Updated: Jun 4
Our next contender was The Child Of Chaos, by Glen Dahlgren. The blurb stood out to us and promised some good background and world-building. Also, it was endorsed by Piers Anthony, one of my favorite authors from when I was in Jr. High!
So can we trust Piers Anthony’s objective opinion? Read on to find out!
The Fantasy Genre—Thrill of Discovery
As we read and review fantasy books during this period, we are approaching each story with this core philosophy:
The primary attraction of fantasy stories is to give the reader the thrill of new discovery without the rigors of academia.
Fantasy offers new worlds to explore, history to discover, culture and civilizations and fantastic beasts, and above all a brand new science with brand new rules; and the reader is now the Magellan, the Einstein, the Howard Carter.
A good fantasy story should spread out this discovery, keeping a consistent pace throughout the exposition. The discoveries should make sense to the reader, even if fantastically impossible, and they should always relate back to the plot later in the book.
So, how did The Child Of Chaos meet this requirement?
Exposition & Background
Initially, I was really enthralled by the premise: Order vs. Chaos, and a pantheon of gods who maintain Order and keep Chaos at bay.
But very quickly, these religions proved themselves rather puerile—especially the god of Evil. Evil, in this book, is a totally irrational religion with no self-interest at all. It is evil simply for the sake of being evil. No acquisition of power, or wealth, or information. Just killing and torturing for the sake of evil.
Which was okay, because I assumed that this was a YA novel.
The other religions were more corrupt and self-serving than Evil, actually. It seemed like all of the temples were extorting the population. That seemed like an interesting aspect to the exposition.
And then there were the mysterious symbols on the dice. All of this, put together, was enough to keep me reading.
The main characters were kids, so that reinforced my belief that this was a YA book.
These kids had immature, irrational responses to conflict, and immature, irresponsible motivations. One of them was a bully, and another one was a victim of bullying. Very YA, especially because the bullying was also puerile and had no real motivation other than to bully.
The plot utterly convinced me that this book was meant for YA. The main character runs away from home, seeking his destiny in a coming-of-age type scenario, and fleeing from the aforementioned bully who wants to hurt him (for no real reason).
So Where Did It Go Wrong?
Well, about the time that the Temple of Evil started killing off side characters in really gruesome ways. I remember reading books when I was a young adult, and those books never had this kind of senseless violence.
And believe me, I mean senseless violence. As I mentioned before, the evil actions have no purpose or justification; in fact, they often hinder the evil characters’ self-interests.
The pacing was also really slow, and if I was a young adult, there’s no way that I could have slogged through the first 80% of the book in order to reach the excitement at the end. The plot was rather meandering, and the characters didn’t develop so much as they reinforced their one-dimensional evilness or goodness.
Where Did It Go Right?
The author paid off nearly all of the tropes, foreshadowing, and plot elements that he introduced early in the book. The interpersonal conflicts were eventually explained, the symbols eventually had meaning.
The action was also exciting, especially toward the end. Very visually descriptive and easy to follow in the reader's mind.
Conclusion: Potential Contender
If the judges get to the final 20%, the book will stand a better chance of survival. The action and intrigue at the end of The Child Of Chaos come at you quickly and re-capture your attention. Overall, the book was good enough that we kept reading until we finished it.
But many readers might find the black & white nature of the conflict a little basic and poorly-justified. Evil only becomes interesting when you pair it with intentions, reasons, purpose. Give the villains a vendetta of revenge, give them a lust for power or riches. Don’t just give them a basket of evil and expect them to drive the story.
And of course, check out our own contender, Stranger Back Home!