I had a hard time writing this one up — I’m not sure why. I tossed out 98% of what I prepared to post yesterday and came up with this instead. I think the book deserves something better, but this is what I have.
by Harry Connolly
Series: Twenty Palaces, #4Kindle Edition, 109 pg.
Radar Ave Press, 2017
Read: December 20, 2017
Annalise Powliss is a powerful sorcerer who travels through the US on behalf of the Twenty Palace Society keeping magic out of the wrong hands — generally by killing the owners of those hands (and anyone standing too close to them). Ray Lilly is her Wooden Man — an assistant whose primary responsibility is to distract her foes, draw their fire, and die in her stead. It’s not the world’s best gig, but he’s an ex-con and doesn’t have a lot of prospects (there are other reasons, but you should read them for yourself). The thing is, Ray’s worked a lot with Annalise without dying, which makes him a remarkable example of a Wooden Man.
So the two of them have been called to the Society’s HQ in Europe so The Powers That Be can meet Ray, examine him and . . . well, he’s not really sure what to expect. Naturally, while they’re there, the pair have an opportunity to take out a supernatural bad guy in their spare time.
This is a very different kind of story for this series, the focus isn’t on the magical threat, but on the Society itself. Yes, there are Predators to be dealt with — but that’s almost a side-note. The Twisted Path gives Ray, as well as the reader, a much greater understanding of the Society. Not that I ever had a complaint about the focus in the earlier stories, but reading this pointed out what I wasn’t seeing before. Initially, you care about the Society’s mission in that, 1. they’re saving the world, blah, blah, blah; but primarily, 2. because you want Ray to succeed (or at least survive) and therefore you want to see the Society’s goals met. Now, I think I have a greater investment in the whole organization.
There’s just so many things I loved about this — Ray, the small-time crook from the Western U.S. being in Europe, trying to cope with all the differences that he never realistically expected to see. Just his reaction to walking on stairs that have existed for longer than the U.S. was a great paragraph. Ray’s initial response to the peers he’s called was so perfect, that I know it brought a smile to my face. Connolly did all the little things right, and that makes it so much easier for the reader to care about the bigger things. He’s probably done that throughout the series, but in a full novel, it’s easier to not pay attention to those details so you can get on with the story — so you can find out what’s going on. In a novella, you can feel like you can take your time.
Not only that, Connolly structured this novella in an atypical fashion — it allowed him to do some things with the story that were natural, organic, and not-cheating, but were able to take the reader by (some degree of) surprise that he wouldn’t have been able to in a straight-forward beginning-to-end structure. It’s possible, really, that this is the best writing of Connolly’s career — he’s had books that I liked a bit more, but I don’t know if he’s written anything better.
Short, fast, action-driven, but with a lot of things to chew on — this is a great UF novella for readers of this series. I don’t know how it’d work as an introduction to the series, maybe fine, but I think you’d be better off with Circle of Enemies. I bought it within minutes of hearing that The Twisted Path had been released and re-shuffled my week’s plans to read it as soon as I could — which were probably the best moves I made this week.
It’s been years since I last read one of the novels (or the novelette), so I spent a little more time than I’d have liked trying to remember why we encountered some of these characters before or how this compared to the style of the others. I’ve got to add the series to my re-read pile, I want to revisit this world soon. If you haven’t spent time with it — go grab Circle of Enemies (don’t read the prequel until after you’ve read #3, if you ask me), there are few, if any UF worlds like this.