"Orphans of Chaos"
(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew JUL 07, 2007)
In addition to Harry Potter , Orphans of Chaos reminds me of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels , the first two of a proposed trilogy, by Libba Bray. These books concern themselves with a group of English boarding school students who stretch their understanding of their own maturing as they delve into fantastic "other" realms that can be beautiful and treacherous by turns or simultaneously. Meant for grades eight and up, these books are steeped in the emerging sexuality of the young peope and do not hesitate to adroitly and delicately -- in keeping with Victorian sensibilities in which they are set -- explore sexual matters such as the onset of menses, incest, and Sapphism as they expertly weave a complexly layered tale with rich characters.
Orphans deals with the goings-on at an even more peculiar boarding school where all five (not just one) "young persons" possess supernatural gifts (each different); and so do the school staff!
"Young persons" got quotations marks because, indeed, as the author and others have noted, the ages of the students are in question. The Headmaster does insist to the "girl" narrating the book that she is fourteen years old, but has made herself look older with her powers, so I understand why a reader could peg Amelia's age there. At other times, the book suggests she is sixteen...or twenty...or perhaps ageless. Still, it is precisely the implied and in-practice adolescence of the characters that spices up "virgin," "teenage" Amelia's thoughts about sex running through the book. Author Wright, like Bray, clearly wants the "on the cusp" and "danger" flavors the age question brings forth. Although the subject of power and control in all aspects of relationships including the sexual surfaces in Bray's books too, Orphans of Chaos uses it as a more central theme. But Amelia's ruminations about what it might feel like to be "forced" in various contexts are mainly teases in this book when it comes to sex. Even a spanking takes place "off page." So, the mild erotic elements of this book are not cause for controversy, in my opinion. I, in fact, enjoyed their inclusion and think them a unusual but welcome topic. Still, I'm not sure I would suggest these (or the Bray) books to an eighth grader.
However, Orphans of Chaos is so much more than an odyssey of pubescent sexual discovery. The interplay of the powers each character possesses is fascinating. The students try to explain and demonstrate to each other how they interpret the world and can manipulate it. They also learn about powers which cancel theirs and up the ante of the cosmos/chaos chess game they realize they are embroiled in. Their discussion at breakfast in the middle of the book is priceless, not only to them, but to the reader. One of the difficulties with this beginning book of a series is that it does take its time defining the five pupils. For nearly half the book, I had trouble sorting out Colin, Victor, and Quentin; there seemed to be little to distinguish them. Fortunately, by the end of the book, they become fleshed out and one really does care about their fates and wants to jump right into the Fugitives of Chaos sequel.
The author's expositions about various ways to see shifting time and space are fascinating, and encourage the reader to try to visualize the fourth dimension and beyond. Rudy Rucker would be proud. Too, the spiritual is by no means neglected in this story; one of the book's best conversations takes place on that subject between Miss Daw and Amelia toward the end of the book. There is so much philosophical and theoretical science meat in Orphans of Chaos, and I love that.
The question of moral steadfastness and honor with regard especially to the giving and keeping of one's word is also a vital point recurring in this book, and that is a nice counterpoint to the relativity swirling in the environs. There is also some laugh-out-loud wit such as when Amelia says innocently to her friends, "Isn't Enyo a singer? I love her music." and Colin retorts, "Yeah, and Dino is the dog on the 'Flintstones'." Of course, as others have mentioned, Wright's command of mythology is also on display here and provides the retaining walls for the story. For those of us who had trouble keeping all those gods straight in school (or who didn't learn about them at all), the barrrage of names and identities (often two or three per character) causes confusion. Naturally, one can remedy that by brushing up.
When I read this, I had to wait six months before the next installment reached the bookstores. I really wanted to know what happened next as the five "young people" battle their "elders" and learn about being human and being much more than human at the same time. Orphans of Chaos does cut off rather abruptly and is by no means a stand-alone novel. Thus, I anxiously awaited book number 2...
- Amazon readers rating: from 43 readers
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"Fugitives of Chaos"
(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew JUL 7, 2007)
Orphans of Chaos introduced five boarding school students who discovered, beneath a physical and conditional facade, they were far greater beings than the awkward human teenagers they thought themselves. They were actually gods (as in Greek; as in thought to be mythical and thus unreal by twenty-first century earth dwellers; as in not unreal at all in this John C. Wright universe) taken hostage in a Titanic war! Spying on their "elders," the band of five learned of the Machiavellian motives for their forced confinement and amnesia. They fought their captors valiantly but appeared vanquished as Part One cliffhung.
Fugitives of Chaos portrays the fives' struggle to regain lost memory and powers, escape their god-too jailers, and penetrate the maze of politics and strategy underpinning the cataclysmic struggle between Cosmos and Chaos that holds the key to their fate.
Or perhaps it is the reverse, and the five "young people" hold the true key to the fate of the struggle between Chaos and Cosmos? They may also be mankind's and all life's only hope for survival!
Victor, the "robot" man; Amelia, the dimension-crosser; Vanity, the dream tunneler; Colin, the psychic; and Quentin, the witch (he may really be a she), all risk life and limb to breach the boundaries of the only place they remembered as home -- the old-fashioned school by a fishing village called Abertwyi. Believing themselves freed, they experience bits of the world such as hitchhiking, "Jerry's Fine Cafe" on Christmas, Paris stores, Vanity's magic sea craft, and luxury on "The Queen Elizabeth II" sailing for New York.
As in Orphans of Chaos, Fugitives serves up a cornucopia of sci-fi/fantasy ideas. Since all five "teenagers" interpret the world from their own separate paradigms, they describe their perceptions differently. Amelia, for instance, is the geometrician of the group, while Colin reckons through the psychic's angle of personal responsibility. These differences require a great deal of group communication to enable understanding and cooperation.
Indeed, a large component of both Chaos books published thus far is talk; the old writer's saw about showing rather than explaining isn't always observed. Not only "must" the five engage in long discussions with each other, but the sheer complexity of Wright's theme relegates other gods besides the teens to protracted explications. Although Amelia is the primary first-person narrator throughout the novels (so far anyway), other characters tell of adventures they had away from Amelia. Vanity, for instance, tells her companions about overhearing two Cosmos-camp gods -- Boreas and a Centurion Infantophage -- speculate at length about which Chaos god might try to seize the throne of "the entire sidereal universe." This dialogue means to enlighten the readers, along with the five, about the cast of potential threats in and the direction of the third volume of Chaos. It does, but keeping track of all those gods (a single entity is often referred to by several monikers) is a bit mind-spinning for readers less conversant than Wright with mythology.
And since the young heroes of this trilogy are ostensibly teenagers, they retain that maturity level by and large. So, there is a lot of adolescent ribald ribbing and sexual innuendo (though serious sexual aggression is left to the "adults" and even then is more threat than act), as well as general silliness and cluelessness. Usually, this banter is welcome, but at certain crises stages where the five waste precious time debating and smart-mouthing, one wonders why their adversaries don't press full advantage to smartly subdue them! One wants to cuff the kids into faster action. At least, I did.
The concluding threat in Fugitives of Chaos is a beaut! The five do engage in a bit of their usual fumbling and arguing, but they spring to action pretty fast. And what action. Kudos to the author for a riveting springboard into Titans of Chaos. I can't wait.
- Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews
Chapter Excerpt from Fugitives of Chaos at Tor/Forge
"Titans of Chaos"
(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew JUL 7, 2007)
This final volume in the Chaos Trilogy is a wonderful extra-dimensional Toad's wild ride for adults. Titans of Chaos is absorbing fun.
Our heroes -- Amelia, Victor, Colin, Vanity and Quentin -- markedly mature (in comparison with the previous books) as they fight fantastic battles against armies of Amazons, sirens, nymphs, mechanical steeds, and maenads under the command of lord speedy himself, Trismegistus, a.k.a., the Olympian, Hermes.
Before the bloody wars commence however, the five "young people" hide away to explore and expand their individual paradigms and powers, and Wright's imagination carries us along on a nimble romp through ways to bend "reality." Among the joys: soaring with Amelia on her "superwoman" flight; the reader's freedom-seeking spirit is unleashed too. Great entertainment also is the group's impromptu space adventure; they (especially Amelia) hope to plant a Union Jack where no one has trod before. However....
Titans of Chaos just bursts with the flowering of the titans' superhuman talents as the author spares no effort to describe the added geometries, spirits, physical properties, secret passages, and moral webs they perceive and harness in our humdrum 3-D world. This is gorgeous mind candy.
Titans of Chaos finishes as satisfyingly as one may dare to hope. While Orphans of Chaos gripped the reader with the dizzying audacity of new concepts and a horde of gods' identities, and Fugitives of Chaos filled in some blanks and kept a forward momentum, Titans of Chaos thrillingly fulfills the promises implicit in the previous books. This trilogy isn't for every science fiction or science fantasy fan, but it is a full-bodied accomplishment that some will truly adore. Enjoy the saga in its entirety now.
- Amazon readers rating: from 19 reviews
Chapter Excerpt from Titans of Chaos at Tor/Forge
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
The Golden Age Series:
- The Golden Age: A Romance of the Far Future (April 2002)
- The Phoenix Exultant (October 2003)
- The Golden Transcendence: Or, The Last of the Masquerade (November 2003)
Chronicles of Everness:
- Null-A-Continuum (May 2008)
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- John C. Wright Blog
- Tor page on John C. Wright
- Wikipedia page on John C. Wright
- SF Site interesting interview with John C. Wright
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Golden Age
- Bewildering Stories review of Orphans of Chaos
- SF Site reivew of Fugitives of Chaos
- BookLoons review of Titans of Chaos
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About the Author:
John C. Wright was born in 1961 and grew up in southern California. He is a graduate of St. John's College in Annapolis, home of the "Great Books Program." In 1987, he graduated from the College of William and Mary School of Law and was admitted to the practice of law in three jurisdictions (New York in 1989, Maryland in 1990 and Washington D.C. in 1994). His law practice was unsuccessful enough to drive him into bankruptcy soon thereafter. He also tried a stint as a newspaperman for the St. Mary's Today. He later found employment as a Technical Writer, which allowed him more time to write fiction.
He lives in Virginia with his wife, author L. Jagi Lamplighter and their three children.