Fast Forward Book Review for October 2010
Game of Cages
New York : Ballentine Books, 2010
by Colleen R. Cahill
Genre labels, like covers on books, can be misleading. After all, what is the difference between dark fantasy and horror; the line is often personal taste. In the case of Harry Connolly’s Game of Cages, the second Twenty Palaces novel, I found a tale of suspense and danger without becoming a gorefest (something I never enjoy). This is also a book as much about human relations as it is about monsters and magic, making it a quite intriguing read.
Ray Lilly is surprised he is not in jail as his last adventure included “arson, assault and murder.? Instead, months later he is working in a supermarket, half hoping the Twenty Palace Society, a group that hunts down those dabbling in dangerous magic, will contact him again. When Catherine Little from the Society suddenly appears, Ray is at first elated “Finally, something worth living for!? but her secretive and disdainful attitude cause him to wonder if it is worth it. Sent to check out the auction of a predator, one of the “weird supernatural creatures out of the Empty Spaces? Ray is not expecting trouble and certainly not before they reach the house. After discovering two crashed vehicles, it is soon clear the predator has escaped its cage, leaving behind four bodies which seem to have killed each other. With no clues as to where the alien being is, Ray and Catherine find several groups from all over the world - and one very strange old woman who extremely attached to her “sapphire dog? With a description of “eyes like stars?and “delicate as thistledown? it is clear this is the predator. Now on the loose, it has the ability to twist people into jealous worshipers who will literally kill anyone else who even looks at it. Ray and Catherine, very low on the Society’s hierarchy, are facing a huge problem that neither of them is equipped to handle, and never mind the sorcerer who is also calling up horrors to ensure he gains hold of the predator.
Connolly has written a thriller, but not one that glamorizes violence; while the body count is high, it is never presented as a game score. Ray is one of the main reasons I find this book interesting; here is a man who spent his youth “stealing cars and getting high? but now wants to make a difference in the world. It is also clear that he would rather not have innocents caught in the cross fire, but rarely has a choice about that. The Society itself is of major interest; the members and their style of magic is different and while it is clear that they may not be model citizens, they do protect the larger world from a very dangerous threat.
This is the second Twenty Palaces novel, but you need not read the first book to fully enjoy this one, and if you should want to, Child of Fire is still available. Fans of Jim Butcher and Dean Knootz will find Game of Cages a great book, with plenty of excitement and thrills; this is one worth ignoring the cover and diving in.