I have decided to start talking about what books I am reading as well as what games I am playing. I tend to read more often than play video games anyway. And who knows? You might want to read something I talk about.
Chronicles of Chaos (Orphans of Chaos, Fugitives of Chaos, Titans of Chaos) by John C. Wright
I almost didn’t make it through the first book. It starts rather slow and for the first third it is quite confusing as a great deal of backstory is thrown at the reader but with very little context. Only about halfway through do things actually start to fall into place and some sense finally prevails. It is at that point that I became hooked and remained that way until I read the whole series.
The story starts with five children living at a school. We are told pretty early on that they are special. For one, they are the only students at the school and there are nine faculty members for only five children. The second indication is that they have supernatural powers.
My first thought, since I started reading the series having no knowledge of it, was that this was going to be a Harry Potter ripoff. Special kids, special school. Blah, blah. Turns out though, that while these kids do have powers (which are revealed very slowly over the first book) the teachers do not want the kids using them or even to be aware they have them. Great lengths are gone to to prevent the children from using their powers including memory erasure and spell casting. Because, as it also turns out, these are kids are hostages and are kept at the school in order to stop a civil war between the gods.
Yes, gods. What if every mythology was right? What if all the gods from every religion and faith were real? Only, maybe instead of thousands of gods, there are only about a hundred or so. They appear differently to different faiths but are real. Each is in charge of different things. Mars – Ares – is in charge of War, Cupid is in charge of Love, so on and so forth.
The children are not human and they are not gods. They are from Chaos (hence the book titles), a place divided into four realms that exists outside of reality. The people of these realms are held in check by the fact that this school holds these kids and the gods are held in check by no one being to use or kill the kids unless they want to risk a war with one of the realms of chaos.
You can imagine then the trouble that happens when the children escape and try to live on their own while fleeing from both Chaos and Cosmos (the reality of the gods). This journey fills most of books two and three.
I rather liked most of the overall story. The fact that the names of deities are thrown around with abandon is neat. Mr. Wright took great care to show how all the different mythologies fit together and his world building is quite good. Even better are the divisions of Chaos into what he calls paradigms.
Each paradigm is represented by one of the children (with the fifth being a combination of two). Magic, Emotion, Fantasy Science and Low Science. Those are my divisions, by the way, not the ones the books use. The main character – Amelia Armstrong Windrose – can see into and interact with higher dimensions. I label her as High Science, as in science fiction. Victor Invictus Triumph controls organic things and can create nearly any life or modification therein – low science. Colin Iblis mac FirBolg’s powers come from, in my opinion, emotion. Whatever he believes strong enough in, happens. If he wants to run fast enough to stop a bullet, he can, but he must absolutely believe he can do it. Quentin Nemo controls magic. The traditional magician with his staff and power over spirits and demons. The final child, if you have been counting, is Vanity Bonfire Fair. She not is not a child of Chaos but has the power to create tunnels or doors that can lead wherever she wants as well as know when she is being watched, regardless of distance.
This is what held my interest. “Magic” use in the world of these books is governed by four different methods. You can either manipulate dimensions, making yourself two dimensional to walk through a wall. You can create an organic acid resin to melt the wall. You can summon a demon to knock the wall down. You can even believe that the wall is not there and thus walk through it. But you can’t do it all. The trick is that there is a rock-paper-scissors mechanic to the whole thing. Each power trumps another power while being neutral to a third. That was why there were nine teachers. Two of each power and one to guide all of them.
I would almost recommend this to children to read if it were not for the nudity. For a reason I cannot figure out, the main character must be nude in several scenes in each book. No sex actually happens but nudity plays too large of a role. Added to this is the fact that one of the teacher lusts after the two girl characters and goes so far to kidnap the main character several times (across all the books) in order to “marry” her so that they can finally have sex. It is rather bizarre. I am not sure if this is some comment on female sexuality playing a part in the growth of a girl into a woman or if the author just really likes to have naked women in his books.