Review: Child of Fire by Harry Connolly
Child of Fire is Harry Connolly’s debut novel and the first in the Twenty Palace Society series. The protagonist and first person Narrator is Ray Lilly, a petty criminal who’s been “recruited” as the expendable lackey of a mysterious woman, Annalise Powliss, bent on destroying users of unregulated magic. Much collateral damage is incurred as Ray and Annalise track down the source of the magic in the small Northwestern town of Hammer Bay.
Alone in a dangerous jungle one might light a fire to keep the animals at bay. While the fire may very well keep you safe it has the potential to provide a beacon for the dangerous curiosities of those same animals or something worse. That’s the state of magic in the world of Twenty Palaces. Eldritch horrors are drawn to our reality by the careless use of magic by those that discover and become addicted to it. Very little about the Twenty Palace Society is revealed in this first volume, but they at least seem opposed to our reality being devoured by unknowable creatures from another dimension.
Ray’s journey from explicitly expendable grunt to unlikely hero is the element of the story that most held my interest. He knows little more about how magic works than the reader. He finds many uses for the one small offensive spell at his disposal and bumbles his way toward the truth at the heart of the story’s mystery. In a world where magic seems to be available to anyone with an open mind (and flexible morality), the character of the magic user may very well be more important than knowledge.
In many ways this feels like a Jedi training montage set in a Lovcraftian universe with some werewolves (and a single offhanded mention of vampires) thrown in as a B plot to remind us that it’s actually Urban fantasy. That said, it is a quick enjoyable read with plenty of action. Body horror, mass delusion, creepy toys, red meat and lots of fire keep things interesting. It also sets up a world that has potential to diverge positively from overused urban fantasy tropes.