In book two of the Twenty Palaces Society series by Harry Connolly, ex-convict Ray Lily is pulled away from his late night job stacking shelves at a local grocery store to aid an investigation of the paranormal. In Game of Cages, Wooden Man Ray has been called upon by the Society to look into strange happens in a small town aiding an investigator, Catherine, they are to go in, document their findings, and get out. Ray has his Ghost Knife with him, the one spell he knows how to use (somewhat), a piece of paper with scribbles on it that will cut a person’s spirit and clothing, but not their flesh. He has the ability to call it to his hand, some hand to hand combat experience in prison, the will to survive, and not much else.
While in the small rural village, Ray and Catherine discover that a Predator from the Empty Spaces is up for auction when it escapes from its cage and begins to infect the village people. Described as a blue dog of lights, a creature to whom poems are written and lives are given, Ray with his one spell and Catherine without any magic, try to leave the dangerous stuff for the Society Peers, but it doesn’t make any sense for them to leave. Trapped in a town with a Predator and no real help or magic to aid them, Catherine and Ray begin tracking down the origins of the blue dog in hopes of discovering how to get rid of it. As a Wooden Man for Annalise, someone who puts themselves in the line of fire for someone else, Ray doesn’t have a long life expectancy, still, if he is going down he’s determined to take the predator with him.
Game of Cages was just as exciting a noir urban fantasy story as Child of Fire. Ray is one of the most engaging characters I have read about in a long time. He has not magical abilities, except for a piece of paper, but he is street smart, thinks things through, and makes quick decisions that turn out to be the right ones. He is extremely capable, competent, and I was extremely nervous despite the series being centered on his character, that his job of Wooden Man would get him killed too soon. I was not so impressed by Catherine, although she is a competent investigator, seeking out truth by becoming a new person to every interviewee so that they wanted to tell her everything, she wasn’t nearly as badass as Annalise. And while Annalise does show up for a portion of the story, it was not nearly enough to satisfy my badass woman needs.
It was also extremely hard to keep track of all the villains (the bidders on the Predator), and after a while I had to give up on them and trying to figure out all their connections. Which was a pity, because I knew it had to play into the ending (which I like to try and figure out ahead of time), but the characters were never really given unique enough names to keep them apart. The German. Ooh, unique. The other issueI had was Ray Lily’s “I can’t hit a girl” problem. He has seen what these Predators can do, he has seen what the badassery of the woman in this subculture can do (i.e. kill him), and yet he has a hard problem knocking them about or killing them. If he had a problem doing this to the general population (which I guess he kind of does, but not on the same scale) I would be OK with his reluctance, but the fact is he treats these extremely badass women different because they are women. I’m not sure this does the woman, who have worked extremely hard to become so dangerous, any favors. I’d like to turn to Ray and say, “Don’t be stupid.” But I can’t, because he’s a character in a book.
I do love the world the Connolly has created and I, for the most part, love the characters he has created. Flawed human beings with some magical abilities, they fight the really really wrongs of the world even if it means creating some wrongs of their own. Ray is Harry Dresden without the innate magical abilities or formal detective training, he’s just a man with a Ghost Knife. He makes mistakes on a large scale, he triumphs on an even greater one. He is the best kind of character, one you root for and shake her head at, at the same time. A really interesting and engaging series, be warned, if you start this book you will have a hard time setting it down.
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