Twenty Palaces

Twenty Palaces
Twenty Palaces  
Author(s) Harry Connolly
Cover artist Christian McGrath
Language English
Genre(s) Contemporary fantasy
Urban Fantasy
Publisher Del Rey Books
Publication date September 2009–present
Media type Print (Paperback)

Twenty Palaces is a series of fantasy/mystery novels written by Seattle author Harry Connolly. He provides a first person narrative of each story from the point of view of the main character, Ray Lilly, as he recounts his adventures working for the Twenty Palace Society. Although the series is almost always placed in the urban fantasy genre, the stories so far have mostly taken place in rural areas in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, as well as Los Angeles.



In the Twenty Palaces universe, magic is real, along with supernatural creatures such as demons, spirits, and werewolves. Ray Lilly works for a mysterious organization of sorcerers known as the Twenty Palace Society. Their aim appears to be using any means necessary to keep magic out of the hands of anyone other than their own members. Their primary concern is with spell books, which are the source of magic, and with preventing magic users from summoning creatures known as predators from an otherworldly dimension called the "Empty Places."

Child of Fire

The initial book of the Twenty Palaces series, Ray Lilly is the wooden man(a decoy expected to die to allow a sorceress to deal with a predator or enemy sorcerer) and driver of Annalise Powliss, and is under a standing death mark from the Twenty Palace Society. Driving her to Hammer Bay, Washington, Ray helps Annalise uncover a sorcerer, the CEO of Hammer Bay Toys, and his enslaved predator, a Wheel of Fire, that allows Hammer to influence the future. The Wheel is slowly eroding its bindings, enough so that it begins to kill the children of Hammer Bay, using their bodies to build an offspring. Ray eventually kills Hammer and isolates the Wheel. Annalise is horribly wounded during this fight, and Ray manages to resurrect her by force feeding her meat.

Game of Cages

Ray, detached from Annalise and inscribed with several new spells(presumably a reward for saving Annalise's life in Child of Fire), is paired with Catherine Little, an investigator of the Society. Sent to investigate rumors of a predator being sold at auction, Ray and Catherine arrive too late to interrupt the sale, and that the sapphire dog, a predator that feeds by forcing victims to kill one another, has escaped. Ray eventually overpowers two other sorcerers who arrive to contest for the dog, and kills the predator itself, again saving Annalise's life, who arrives after the presence of the predator is confirmed.

Circle of Enemies

Ray is contact by former associates in Los Angeles, and discovers all of his friends have been infected with predators to render them invisible. Ray's old nemesis inscribed them the spells to protect them from the predators in henna, which gradually fades, resulting in Ray's friends eventually being devoured. Again working for Annalise, Ray eventually finds the home of a traitor to the Society, and finds the Book of Oceans hidden in the home. Ray reads the Book of Oceans but refuses the gift of magical power. At the end of the book, after killing his nemesis, Ray is invited to the First Palace along with Annalise, as Ray is one of the few people, including the peers, who has actually managed to secure any recent victories.


  • Ray Lilly is an ex-con who works as a driver and "wooden man" for the Society. His job is to distract enemies so that sorcerers can carry out their duties. Ray's only spells are a "ghost knife," a small piece of paper covered in packing tape and laminated, and magical tattoos drawn on him by Annalise. The ghost knife can cut "ghosts, magic, and dead things", and when it passes through a person it saps their will. The tattoos covering Ray's torso and arms protect him from most physical harm and some spells, cause him to be forgotten by people he encounters, and may have other properties about which Ray is not yet aware. During 'Circle of Enemies' Annalise convinces a peer to give Ray the golem flesh spell, which renders Ray impervious to most injuries provided he eats red meat, which he must now do on a daily basis or begin to die. This also means Ray could live up to 500 years or longer. Ray has also read 'The Book of Oceans', and while he refused the infusion of knowledge that would've rendered him a primary, it is unclear if this has had any effect on him.
  • Annalise Powliss is a peer with the Twenty Palace Society, and the usual person to whom Ray answers directly. She has super-strength and invulnerability, as well as the ability to heal from extensive wounds, and carries disposable ribbons that summon "spirit fire". Although she appears to be around twenty years old, she is at least 50 to 60 years older.
  • Catherine Little is an investigator for the Society. She has no magical powers, and is solely responsible for finding indications of possible predator or magical activity and report in to the Society.


Magic in the universe is almost entirely dependent on rituals or artifacts created by rituals. These can take many forms, and can be performed by anyone with the proper spell form and artifact, though most spells cause incredible pain for the caster during the casting, and are treated like part of the sorcerer who casts them. Ray refuses to loan his ghost knife to an investigator, telling her "you might as well ask me for my thumb." Spells are granted in visions to people who possess one of the three true tomes of magic, becoming "primaries."

There are only three real tomes of magic in the entire world. And they're not really books, but I'm getting ahead of myself. When you read one, you receive visions, dreams. When the sorcerer wakes, he writes down the visions as accurately as he can remember them, and these people we call primaries.
—Annalise Powliss, Game of Cages

As spells or artifacts are then passed from hand to hand, they grow weaker, meaning the same spell performed by a primary is more powerful than the same performed by his apprentice, a secondary. Spells are also known to appear on their own in established spell books.

Publishing history

The Twenty Palaces books are published by Del Rey Books, a branch of Ballantine Books owned by Random House. The first volume, Child of Fire, was released in 2009 in paperback; the next novel in the series, Game of Cages was released in 2010, also in paperback. The third novel, Circle of Enemies was released in 2011. The covers are painted by Christian McGrath, who also does covers for The Dresden Files series. In October 2011, Harry Connolly announced that the series was cancelled due to poor sales.[1]


Both Child of Fire and Game of Cages have garnered generally positive reviews, and Connolly summarizes and links to both positive and negative reviews at his blog, Twenty Palaces. Child of Fire received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was subsequently named to their top 100 books of 2009 list.[2] Game of Cages received a starred review as well, and though it did not make the 2010 list, it was named as one of four honorable mentions by the Publishers Weekly sci-fi/fantasy/horror reviews editor.[3] The books are often compared to The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, but there are several differences, including the fact that the Twenty Palaces books do not take place in a city.

Critics of the novels are generally concerned by the fact that not enough information has been given about the Twenty Palace Society and the way magic works in that universe.


External links

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