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Children of Chaos by Dave Duncan
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765314835
Date: 13 June, 2006 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Dave Duncan is one of those authors who produces excellent work in book after book, yet never gains the attention he deserves. His A Man of His Word series is a triumph of carefully thinking through the consequences of a logical magical system. His Great Game series is more serious than most of his books and shows the progression of the hero from stranger from our Earth to the prophesied Liberator who conquers Death. And his King's Blade books show his delft use of plot twists as books I and II completely contradict each other yet everything is tied up by the third book. Hopefully Tor will do a better job promoting him.

Children of Chaos has an epic scale with more characters than the reader can easily track. Each of the three siblings has his or her own plot line with several supporting characters. Benard has become an expert sculptor. But, after winning a bar fight against a group of Werists, including the son of the ruler of the city in which Benard is imprisoned, the ruler has discovered that Benard has been his wife's secret lover. Orlando, now called Orlad Orladson, has adopted his captors' way of life to such an extent that he seeks to become a Werist himself, gaining the power to transform into a beast for fighting. But the Werists do not trust people of Orlad's race, since others who became Werists later rebelled and fought against the Vigaelians. Still Orlad not only completed his training but was first in his class so was given command of a small squad. The girl Fabia, adopted by a rich merchant and given the name of Frena Wigson, makes a secret pact with the death god when she is forced against her will to marry Cutrath, Bernard's enemy and son of Horold Hragson, one of the Vigaelian leaders.

There is much more in the book. Some chapters are written from the point of view of the Hragsons, the rulers of the Vigaelians. Also key to the book are Witnesses, people whose goddess have given them the power of sight. The Hragsons have forced the Witnesses to identify their enemies' strengths and weaknesses, answering their questions. One of the Hragsons is working with the goddess of death and evil but so is Frena. This is not the simplistic view of the army of light versus the army of dark. Motives and loyalties are split. And there's a twist near the end of the book that is guaranteed to catch readers by surprise.

This is a fun book but with more substance than most light fantasy. Duncan is a great world-builder. His fantasy worlds are not mere medieval societies with magic added but make organic sense. Here, allegiance to a god or goddess gives access to certain divine powers. Duncan's other strength as a writer is strong characterization. Each of the main characters comes across as his or her own person. Benard is naive about the world, Frena is spoiled but with a core of steel, and Orlad is honorable but overly trusting. And they are all stubborn, but in different ways. For instance, Orlad does not want to join forces with his brother and sister and debates whether he should turn them over to the Hragsons to whom he pledged his loyalty.

There's only one real flaw to the book. It reads like a single volume was chopped in half by the publisher. Most of the book is about the circumstances that led to the siblings meeting and the decision whether or not to join together. Part two, Mother of Lies, will have the rest of the story, essentially charging twice for same book.

Readers who like light, but not humorous fantasy, fantasy where the fate of the universe may not be at stake but events are still important to the very human characters, will like Children of Chaos. Yes, it is popcorn, but gourmet popcorn. Children of Chaos is another solid entry by a writer who deserves a wider audience.

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