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Fugitives of Chaos by John C. Wright
Edited by David G. Hartwell
Cover Artist: Scott M. Fischer
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765314967
Date: 14 November, 2006 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In Fugitives of Chaos, John C. Wright puts his quartet of special kids through an all-new set of challenges. Narrator Amelia Windrose, who initially describes herself as "dead for a day," comes to realize that something doesn't add up; there are gaps and glitches in her memory (and those of her classmates) that cannot be explained. Digging deeper, they come to realize that their memories are faulty for a reason: they were partially erased after their nearly-successful escape.

Armed with the knowledge that something happened, the kids set about rediscovering what they learned in Orphans: that among them, they represent four realms of Chaos and one realm where the four are linked. They are hostages against their kin's good behavior, so that the fragile construct of the Cosmos survives—and a host of godlike entities and mythological forces can continue struggling for power.

It doesn't take the kids long to recover their memories or assign real identities to the "faculty" at their school; however, readers should not assume that this is in any way a rehash of the discoveries made in Orphans. If anything, they acquire a deeper understanding of who they are this time around.

Another type of challenge arises as the kids begin trying to sort out their feelings for each other, now that their true identities begin to emerge. What seemed like adolescent crushes are growing stronger, with the first intimations of love (Amelia shares a first kiss with Quentin, for instance, and loses the memory of it twice over), as well as the struggles all teens face as they grow up.

One difficulty is that none of them understand what their true natures are supposed to be. Are they monsters immersed in the pretense of being human, or are they much like humanity except for having special powers? Can the five of them get along, once they become who they were meant to be or will "growing up" inevitably mean growing apart? These are questions that they address indirectly but which definitely lurk in the background.

They agree that escape from the school is a necessary first step, whatever may come after. Now that they've learned from their previous mistakes and acquired the talismen that reinforce their powers, they set out for the borders of their imprisoning schoolyard once again.

But complications arise, such as Amelia being kidnapped by the lustful Grendel (who posed as the groundskeeper Glum) and prepared for her (involuntary) wedding, which leads to dire consequences indeed...

In this second installment, Wright amps up the challenges facing the five kids, as they come to realize the stakes for which they're playing. If they act too quickly or with too much force, the delicate balance of the Cosmos could be thrown off; everything within the physical universe might be ravaged by the four Chaos realms. If they stay, they'll be stuck as hostages for a handful of squabbling demigods and ancient powers, none of whom seem to deserve the power they hold.

The question looming before them is, if they escape... what then? Do they run back to Chaos and ignite the greatest war of all time? Or do they seek to establish a position of strength inside the Cosmos and create a new balance themselves? Wright teases some hints but doesn't tip his hand yet. Besides which, Amelia and her classmates still have some growing-up to do; they haven't figured everything out and what they don't know could destroy everything.

Wright deftly handles the trick of explaining the characters' complex metaphysics without lapsing into pedantry or excessive info-dumping. The singular qualities of each character (and the faculty member that negates them) are made even more clear in this volume. Moreover, he further develops characters like Boggin/Boreus in greater depth, making the elemental North Wind and Grendel far more sympathetic.

Fans of epic myth-based fantasy will be well rewarded with this series… and those who like to see plucky, resourceful kids overcome obstacles might like it a lot too.

Highly recommended.

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