The third installment in Harry Connolly’s Twenty Palaces series, Circle of Enemies returns us once again to the story of Ray Lilly. Continuing in the footsteps of its predecessors, Circle of Enemies is full of wonderfully gritty realism and a completely morally ambiguous protagonist who is a lot of fun to follow.
This time, it’s personal
Yes, the tagline is cheesy, but it’s the best way to sum up the initial premise of the novel. An ex-convict, Ray has survived more during his time with the Twenty Palace Society than any “wooden man” probably should have. Up to this point, Ray has been able to tough it out and has bounced back from everything thrown at him reasonably well. However, when members of his old gang back in Los Angeles begin falling victim to magical attack, the personal stakes are raised—and not only because Ray is being blamed for the attacks. A little bit of digging reveals that Wally King, the sorcerer who thrust Ray into this mess in the first place, is behind the attacks. Ray has to make a decision between his past and his responsibilities—and he has to do it fast, as the threat of Wally King and a bizarre new predator barrels ever closer.
There will be blood
As I mentioned, Circle of Enemies follows in the footsteps of it’s predecessors. This remains no less true in regards to the sheer amount of violence in the novel. There is a lot of it in Circle of Enemies, with people being murdered pretty much right and left. However, it’s not killing just for killing’s sake; most every death impacts the plot—if not necessarily Ray—in some significant way. And it’s not sugar coated. It is stark, blatant, and bloody. Connolly does a good job of keeping the violence interesting and plot-related, but if you’re not a fan of uber-violent novels, this may not be the thing for you. It didn’t bother me much, though.
Circle of Enemies is less physically action-oriented than the first two novels in the series. By its very nature, it is a lot more character-driven as we gain glimpses of Ray’s powerful and personal reactions to the events unfolding around him. Not only that, but he has gained a measure of morality over the course of the series, feeling guilt over some of the events that took place during Child of Fire and Game of Cages. All of these things make Ray more believable as a character, not to mention more human. On top of all that, this book bears witness to the evolving relationship between Ray and Annalise. It is no longer the boss-minion relationship of the first novel, but something… different, and it was a delight to see things unfold.
Why should you read this book?
Harry Connolly has done it again, folks. Circle of Enemies is hands-down my favorite of the Twenty Palaces series thus far. It is a novel full of dark realism, gritty violence, and a fantastic magic system. But more than that, it is a novel of deep insight and character development. As always, if you are new to the series, I suggest reading books one and two first, but you won’t be lost if you begin with this novel. All in all, a very fun and entertaining ride well worth your time.
Now, this is where I must be the bearer of bad news. If you haven’t yet heard, Circle of Enemies was the last Twenty Palaces novel under contract, and that contract was not renewed. Connolly has said that it will be the last Twenty Palaces novel for now, and he is currently moving on to other things. I cannot thank you enough, Mr. Connolly, for your time and effort in sharing your stories with us. It has been a wonderful journey. Here’s to the next one.