Hang on to your hats everyone, because here comes a TRIPLE BOOK REVIEW! This is a new thing
for me... I've never reviewed multiple books in one post before. And it's for two reasons 1) I have serious series ADD, so it takes a very, VERY special series to keep me interested enough to pick up the sequel (even when I enjoy Book 1) and 2) When I do find that special series, I usually don't read all the books at once. Either because the series is relatively new and the sequels haven't come out yet, or because that ADD tendency kicks in, and I need a break between books.
Well, Drew Karpyshyn's Chaos Born trilogy was different. This was a series that demanded to be binge-read, and so I read all three books back-to-back within the span of two weeks (would have read them faster if it weren't for that pesky day job, the holidays, and the distraction of the new Star Wars movie... which, of course, demanded the marathoning of the existing movies, multiple rewatches, and much internet obsessing and theorizing). I actually read the first book, Children of Fire, several months ago, though it was while I was in the middle of a million other things, so it was a chapter one week, a chapter another... That kind of broken-up reading ain't ideal, especially when the story's as complex and richly plotted as this one. So I knew I'd want to read it again, and I knew I'd want the sequels waiting when I was done the next time. The nice thing about having a memory as terrible as mine is that rereading the book, I'd forgotten a lot of the details, so it felt like I was reading it for the first time.
Anyway, onto the reviews!
SERIES TITLE: The Chaos Born
AUTHOR: Drew Karpyshyn
PUBLISHER: Del Rey
AVAILABILITY: Purchase links on the author's website
Fantasy - Dark fantasy/High fantasy
REVIEW OF BOOK 1: CHILDREN OF FIRE
In a world born from Chaos, the Gods chose a hero to protect the mortal world from the demonic
Chaos spawn - monsters and creatures who would destroy all life if given the chance. He was Daemron, a great king, warrior, prophet, and wizard, and he was gifted with three Talismans of power: the Crown, the Ring, and the Sword. But, corrupted by the power he wielded, Daemron rallied the Chaos spawn and betrayed the Gods, waging a great war. The Gods sacrificed themselves to defeat him, trapping him and his monsters behind a barrier called the Legacy and scattering the Talismans across the world.
Centuries later, Daemron senses that the time for his return is near, and he enacts a ritual that touches four mortals born under the Blood Moon with the essence of Chaos. Children of Fire, the first book in Drew Karpyshyn's Chaos Born trilogy, follows these four from the unusual circumstances of each of their births through the first twenty years of their lives. There's Keegan, mild-mannered and physically frail but gifted with immense magical power. There's Cassandra, who's training with the warrior monks who vow to protect the world from Daemron and Chaos at all costs. There's Scythe, a tough and quick-tempered fighter who grew up on the mean streets of a pirate harbor. Then there's Vaaler, a prince born to a kingdom that reveres magic but lacking magic of his own. And they're surrounded by a rich cast of characters from all corners of this richly developed fantasy world--fanatical monks, tribal warriors, wizards, royalty, demons, and more. The big picture goal of the story is for the protagonists to obtain the Talismans, but along the way, so, so much more happens.
512 may sound like a lot of pages, but considering how much Karpyshyn packs into this world, this book's not long at all. I sat down one Saturday to read a few chapters... and ended up sitting on my couch for a good 8 hours or so, tearing through 400 pages in one sitting. The worldbuilding is truly phenomenal -- the different civilizations and cultures, the magic system, the various powers at play... It all fits together in a way that makes this fantasy universe come to life and feel real and lived-in. You learn the history of this world bit by bit through various scenes and character revelations, so that by the time you're done with the whole trilogy (and really, you should read it back-to-back), you feel like you've lived there. Of course, the downside (as a reviewer) is that the three books are blending into one big one in my head, so some of this review might touch on points explored in later books (but no spoilers, I promise!).
The book sets up the stakes right from the beginning, with the threat of Daemron's return, and as it winds its way through the lives of four characters in four different parts of the world, weaving pieces from other forces at work, the pacing never slows. It's really quite amazing how so many different story lines not only fit together, but are presented so memorably that it's easy to keep track of what's what. The plot is complex and multi-layered, but never confusing. And throughout, it kept me with the feeling of imminent danger, like each and every action these characters took, no matter how mundane-seeming, was leading toward a great destiny.
This story is told from the POVs of multiple characters -- heroes, villains, and those who are in between. There are too many interesting characters for me to describe all of them in a review, so I'll stick with gushing over my top three. Scythe quickly became my favorite, with her confidence and snarkiness. Yet behind the hard exterior, there's a compassion and vulnerability she never lets the world see. She's loads of fun to read and a thrill to watch in action, and her rather skewed sense of morality makes her POV fascinating. I also found myself drawn toward Keegan's character--first when he was introduced from his father's POV as a somewhat creepy kid, and then when he starts becoming his own person, which is difficult for him since, of the four Children of Fire, he's the most aware of his destiny. Thanks to a fanatical monk's vision, he's believed to be the Savior--a role he accepts but isn't certain of. Earnest and naive, he doesn't always do the right thing, but he certainly tries (unlike Scythe, who's a survivalist and often seems amoral). Then there's Vaaler, a noble spirit who was born to royalty and works hard to be the perfect student, but, tragically, will never be good enough in the eyes of his people due to his lack of magic.
An overarching presence in the book is the dark wizard Rexol, who's both creepy and mesmerizing in his arrogant, power-hungry ways (he's also the book's cover boy). He winds up interfering in the lives of three of the Children of Fire, setting them up, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, for their ultimate destiny.
There's something Tolkein-esque about the world and the overarching ideas, and yet it's also very different. For one thing, women have actual roles as heroes and villains who drive the story rather than love interests and side characters (huzzah!). And there's racial diversity too, which makes me very happy. Also, there are no deus ex machina-type easy resolutions to anything. While the forces of fate certainly are at work, nothing is simple for these characters. In fact, one of the central points of the worldbuilding is "backlash", meaning that for every spell cast, the chaotic essence of magic will cause something bad to happen. The story is also considerably darker. I've seen this book categorized as "horror" in some places, probably because of the gruesome demonic rituals, bloody battles, and the horrors of war. Evil is evil for a reason...
Suffice it to say, this book was a fast-paced, gripping read that left me begging for more. Good thing I had the sequel on standby...
REVIEW OF BOOK 2: THE SCORCHED EARTH
The Scorched Earth, the second book in Drew Karpyshyn's Chaos Born trilogy, picks up where Book
1 left off. Generations ago, the Gods sacrificed themselves to trap the evil Daemron behind a barrier called the Legacy, but now, the Legacy is crumbling. Now, four mortals touched by Chaos -- the force from which all magic in this world is derived -- race to fulfill their collective destiny and keep Daemron from returning and unleashing his hordes of monsters upon the world. One problem: they aren't certain what that destiny is, only that it involves the three Talismans that Daemron once used to make himself immortal. Namely, the Ring, the Crown, and the Sword.
These four were born through a ritual Daemron enacted to set forces in motion that would someday free him, and each embodies an element of himself from back when he was a mortal hero: king, warrior, prophet, and wizard.
Keegan, a young wizard with amazing power but a frail body, appears to have the clearest destiny. Guided by a fanatical monk whose visions spurred him to rebel against his own order, he's believed to be the Burning Savior, the one who will prevent Daemron's rise. Though he's successfully obtained the Ring, he finds that he can't control it... and in trying to, he unleashed a flood of dark magic upon the Danaan people. He's easily one of my favorite characters in the series -- earnest and well-meaning, though also flawed, vulnerable, and under enormous pressure.
Vaaler used to be the crown prince of the Danaan... until he chose to help Keegan, a longtime friend, steal the Ring from his mother, whose family had owned it for generations. Though Vaaler believes in Keegan's destiny and believes his actions will ultimately save the world, his people believe him to be a traitor, especially given the devastating consequences of Keegan's actions. Now in exile, Vaaler knows only that he must help Keegan save the world--even if it means fighting his own people. Yet his natural leadership skills bring him new allies, and though he no longer has a land, he is still very much a king. I loved reading about his internal conflict and turmoil as he's torn between his people and his broader mission. He's also grounded and wise beyond his years -- a much needed role in this chaotic world.
Accompanying them is Scythe, the warrior. A fierce and somewhat amoral fighter who previously cared only about survival, she's only helping Keegan because her lover, the noble-hearted Norr, believes in the young wizard, who once used magic to save Norr's life. The fact that she doesn't believe like the others is part of what makes her such an intriguing character to read about. Her quick temper and temperamental nature make her somewhat unpredictable. Plus, I love her cocky attitude... she's my personal favorite :-)
On the other side of the world is Cassandra, the prophet. Raised by warrior monks to defend the world against Daemron and the dark magic of Chaos, she now finds herself running from the very order she once served. She has the Crown, which the Order had guarded for generations, and the order will do anything to get it back. While she believes she's meant to have the Crown and use it to save the world, the Order sees her as a traitor and begin a horrifying Inquisition in order to flush her out. Not only that, but her old master, the dark wizard Rexol, has found a way to penetrate her mind, and so she regularly wrestles with having his voice in her head.
We're also introduced to Shalana, a leader among the barbarian tribes (and a member of Norr's former tribe). She's a powerful presence who very quickly makes her mark on the saga (and she's also this book's cover girl).
All the various forces at play, each with different motivations and tactics, make this a difficult book to sum up. Reading these plots is like watching a giant game of chess... well, a version with at least four or five players. Yet, despite the complexities, it's not a hard story to follow. Each character has such a clear point of view that it's easy to see what they want and why they're doing what they're doing. The minions of Daemron are following his orders to guide the Children of Fire on a path that will lead them to set him free. The Danaan people pursue their wayward prince in order to reclaim a national treasure and punish the one who wreaked havoc upon one of their towns. The fanatical Order sees any and all magic, which draws from Chaos, as a threat, and, in their zealous efforts to save the world from evil, end up terrorizing the very world they're supposed to save.
The questions of right and wrong become plenty muddled as opposing forces, each believing themselves to be in the right, clash over the fate of the world. Other than those who follow Daemron, it's hardly ever clear who's good and who's evil. These moral complexities, coupled with the intricate, intertwining plot, are part of what make this book so riveting. After eye-guzzling most of the first book in a day, I dove straight into this one and spent every spare moment eye-guzzling it as well.
The feel and pacing of The Scorched Earth is different from Children of Fire because while Book 1 covered 20-odd years, Book 2 takes place over the course of a few months. The pacing isn't as break-neck as in the first one; this time, the story takes its time in depicting the rich cultural fabric of the world. And yet it never felt slow either, with all its battles, chases, fights with demons, and tense diplomacy. Also, this is dark, dark fantasy... not for the faint of heart, with its demonic rituals and the devastating horrors of war. I'm usually pretty squeamish, but I really liked the darkness in this book because it gave the story a visceral feel. It ends on something of a cliffhanger, and I'm just glad I had the third book nearby so I wouldn't have to wait to find out what happens next...
REVIEW OF BOOK 3: CHAOS UNLEASHED
Chaos Unleashed is the third and final installment in Drew Karpyshyn's dark fantasy trilogy, The Chaos Born. It picks up where the last book left off. The evil Daemron, banished behind a barrier called the Legacy generations ago, is on the cusp of return, and when he does, he will unleash hordes of monsters and horrors upon the mortal world. Most of the monstrous Minions he dispatched to help the Children of Fire, who are unknowingly part of his plan to bring the Legacy crashing down, have been defeated, but the most dangerous remains active.
Meanwhile, the four Children of Fire, born through a ritual Daemron enacted and touched by Chaos--the uncontrollable supernatural force from which magic is drawn--continue on their journey to stop Daemron's return. The prophet, Cassandra, has stolen the Crown, one of the three Talismans that Daemron once used to achieve immortality and flees an order of fanatical monks determined to take it back. The Order, hell-bent on catching her and destroying anyone who even dabbles in Chaos, has spread terror across the world in the form of a horrifying Inquisition. The wizard, Keegan, and the warrior, Scythe, have obtained the other two Talismans and seek Cassandra to fulfill their collective destiny (Scythe and Keegan are the ones depicted on this book's cover... huzzah for a woman of color in a high fantasy novel!). And the king, Vaaler, having protected Scythe and Keegan from the army seeking the Talismans, believes his part in this journey is over and travels with Shalana, the tribeswoman whose people helped the Children of Fire on their journey. But, it turns out, the forces of fate aren't done with him yet...
Like the previous two books, Chaos Unleashed depicts several intertwining plot lines all tied to the same overarching goals: either to stop Daemron's return or to facilitate it. I loved how every single event, no matter how small or insignificant-seeming at first, has a purpose. The book is told from multiple points of view, from the principle cast to bit characters who turn out to have an important role to play as well. It all ties into the themes of destiny and chaos... and how seemingly chaotic events fit into one overall fate for the world.
Each character has a distinct voice, and I liked that this book took the time to explore their inner conflicts and thought processes. While the plot centers around huge, end-of-the-world-type situations, it's still a story about people... their motives, strengths, flaws and vulnerabilities. The ones who stood out to me were Scythe (my personal favorite), who was left broken-hearted after the events of Book 2. Always so quick-tempered and tough, she's finally fighting a foe she can't strike down. And Keegan, who wrestles with how best to do the right thing in a world with no easy answers.
These character moments happen between some truly amazing action scenes -- battles and duels and more that culminate in stunning final battle full of vivid imagery. The descriptions throughout pull you in with visceral language while the character voices create an emotional connection that makes the book spring to life. By the time you're done reading, you feel like you've been there and seen it all yourself. Really, this is a trilogy that should be binge-read all in a row as one big book. Pieces set in motion in Book 1 come together in Book 3, leading to a satisfying conclusion.
I know I've loved a book when I find myself spending ages attempting to write a review that, no matter what, just never seems to say enough. There's just so much to enjoy in this whole trilogy, which has the grandeur and rich world-building of Tolkien and yet is written with a much darker tone... and with more relatable characters. And yes, that is me daring to say that Chaos Born might be better than Lord of the Rings...
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Drew Karpyshyn is the New York Times bestselling author of Children of Fire, The Scorched Earth, and Chaos Unleashed, as well as the Star Wars: The Old Republic novels Revanand Annihilation, and the Star Wars: Darth Bane trilogy: Path of Destruction, Rule of Two, and Dynasty of Evil. He also wrote the acclaimed Mass Effect series of novels and worked as a writer/designer on numerous award-winning videogames. After spending most of his life in Canada, he finally grew tired of the long, cold winters and headed south in search of a climate more conducive to year-round golf. Drew Karpyshyn now lives in Texas with his wife, Jennifer, and their pets. Visit his website.