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Game of Cages by Harry Connolly

Game of Cages is a sequel to Child of Fire, and so Book 2 (or 3 depending on how you are counting) of the Twenty Palaces series by Harry Connolly. In many ways, I think Game of Cages rather better than Child of Fire.

For these purposes, I need to repeat thoughts about the Aristotelian unities of time, place and action — there’s more detail on this in the discussion of Bloodline. Essentially, the classical approach is to have all relevant action take place in one continuous period of time and in the same place. For a theatrical production, this gives you a slice of “real life” rather than having to chop and change from one scene to the next.

Books, of course, are never limited by the need to reset a scene on the stage. Cinema is also going through a revolution with the increasingly common use of CGI. Anything can be projected on to a blue screen and so signal a change of scenery. But thinking abut the way thrillers in most media are put together, they aim for their effect by building to a climax against the clock, e.g. because the heroes only have fourteen hours to save the Earth and so no time for sex or, if you prefer it shorter before you get to the celebratory sex, four hours to stop the bomb going off with a Cardinal killed every hour as an appetiser — no pressure there, then.

So back to Game of Cages. Once Ray Lilly, our hero, and the investigator arrive in Washaway (not the beach) in the North Cascades, all the action apart from the epilogue is located in or around in the town — almost as though the town itself becomes a cage. Similarly, allowing for odd hours of snatched sleep, the action is continuous. As they come to the location of the auction where the predator is to be sold, the dynamic duo find the now-broken cage being used to transport the interdimensional beast and, from then on, it’s a dash to save as many townspeople as possible and kill the predator (BTW there’s a larger cage in the outhouse where it had been kept for years). This focus on a single location creates a sense of claustrophobia and allows more suspense to build as we count down to the predator getting all the townsfolk together in one place for a snack.

Harry Connolly and Jim Freivogel playing our hero, Ray Lilly. Copyright © 2010 Wyrd, LLC

Pairing our hero with a human who has no apparent magical skills, resets the balance of the book. In Child of Fire, our hero is the bullied Wooden Man with Annalise the boss. Now it’s for our hero to make the running without a powerful magician to back him up. This is both a strength and a weakness. In any confrontations with others having magical skills or in fighting the predator itself, it all comes down to the one guy. We watch him learning fast and adapting. Yet the weakness becomes more apparent as first the appropriately named Pratt arrives on the scene (perhaps the word doesn’t have the same pejorative impact in American English) followed later by Annalise. This should re-establish the pecking order, leaving it to the pros from Dover to solve the case. Except, in the end, it all comes down to our hero. Perhaps this is as it should be since he is the hero. But when he succeeds, it says something interesting about who really does hold the balance of power.

This is where the missing first book becomes really frustrating. There must be something about the way in which the hero cast the spell forming the ghost knife that gives him a literal and metaphorical edge. It cannot have been a routine spell that an amateur would cast. Whatever was done must have imbued the spell and the one who wields it with above average power, perhaps amplified because he has physically been into the Empty Spaces from or through which the predators come. This is the only explanation that makes any sense and, presumably, it means he has the power to become a magician in his own right as the series continues. If this is not the intended direction, then the series may well come off the rails as our human, armed only with a single knife and protected by his tattoos, takes on and beats increasingly powerful opponents. Somehow, I don’t see this character as a Batman in the making.

There’s also a potential problem in the pipeline as Government must be increasingly interested in the man and his current backers, the Twenty Palaces Society. Obviously, it’s very useful to Government to have this type of organisation as a shield (assuming the President and his merry men accept the reality of magic and the threat from predators). But when there’s so much power available, the Twenty Palaces Society could also be seen as a threat to established human power structures. In future books, the point of view must widen to include the broader political situation. The death count in Washout was significant. Many are going to argue that the defensive play was as destructive as the predator’s eating. If such incidents are going to become more common, perhaps formal rules of engagement will be required (even though they will probably be ignored when the fighting begins).

So this is good page-turning action that manages to keep the tension going until the last gasp. It will be interesting to see how well Harry Connolly keeps the series going — episode 3 (or 4) being titled Circle of Enemies. I’m optimistic!

For more pictures from the shoot preparing the promotional book trailer for Circle of Enemies, go to the Wyrd site.

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  1. December 6, 2010 at 10:50 pm

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