best prequel ever written. It's so good that I picked the Omnibus (3 Twenty Palace novels in one hardbound cover) back up the next day to reread every single book in it; with even more enthusiasm than I had had the first time round… less than 5 days earlier.
Damn right JB endorsed it! There's NOTHING else out there that is anywhere near the quality, the innovation and the ability to capture the imagination and suck you right into the story like you actually live there. This is a dark, often disturbing, innovative look into the world of magic in urban fantasy that you have never seen before and most likely never will again. In this world, magic is forbidden for all but a few and even the knowledge of it's existence, much less knowledge of it's use can get you killed for it. The "enforcers" of this rule are fierce, vicious and don't care at all about collateral damage… as long as it's mundane ("vanilla type humans"), maybe even ESPECIALLY if it's mundane. This book is about Ray's discovery of this world along with the Twenty Palace Society and about how he becomes a magic user and manages not to get himself killed for doing it.
Our protagonist Ray, is the guy caught in the middle. Although he's done his share of killing as well and he's a one-spell-wonder who always seems to get himself out of all the crap that gets thrown at him with his own skin relatively intact (sound familiar?). I like Ray Lilly. I like him A LOT. He's the guy with a conscious whose boss Annalise is possibly the toughest, fiercest, bad-ass enforcer we've seen in any world… Omnoc Security would want her, they'd want her bad and she has moments when she makes our fierce and dangerous Miss Gard look like a Mickey Mouse Club reject (well, maybe not THAT bad). Her world view is so "shades of gray" that I spent entire books trying to decide if she was a "good guy", a "bad guy" or somewhere so far into the middle that good and bad don't even count any more. But Ray Lilly calls Annalise "Boss" so we know she's there to stay. What we don't know is whether or not the Society they work for is actually good or bad… something you can count on pondering about once you've finished all the novels.
Twenty Palaces is the story of how Ray got his start working for the Twenty Palace Society. A story he thought was going to be about redemption and a new beginning with the boyhood best friend he shot and crippled by accident… Sadly, this was never to be as. Instead of redemption he got blood, death, destruction and a new job (doing what exactly, he's not quite sure of just yet). None of which makes him feel any better about himself and none of which was what he wanted or planned. But Ray has some familiarity with the dark side of life and as such has learned how to roll with it pretty well. Which is good because within the pages of ALL the books Ray keeps getting beat-up, kicked around and more than a little lost as he tries to work out the rules he has to live by, what his role in all this really is and who actually has his back and who wants to put a knife in it. You know, your typical, everyday problems that we live to watch our heroes try to find a way out of!
Oddly enough, going back to the beginning is what finally cemented me to Ray. Made me understand him better, like him more and even to understand his ambivalence towards his new "boss"… Someone who this book also manages to make more sympathetic. It's a complex and fully realized world that HC has created and it looks at magic in a way that no one else has ever done. Or ever will again I suspect. So go buy the Omnibus FIRST, read that FIRST and then read the prequel. Because the prequel put everything that came before it on it's ear in a way I never saw coming (despite the foreshadowing) and that experience alone is worth more than you can imagine in a world currently empty of new Dresden stories.
This is a series I'd pay big money to order on pre-release. A series I would follow with as much love and fascination as I do J. Butcher's Dresden series and both P. Briggs series. But this is a series so unique and so compelling it defies belief that this is all we're going to get. HC's publishers told him there's no room for a series like this and if they won't pay or publish, then he can't write it. I'd like to know who that batshit crazy person was because I've spent YEARS looking for something this challenging and this involving to read in-between Dresden releases. Let's face it, WE ALL HAVE! There's just too much mediocrity and too little genuine innovation (much less stellar writing, pacing, story & character development) in the urban fantasy world. Harry Connolly managed to create a storyline that brought all of that and more and we've lost all of it to some stupid publishing company with absolutely no vision and obviously no experience with the genre. So buy what there is of The Twenty Palace Society novels available. In my estimation they could have gone on for at LEAST another 4-5 books and probably even more. But buy what there is because it's all worth owning, you'll read it and want to read it again and it is truly original enough to have warranted all the good things the Amazon readers have said about it!….
Ignore the critics of the book, everybody makes mistakes. But don't let not buying this series and this book be one of yours. ; - )
Ray Lilly is not a peer. He's a beefy guy with not much intellectual curiosity and a penchant for making bad choices and having worse luck. Those who've read the series have met Ray before, and they've heard a bit about his background and how he came to work for a diminutive but powerful peer named Annalise. This short digital novel brings Ray's backstory to life, and it does so with as much grit and gusto and even more style than we've seen from Connolly in the past.
It's a violent and gory book, with shootings, explosions, smashed skulls, burning buildings, amputated limbs, giant flying worm things, stale pizza, and rampant cannibalism. It's also the best possible introduction to the series. It doesn't assume any knowledge of the earlier novels, and it shows a good deal more polish than any of them. It gives Ray's guilt and fatalism -- both of which are constant across the series -- a firmer foundation, and it fills in details about his world and how it works. I think it also locates the series more clearly with respect to Lovecraftian horror, influenced, perhaps, by recent dabbling in that arena by people like Elizabeth Bear and Charles Stross.
Bottom Line: The Twenty Palaces series is not for everyone. It's dark, bloody, fatalistic, and doesn't really go anywhere. The novels are also early works by a writer who is himself a work in progress. Fortunately, Connolly's writing skills have improved noticeably over the years, and his protagonist is an appealing working-class guy who often does the wrong thing but usually -- not always -- for the best of possible reasons. Furthermore, his bad choices are often the result of being kept in the dark by higher-ups who release their information on a need-to-know basis and figure he doesn't need to know. Who doesn't hate that? Recommended for fans of the series and for newbies who are aficionados of dark, action-oriented urban fantasy.
The characters are interesting and their stories are hinted to have interesting back stories. The main problem I have with this entire series is that the pacing of It goes to up to 11 very fast and stays there. I prefer hills of increasing tension and valleys of information and emotional depth. The last book in this series shows real growth
They are not; especially Ray Lily, given a lot of emotional width or variety of responses. That said it has a bunch of wonderful story touches and I really enjoyed it.
I don't need my main characters in fantasies to be female. Although I really want to get into Annallise's head; she's drawn as being deeply traumatised.