Caramella, a member of the car-stealing gang Ray used to run with in L.A., appears in his Seattle apartment one day, accuses Ray of killing her, and then promptly disappears, ghostlike. Things aren't what they seem, of course, as Ray discovers when he goes back to L.A. to find out what's happening to his old crew. Turns out someone from Ray's past is back, tinkering with magic, and endangering everyone. As interesting as it is to meet Ray's old companions and learn what his life was like before becoming Annalise's "wooden man" for the Society, these books only really come to life for me when Annalise and other members of the Society show up. When they do, Circle of Enemies kicks into overdrive.
The other aspect I love about Connolly's series are the monsters. Called predators, they're completely alien creatures that exist in the Empty Spaces, a dimension that exists alongside our own, and are summoned to our world by sorcerers looking to be granted a little extra power. Happily, Circle of Enemies contains a plethora of predator activity.
Yet as readers of this series already know, this is dark stuff. Very dark. There's noir, and then there's noir. Ray is in a constantly depressed state and never seems to have a truly happy moment. Even sex with an ex-girlfriend is meaningless and ultimately unpleasant (much like Ray's sex scene in the first novel, Child of Fire). Come to the Twenty Palaces series for some great characters, an extremely interesting magical system, Ray's ultra-cool ghost knife (his one magic spell), and an authentic noir sensibility, but not if you're looking for a modern fantasy where the darkness and horror are offset by wisecracking and romance. This is Jim Thompson dark, not Joss Whedon dark.
The novel concludes in such a way that the series is both satisfyingly wrapped up and open for more adventures. The author recently mentioned on his blog that it may be a while before we see more Twenty Palaces novels, but even the sliver of hope that there will be more has got me excited. This is a truly special series, and exactly the kind of fantasy that appeals to readers like me who involuntarily shudder when fantasy novels open with a map and end with a glossary.
But I do have one request of the author for when he returns to the series: Can Ray please have some fun, happy sex for a change? Even just once? He deserves it!