Children Of Chaos (Dodec Books: 1 of 2) by Dave Duncan (book review)

All good fantasy books start with a map and a list of characters, including gods and ‘Children Of Chaos’ is a very good fantasy. The world is a dodecahedron where every individual has sworn allegiance to a single god or goddess, there being thirteen to choose from. These range across the usual attributes of wisdom, health, prosperity, war and so on. Two faces of the dodecahedron feature in this story, the Vigaelian and the Florengian, separated by frozen mountains which few have ever crossed.

In the prologue of ‘Children Of Chaos’, Stralg Hragson, bloodlord of the Heroes of Weru from the Vigaelian Face, crosses the icy mountains and slaughters all before him. The doge of Celebre, a wealthy, civilised town in Florengia, is forced to hand over his wife, three sons and a baby daughter as hostages to Stralg. The brown-skinned Florengians are helpless before these huge, blue-eyed devils, devotees of the war god Weru, who shape shift to become huge animals for battle.

Florengia defeated, it’s the children’s story next. Years pass. Lord Dantio, the eldest son, has vanished and no one knows his fate. Benard Celebre, only eight years old when taken, is now a sculptor in the city of Kosord but has some magical skills that enable him to rescue a beautiful lady from his nemesis Cutrath Horoldson, the satrap’s spoiled son. Orlando, three when captured, has no memory of his childhood and has become Orlad Orladson, keen apprentice warrior in the Werist cult that rules the world and conquered his homeland. Meanwhile, the baby is now known as Frena Wigson and believes herself to be the daughter of a rich merchant in the city of Skjar.

The Florengian hostages have all grown up and we follow them as they learn about their heritage, decide what path to pursue and cope with the many challenges of living under a ruthless tyranny. The Werists rule. The price paid for their battle prowess is that they slowly turn more bestial each time they revert back to human form. They used to be mercenaries for whichever city could pay them but, united under Stralg Hragson, to conquer and rule instead. In this they were helped by the Witnesses, seers who know what is happening nearly everywhere. They used to be neutral but were terrified into serving the Werists. There are other gods and goddesses with many followers who have different abilities, none spectacular, though. This isn’t one of those fantasies where withering blasts of energy are exchanged by glowing eyed mages in robes. It’s subtle.

‘Children Of Chaos’ doesn’t stick to one main character but shifts point of view to cover all the children. The chapters begin with the name of the point of view character centred in large type and stick to that person. Multiple point of view switches don’t aid strong reader identification and some sages say you should have one central character but this can be too limiting in a big epic fantasy.

The rich background is put over slowly in the course of events and the characters grow on you as the story progresses smoothly to a satisfying stage post. Not the end as there’s a sequel, ‘Mother Of Lies’ which I’ll be reading soon. Note that this is only a duology, downright petite for a modern fantasy epic. Dave Duncan is new to me but a well-respected author in the field, I gather, and alas has departed this veil of tears albeit, at a ripe old age. I really enjoyed this one, looked forward to the sequel and will seek out his other works in future.

Eamonn Murphy

May 2023

(pub: TOR/SciFi Channel, 2006. 349 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $34.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-31483-5)

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