Child of Fire (Twenty Palaces Series #1)

Child of Fire (Twenty Palaces Series #1)

by Harry Connolly

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Child of Fire (Twenty Palaces Series #1) by Harry Connolly

BONUS: This edition contains excerpts from Harry Connolly's Game of Cages and Twenty Palaces.

Ray Lilly is living on borrowed time. He’s the driver for Annalise Powliss, a high-ranking member of the Twenty Palace Society, a group of sorcerers devoted to hunting down and executing rogue magicians. But because Ray betrayed her once, Annalise is looking for an excuse to kill him–or let someone else do the job.

Unfortunately for both of them, Annalise’s next mission goes wrong, leaving her critically injured. With the little magic he controls, Ray must complete her assignment alone. Not only does he have to stop a sorcerer who’s sacrificing dozens of innocent lives in exchange for supernatural power, he must find–and destroy–the source of that inhuman magic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345514950
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/29/2009
Series: Twenty Palaces Series , #1
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 160,061
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Harry Connolly spent two years writing this debut novel. He has held a variety of jobs in the past, from customer service to landscaping to stay-at-home dad. He lives in Seattle.

From the Paperback edition.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It felt good to sit behind the wheel again, even the wheel of a battered Dodge Sprinter. Even with this passenger beside me.

 The van rumbled like a garbage truck, handled like a refrigerator box, and needed a full minute to reach highway speeds. I’d driven better, but I’m a guy who has to take what I can get while I’m still alive to get it. 

The passenger beside me was Annalise Powliss. She stood about five foot nothing, was as thin as a mop handle, and was covered with tattoos from the neck down. 

Her hair was the same dark red as the circled F’s I used to get on my book reports, and she wore it cropped close to her scalp. It was an ugly cut, but she never seemed to care how she looked. I suspected she cut it herself. 

She was my boss, and she had been forbidden to kill me, although that’s what she most wanted to do. “Where are we going?” I asked for the fourth time. She didn’t answer. She wasn’t talking to me except to tell me where to drive. To be honest, I didn’t blame her. She had good reason to hate me. 

At the moment, though, she and I had a job to do and all I knew about it was this: Annalise was on her way to kill someone. Maybe several someones. I was supposed to help. 

Because she wouldn’t talk to me, I was not entirely clear who had ordered her not to kill me or why they would bother. I was just the driver, and I didn’t even know where we were going. 

“Quarter tank,” I said as we approached a gas station. I hated to drive on less than a half tank of gas, but so far the boss had refused to let me fill up. Since she had the money, the title, and the physical strength to tear my arm off, she made the decisions. 

She glanced down at the scrap of wood in her hand— unpainted and unfinished except for the twisted nonsense shape made of several colors on one side— and said nothing. I stifled my irritation and drove past the pumps. 

We were westbound somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula. There were no other cars on the road. The streets were slick with misting rain, and the sky was growing dark as eve ning approached. After my years in Southern California, I’d forgotten how long it could take for night to fall in this part of the world. 

The road was one of those rural highways with one lane in each direction and a speed limit of fifty- five. I was staying below the limit because the van, with its balding tires, whining brakes, and load of equipment in the back, wasn’t equipped for the twists and turns of backwoods driving. 

I was enjoying the drive anyway. I had a key to the door and I could see the sky. It felt good to be a free man again. 

Up ahead, I saw a big cedar right up close to the road. Annalise was not wearing her seat belt. I was wearing mine. The speedometer on the Sprinter shuddered at the fifty- miles- per-hour mark. All I had to do was swerve. She and her little scrap of lumber would fly through the windshield and slam against the tree, while I would be safe in the arms of the shoulder harness and air bag. 

I didn’t try it. It wasn’t just the motorcycle Annalise kept on flimsy mounts in the cargo area behind me. In truth, I doubted that slamming face- first into a tree trunk would do more than muss her thrift- shop clothes. And piss her off. She’d survived worse. I’d seen it. 

I was pretty sure Annalise wasn’t a human being. She had been, once, I thought, but I wasn’t sure what she was now. 

A Volvo station wagon with luggage strapped to the roof drove eastbound toward us. As it passed, the painted scrap wood in Annalise’s hand flashed like a camera flashbulb. The design painted on the face of the wood began to twist like a nest full of snakes. 

Annalise lunged toward me. “Turn around!” she yelled. She had a high, funny voice more suited to a cartoon squirrel than a grown woman. “Turn around and follow that station wagon!” 

I was already doing it. I hit the brakes and twisted the wheel, letting the clumsy van fishtail as much as I dared. I heard crashing noises from behind me as Annalise’s things toppled over. We came to a rest, and I threw it in reverse. 

“Let’s go! Goddammit, hurry up!” 

“Keep your shirt on.” 

I backed up onto the shoulder, swung the wheel all the way around, and stomped on the gas. We crept after the station wagon. 

“Goddammit, Ray,” Annalise growled. She was very close to my ear, and I could hear the hate in her voice. “If you let them get away, I’m going to tear you apart.” 

“Oh yeah? Who are you going to find who can reach the gas pedal?” I said. My voice betrayed too much fear. When Annalise threatened to tear someone apart, she meant it literally. “This is your broken- down van. If we don’t catch them, you can blame yourself for not buying better wheels.” 

She settled back into her seat and glared through the windshield at the empty road ahead. 

I forced myself to smile at her. “Isn’t this nice? Our first job together and we’re getting along so well.” It was stupid and dangerous to taunt her, but I was afraid of her and I hated to show my fear. 

She ignored me, for which I was secretly grateful. We picked up speed, rounding curves and topping hills the van could barely handle. Night was coming and the forest around us was filling with shadows. I switched on the headlights, but Annalise snarled at me to turn them off. 

A red light flashed from between the trees on the right. I slowed. Annalise started to protest, but I shushed her. She didn’t look pleased about that. 

We came to a break in the forest— a gravel parking lot with a row of abandoned wooden stalls at the back. It looked like it had once been a roadside farmer’s stand. The station wagon was parked at the far end, red brake lights glowing. 

I parked a couple of car lengths away from the vehicle and jumped from the van as quickly as I could. Annalise was a little faster. She walked toward them, holding the fist- sized scrap of wood in her hand like a Geiger counter. The design on it writhed wildly; something about the car or the people in it was setting it off. 

All the wagon’s side doors stood open. A man and woman had their head and shoulders in the back doors, and they were working frantically at something. I checked their stuff. Among the things strapped to their roof was a vacuum cleaner in a clear plastic trash bag beaded with rain. These people weren’t on a camping trip. They were skipping town. 

All I could see of the man was a pair of extra- wide Dockers and the pale skin that peeked above his sagging waistband. Office worker, I thought. He must have heard us approach, but he didn’t turn to look at us. Was he completely engrossed, or did he have a weak survival instinct? Out of unshakable habit, my next thought was: Victim

No, no. I pushed the thought away. That was not part of my life anymore. 

From what I could see through the car windows, the woman was also wider than strictly necessary and also dressed for casual day at the office. They continued to struggle with something in the backseat. 

I felt a pressure against my chest, just below my right collarbone. Strange. I tried to ignore it and said, “Do you folks need any help?” 

The woman glanced up, noticing us for the first time. She had a terrified look on her face, but I knew it had nothing to do with Annalise or me. Her husband glanced back as he came out of the backseat. His glasses were smeary from the drizzle. “No,” he said too quickly. 

“We’re fine.” 

The pressure against my chest increased. 

Then their little boy climbed out of the car. 

He was a good- looking kid, maybe eight or nine years old, although I’m no judge. His hair stuck up in the back, and he had scrapes on both elbows. “I feel funny, Dad,” he said. He laid his hands on his chest and pressed. “I feel squishy.” 

Flames erupted around his head. 

I felt light- headed suddenly, and the pressure against my chest vanished. Before I could think about it, I ran toward them, stripping off my jacket. 
 The woman screamed. The flames around the boy’s head spread downward past his crotch. In an instant, his whole body was ablaze. 

The father fumbled for a jacket draped over the driver’s seat. I heard Annalise’s footsteps behind me. 

“Wow!” the boy said. “It doesn’t hurt, Daddy. It doesn’t hurt at all.” 

The father lunged at his boy with the jacket, knocking him to the gravel, then beating at the flames. I got there a half second later and slapped my jacket over the boy’s face and head. 

Rain steamed off the burning body. Beside me, the father made a noise like a strangled dog. I tried not to think about that. I tried not to notice the black scorch marks where the flames touched the ground. I tried not to think about what was happening. I just worked at the flames. I slapped at them, smothered them, wrapped them in my jacket. 

It was no good. The fire flared up and my jacket erupted in flames. I threw it aside and started to drag my shirt over my head. 

The kid laughed as though we were tickling him. Then his skin turned silver- gray and his whole head came apart. 

The flames roared. A wave of heat forced me back. The father rolled back onto his padded behind, almost bowling over his wife as she rushed around the car toward us. I let my backward momentum roll me onto my feet. 

Annalise stood nearby. She had unbuttoned the fireman’s jacket she always wore, revealing colored ribbons alligator- clipped to her clothes. She pulled a green one free. The small sigil drawn on the bottom glowed with silvery light. 

I turned back to the family. The boy’s head, arms, and chest had come apart and been transformed into a mass of fat, wriggling, silver- gray worms, each about the size of my pinkie. Then his stomach came apart, then his hips. 

It happened so fast I had no chance to think about it. I saw the worms twisting themselves against the packed gravel, trying to burrow into the earth. They swarmed over one another, heading west. Everything they touched turned black with scorched, greasy soot. 

I felt a tightness in my throat that might have been the urge to vomit, but there was nothing to bring up. I was completely hollow inside. 

The father struggled to his feet, and his wife tried to move around him to her son. The expression on her face told me she already knew the truth, already knew her son was gone, but she could no more stay away from his disintegrating body than she could leap up into the clouds. 

I tackled them. My shoulder sank into the father’s broad, soft belly, and I grabbed the mother around the waist. With all my strength, I pushed them away from the car. 

I didn’t look back at Annalise. I didn’t have to. I knew very well what those green ribbons did and how little she cared about collateral damage. 

The father and mother stumbled backward and fell over each other, hitting the gravel hard. I landed on their legs. I heard a whoosh of fire behind me. Annalise’s green ribbon had hit its target. I glanced back and saw flames, green ones this time, roar up around the wriggling mass that had once been a boy’s body. Where the flames touched them, the gray worms burst apart. 

The sphere of green fire expanded. I pulled in my legs, trying to get away, but I was too late. The cold green fire washed over me. 

I sucked in a lungful of air to scream my life away. It was too soon. Too soon. I looked down at my legs, expecting them to burn away to blackened, smoking bones. 

It didn’t happen. There was no pain, no damage to my legs, nothing. My clothes didn’t even burn. I felt nothing more than a slight pressure below my collarbone— a place the flames did not even reach. 

The flames receded. I was undamaged. So were the parents. I had pushed them out of range just in time. The worms had not fared so well. There was nothing left of them but gray slime. 

“Holy God,” the mother said, her voice thin and strained. Her face was slack and her eyes were glassy. If I hadn’t pushed her away, she would have been killed along with her son— another person struck down for no other reason than she was next to someone Annalise wanted to kill. 

Annalise took another ribbon from beneath her jacket. This one was blue. I had no idea what the blue ones did, but I knew it wouldn’t be good. 

Before she could use it, a force passed through me. It wasn’t a physical push. It struck my mind, my consciousness, what ever you want to call it, and it felt as though I was standing in heavy surf. It almost toppled me. 

At the same moment, I felt a twinge high on the right side of my chest again. 

Annalise staggered and winced; her blue ribbon fell from her hand. She felt it, too. The mother and father didn’t stagger. Their expressions went blank. 

Then it was gone. 

The couple stood and began to straighten their clothes. “You didn’t have to knock me over,” the man said. “I was only trying to help.” 


“We pulled over to help— oh, forget it.” He slapped at the dust on his pants. 

His wife clutched at his shirt and looked at me worriedly. “Douglas, let’s just go.” 

They started walking toward the car, glancing back at me as if I was a stray dog that might bite. 

They did not look the least bit upset by what had just happened to their son. 

After they got into their car and slammed the doors, Douglas started the engine. His wife leaned into the backseat and fussed with a baby sleeping in an infant seat. I hadn’t noticed the baby until then. Douglas turned on the music. Bobby McFerrin. Gravel crunched under the tires as they began to drive away, as though they were leaving behind nothing more important than some old fast- food wrappers. 

Annalise charged past me, lowered her shoulder, and slammed into the car’s front panel, just above the wheel. Her legs pumped. The fender crumpled and the car slid sideways like a tackling dummy until it tipped into a ditch. She stood and straightened her jacket, a scowl on her delicate little face. I had seen her strength before, of course. She could have flipped the car onto its roof or torn the door off and pinched off Douglas’s head. I assumed the only reason she hadn’t done either was that she hadn’t finished with them yet. 

From the Paperback edition.

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Child of Fire (Twenty Palaces Series #1) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 72 reviews.
Utahsquish More than 1 year ago
Saw a review by Jim Butcher on his web site about books to read while waiting for Ghost Story (new dresden files book) was not expecting much but was very happy to find a good read. Would recommend to any up and coming urban fantasy readers. Looking forward to finishing the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This series is an excellent read. It is incredibly action packed. The protagonist is delightfully not stupid. I sat down and read all 4 books in one week.
HARRYPOTTER86 More than 1 year ago
After "Turn Coat", my reading days have faltered. I've only read a few thrillers and reread the original Bourne trilogy. I've also read the new young adult novel, "Crocodile Tears" a million times. Still, I wanted to read a new fantasy thriller that would be great. Fortunately, I picked "COF". The cover is illustrated by the one who illustrates the cover of the DF series:Chris McGrath. It's really great. The blurb intrigued me. The review of Jim Butcher on the cover was the one that really urged me to pick it up. Trust me, you will devour it. I definitely did. The action is gritty but not extremely violent. The characters are flawed but likable. Ray Lilly is a really badass protagonist, but lacks the charm of Dresden. It's okay though. It's hard to believe it's a debut author's novel. Buy it. You'll love it. 9/10(setting and environment are dull, doesn't have many one-liners. Still, the action is great, the story is original, and the protagonists are hard to forget. One of my favorite thrillers.)
Ela_Delahay More than 1 year ago
Had me under its spell from the first few pages. I never wanted to put it down, and had it finished within a day of starting (a new record for me). I can't wait to read the next from Harry; I know it will be well worth the wait!
Steven_Bottacari More than 1 year ago
This is a terrific debut and series. There is a ton of action and Ray Lilly and Annalise have an interesting relationship to say the least. Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces world introduces some original and fun concepts. A must read for any Urban Fantasy readers. I read this book a couple years ago when it first came out but felt I had to write a review when I saw how few people have reviewed it. It's refreshing to see a male protagonist (14 of the 16 series I am currently reading currently have female protagonists).
sillydaffodilly More than 1 year ago
An addictive and original series. Each book is better than the one before.
ejmam More than 1 year ago
I can't thank the library enough for putting this on their "New and interesting" shelf, because finding Harry Connolly really made my year. He breaks a lot of molds in setting up his books -- the main character isn't the boss, doesn't have a lot of power, and has a past he is trying to outgrow. He uses his mind to figure stuff out while serving as the front man for a woman whose motives he's not sure he understands. I really enjoyed the book as an urban fantasy. It's about a man who has to save the world and who doesn't really have the tools he needs, but who can't let that stop him. Along the way he wants to keep looking himself in the mirror, but he also realizes that given a choice between saving one person and saving the world, you have to choose the second.
DuncanWatson More than 1 year ago
I read a review and bought this book. It is excellent, Ray is a great character and the book flows well. It is quite dark but though Ray is a convict, I found him very likable. I have enjoyed the entire series to date and recommend these books highly.
Dealen More than 1 year ago
Shorter then i would have liked. But it a good glimps into a new magical world. It has me intrested in the next book
rabidreaderWS More than 1 year ago
I bought Child of Fire because I read a few very good reviews of Child of Fire. BTW, Good reviews of a book usually plays a small part in my decision to read a book because sometimes professional reviewers will rave about a book that I think is so very, very boring - or I end up having completely different tastes than the reviewers. This book interested me from the first page. I liked the main character, who seems to be "living on borrowed time" (from the book blurb). Any minute he could die and his boss wouldn't mind, in fact would kill him herself if she wasn't under orders not to. Ray Lilly is working under Annalise, driving her around and doing whatever she says with no respect from her, or explanations. In fact she doesn't even care if he's hungry. Ray is an ex-con who used to steal cars. Throughout the story thoughts flit through his head about how easy it would be steal this car, or take that money. He's trying to stay away from crime, but things keep getting in his way, and sh- keeps happening. People end up dead around him. A lot of them deserve it, but still...he's always worrying about going back to prison. In Child of Fire the two of them are investigating a town where people are dying as sacrifices for magic use. Things go horribly wrong for them, and Ray keeps getting attacked and accosted by the sheriff, deputies and thugs that work for the local madam. The whole town is strange. One of the things that I look for in a book is intelligent dialogue, or at least non-lame dialogue. The dialogue in this book was pretty good, there was some sarcasm (something I can appreciate) and some joking around (always a plus) along with dialogue that actually adds to the plot (rather than just to fill up space, or over-explain). The sequel, Game of Cages will be released soon -possibly August 2010.
VicUrt7 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book it catches you from the first page,I couldn't put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first volume in Connolly's urban fantasy series is fast and tense, with a shockingly high body count. Ray Lilly is a terrific protagonist: snarky and street smart, with a healthy sense of self-preservation. His boss, Annalise, is scary, but also deeply sympathetic; we are left to wonder what happened to make her what she is. Recommended to fans of Kelley Armstrong, Devon Monk, Annie Bellet, and Shannon Mayer. -- lyradora
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seldom find stand alone books let alone a series that has a great mythology, strong character developement and well paced plot. This book exceeds my expectations as did the others in this series. Keep them coming please
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
About as strong a mystery as an episode of "Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego". In the first chapter, a very big clue as to what's going on is given to the main characters. Very shortly, they follow up on that clue, and the main bad guy is revealed. And then the bad guy goes into hiding, and the majority of the story is about the main character's attempts to find the villain again. Which could work if there was some variation to it. But everyone in town seems to fall into either the "I don't know where he is" or the "If I did know, I wouldn't tell you" camps. It gets to a point, where even if you take into consideration that the people in town can't remember what's going on, you start to not care about them being saved from their rather nasty situation.
Michael_Sw More than 1 year ago
The main character, Ray Lilly, is a convicted felon that stumbled across the supernatural and was pressed into service by the Twenty Palaces secret society. The society dedicates itself to halting incursions into earth by supernatural entities that prey on humans. There are all kinds of these entities, collectively known as predators. Ray is the expendable assistant to one of the society members, and their first case together involves horrifying events in a small coastal town. I normally like my modern fantasy with less horror and disturbing imagery, but the setting is so original that I loved the book anyway. Ray and his boss aren't running into run-of-the-mill vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc... The threats are unique and unpredictable, and Ray is as much in the dark as the reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
VK-RC-Tucson More than 1 year ago
Fast Paced, Interesting Read What do you get when you cross an evil child-burning alien, a kick a$$ wizard with a really disgusting way of healing her own injuries, and a tough-guy fresh from prison who knows better than to ever back down? A well-written, highly original urban fantasy that kept me interested and guessing right up to the end. Annalisa (the wizard) doesn't think much of her new sidekick, Ray, but that's OK because she doesn't expect him to last long. Tough and resourceful Ray sets about proving her wrong. What might have been a cardboard relationship jumps into vivid 3d as these two work in parallel and sometimes tandem to save the world. Child of Fire has a fairly straightforward plot...but an extremely complicated and obscure backstory (including unexplained history between Ray and Annalisa). At times I found the references to things that aren't explained (or even all that important) to the book a little irritating. But once I decided to settle back and let the details wash past, I found it a highly enjoyable book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This series kept getting better and better. It sucks when the business side gets in the way of good story telling.
Falkor552 More than 1 year ago
Fantastic series by a really gifted author. The series as a whole is witty and dark, and each volume kept me engaged throughout. Connolly dives right into the Urban Fantasy genre and really puts his own take on things. His world building and magic system are new and unique, and enjoyable to explore. His characters are real and flawed, and the writing is tight and really pulls you into the story. I really enjoyed this book, and those that followed. It's a shame I found it to late, and the publisher has decided not to order any more books in the series. I will be keeping an eye out for Connolly's next work, and you should be too.
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