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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Orphans of Chaos by John Wright

Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright. New York: Tor, 2005. ISBN: 0-765-31131-3. EAN: 978-0- 765-31131-3.

I had a difficult time deciding whether this book should be classed as science fiction or fantasy. I eventually decided on fantasy, and only as I started to write this review, did I notice that on the cover, partially obscured by the Tumwater Library label, were the words “A Fantasy Novel.” So I guess I guessed right. Or Wright, if you prefer.

I decided on fantasy because the basic storyline revolves around a scenario in which the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, i.e., supernatural beings, actually exist, and are—we eventually learn—the prime movers and shakers behind the events that are unfolding. I had leaned toward science fiction, because the supernatural powers that these beings possess are at least sort of explained in advanced scientific terms, with the ability to perceive and act in multiple dimensions, for instance, accounting for some of them.

Further, the five children who are at the center of the story, the Orphans of Chaos, are being brought up in what appears to be 20th century times, on an old English estate somewhere. At least some of the time they seem to be able to interact with normal society around them, the inhabitants of the local village and so on. They get and read modern magazines, and watch television. They are taught physics, modern history, and the like. And yet at other times, the boundaries of the estate seem to stretch out indefinitely, with the capacity to somehow magically constrain their freedom.

The story revolves around the attempts of the children, approaching puberty, to figure out just who and what they are. They too, it seems, have supernatural powers, but these are generally suppressed by means of drugs routinely administered by the staff. As written, the story is compelling, carrying the reader along. You quickly identify with the children, since your mental efforts to figure out just what is going on are mirrored by the efforts of the orphans themselves. It makes for a powerful combination.

Coming of age tales are fairly commonplace in science fiction and fantasy, especially when it turns out that the children have special powers. This is a well-written example. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), as you near the end of the book, you realize that things can't possibly be wrapped up in any meaningful way in the pages that are left. Sure enough, you are left hanging on the last page with the announcement: "End of Part One. To Be Continued in Part Two: Fugitives of Chaos." The only clue I've been able to find about when Part Two might be available is an entry on Locus Online, which lists it for a November 2006 release date.

So, definitely recommended, especially for fans of modern stories involving the old Greek gods, but only if you don't mind waiting a while to learn how it all turns out. For all we know, this could be the first volume of a trilogy, and the second book may leave us hanging just as this one did.

3 Comments:

  • Orphans of Chaos is the first volume of a trilogy. The second is called Fugitives of Chaos and the last is called Titans of Chaos.

    Orphans was nominated for a Nebula award, which is surprising, since it is merely the first third of an unpublished trilogy.

    By Blogger John C. Wright, at 11:15 AM  

  • Thank you, John, for confirming my speculations about your trilogy.

    Will

    By Blogger Will, at 7:59 PM  

  • I've finished reading the first one a couple of days ago, and thought it was brillient. The only disapointment i had was finding out that the next one isn't out yet. :(
    All i know is it's out in november and would like to know when it is released

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:32 AM  

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