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Circle of Enemies by Harry Connolly

In the distant past when idioms were being formed out of the chaotic maelstrom of inchoate language, we lifted ourselves out of the slough of despond with thoughts like, “. . .with friends like this around me, why does it feel like a circle of enemies?” So here we go with the third (or fourth) outing by Harry Connolly in the Twenty Palaces series for Ray Lilly. As you will gather from the intro, it’s titled Circle of Enemies and it represents both good news and further fuel for my pet peeve.

So Ray, our wooden man, is provoked into action and, for once, initiates contact with the secret society, asking for help from his “boss”, Annalise Powliss. Having sent out the SOS, he jumps in his car and drives from Seatle to LA, a journey that takes him back to his old stamping ground and to the people who were variously friends and/or accomplices. Once he arrives, the action comes thick and fast as he navigates the narrow path between past friendships and current enmities. In part the moral conundrum for him to resolve is whether he should kill his erstwhile friends if he cannot save them (from themselves as much as from the predators). However, there are so many people who wander in and out of view during this novel that there’s little time to get to know any of them and no incentive to invest any empathy in caring what happens to them. There’s a lot of action, as I said, but although we are advancing steadily towards the end, this book feels less satisfying than the other two.

Harry Connolly giving his PC the finger

I suppose we see Ray developing his use of the ghost knife but, even though it’s applied in a slightly different context and against different predators, it getting to be repetitive. Ray can slash with it and, now with the power of his mind, make it whoosh around and so fly through “things” at a distance which is convenient. But the fighting is always set up as a kind of Jim Bowie encounter with our hero wielding a fixed-blade knife against various armed (or tentacled) enemies. The development comes in two different ways. He’s given a major new spell. This is like the existing tattoos in being essentially passive although, over time, it’s going to give him more resistance to injury and expend his life expectancy. Secondly, he’s making progress into the Twenty Palaces Society. This is not before time and, even now, it’s just a promise of a more detailed understanding in books to come. But Harry Connolly has at least realised the series will die unless he gives Ray Lilly better skills and some insight into exactly what the Society is and what it’s really fighting for. I think we’re rather past the altruism in defence of the planet stage. Everyone has their own agenda and keeping the world safe is certainly on their list of things to do, but. . .

Now we come to my continuing frustration with this series. As I have been at pains to point out in previous reviews, this is actually the fourth book but, so far only three have been published. In this episode, we are back in the place where it all started and meet some of the people who were involved in Ray’s initial trip into Empty Spaces, his creation of the knife spell and his first meeting with Annalise. Yet we are expected to swallow the usual backstory references without being given the basic courtesy of reading the first book in which it all happened. My reason for being particularly depressed is that, to my knowledge, two offers have been made to publish the first book, but these were refused. Frankly, I cannot imagine why this author should have such a reluctance to get the first book out of his bottom drawer and into the world as a published book.

The result of all this is a book with a lot of pace and action, but little involvement. There’s real hope for the metanarrative’s development if Harry Connolly carries through with his promise to allow us inside the Twenty Palaces Society and Ray learns about how to create and use more spells. Simply repeating the same fighting technique is already boring. We positively need something new. So, if you have not already done so, read the first two published books in this series. They are genuinely worth the effort. If you do choose to read Circle of Enemies, see it as marking time until the author moves the plot along into better pastures to explore. Hopefully, everything will get back on track in the fourth (or fifth) book as and when it appears in 2012. I will certainly read it, but the luster has started to come off the brand image.

Here are the reviews of the first two in the series: Child of Fire and Game of Cages.

  1. Little Valkyrie
    December 11, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Sadly, it seems that the series has been cancelled thanks to low sales, so no book 4 and 5, at least not for a while:

    burger-eater.livejournal.com/881548.html

    • December 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      That’s a shame. It started so well. Let’s hope Connolly’s obvious talents can pick up a contract for some other books.

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