Skip to main content

Nathan’s review of The Children of Chaos by Trudie Skies 

While reading The Children of Chaos, there was something scratching a nostalgic itch in my brain. It took me forver to place it, but I finally realized this book is reminsicent of one of my childhood favorites – the Pendragon series by DJ Machale. Just as Bobby Pendragon would leap from Territory to Territory trying to save the worlds from the villanous Great Dane, The Children of Chaos follows Kayl and Quen as they try to save Chime and the twelve other realms from Kayl’s unhinged twin sister. The Children of Chaos was like a nostalgia trip for me, indirectly returning me to one of my chilhood favorites series….just a whole lot hornier.

The Children of Chaos continued my infatuation with The Cruel Gods trilogy, a multi-POV gaslamp/steampunk mashup in a multiversal, morally grey world that never feels overly grim because of its loveable characters just trying to make sense of saving the world amidst the chaos strewn by unhinged gods, evil twins, interdimensional politics, queer angst, and the proper way of pronouncing the word “scone”. (Side note: as an American I wasn’t even aware there was more than one way to pronounce the word scone.)

There is so much going on in this world, and yet it all works. You will be shocked when the book ends because the pages just tick away until you are 700 pages in and wondering why the book was so “short”!

The Children of Chaos works not just because of Skies’ immense creativity (more on that in a bit), but because Skies has such a tight command of their three primary POV characters. Skies continues to use first-person POV for all of the POV characters, and it was much more successful here than it was in The Thirteenth Hour. In the first book, I was always thrown off whenever a new chapter would be begin and I had to figure out whose head we were in. Skies doesn’t follow any set “schedule” for when we switch POVs, adding to the challenge. However, in this sequel Skies has a much more powerful command of their characters and their voices. It was immediately clear if we were in the head of “headstrong to the point of reckless” Kayle or the more reserved and anxious Quen. And then, of course it was always clear when we were in the head of Jinx, Kayle’s “evil” twin sister whose POVs were some of my favorites because she was so wicked, sardonic, and self-centered. I was a bit concerned at first because a character like Jinx is best served in small doses, but Skies shows enough constraint to keep Jinx’s chapters fun (and suprisingly emotionally resonant at times) without them becoming grating. Jinx is my the best example of the “evil twin” archetype since Katherine from The Vampire Diaries!

Skies is also the master of making non-POV, secondary characters come alive. This is a BIG book with a huge cast of characters, and each of them had a clear sense of identity, voice, and perspective. I was never left wondering “who is that again” because each and every character just leaps from the page, whether it is the various gods (who are mostly all assholes except Mesmorpheus), their ambassadors, or any of the other wonderful people we meet along the way.

What makes all of the characters work is that they are all, in their own ways, dealing with the tension between structure (here represented by “time”) and chaos. In our Western understanding, time is a linear concept that cannot be escaped. It is constraining, whether it is how capitalism structures our time in the “9-5” workday, the cycle of the year, or the feeling that we are the inevitable escalator towards our death, something that will happen one way or the other and there is no jumping off. On the other hand, chaos is a powerful force. The entropy of the universe disrupts our simplistic notion of time and how the universe works. Chaos can be a metaphorical punch to the head, a unconquerable manifestation of ruined plans and unexpected consequences. But chaos can also be a force of good – a push outside of our comfort zones, an utter reorganization of society, and a source for creation. Both chaos and time are necesary for the workings of the universe, and it is this delicate balance that Skies weaves throughout the narrative.

The pacing for The Children of Chaos may not work for all readers because the book feels significantly more episodic than its predecessor. This has the consequence of slowing down the plot quite a bit, as Kayl and/or Quen visit most of the realms outside of Chime, but it has the added benefit of dramatically enriching the universe that Skies has created here. In The Thirteenth Hour we were introduced to a whole number of moral species, gods, and realms, but they all went like words on a page – ethnic or species-level differences for the sake of having them. The differences between the groups didn’t quite feel like they were “real” or important, outside of a few interactions. By having our main characters go to these different realms, Skies is able to expose readers to all of the ecological and cultural differences between the realms in all of their glory. From a predominantly underwater world to a world that seems like it is a massive crossover of the Universal monster movies, readers get to go on journeys to worlds beyond Chime. I can see how other reviewers weren’t feeling the whole “go to other realm, encounter major problem with their god, solve problem, rinse, and repeat”, but I was swept away by the adventure and exploration of it all. Despite this being a 700 page chonker of a book, I would have taken a whole lot more.

What’s interesting about The Children of Chaos, and what I have been noticing among more and more longer indie fantasy books, is that they seemed to be paced like television shows more than “traditional” books. I made similar comments about Krystle Matar’s Legacy of the Brightwash, and what I mean by this is that the books are structured like you would find a 10-13 episode season of television. Rather than a more traditional (in Western-style storytelling) three act structure, these books have an ebb and a flow that seems more like they are thinking about the book in terms of discrete episodes, each with their own bounded story structure that contributes to the overal narrative. This does mean that sometimes you get the prose version of a “bottle episode” or something that feels akin to a side-quest, but Skies’ books are so full of imagination, wonder, and magic that I didn’t care at all. I would go on a million side quests with Kayle and Quen if it meant I got to explore more of this gaslamp/steampunk world.

If I have any criticisms of The Children of Chaos, it might only be that sometimes the sexual humor got to be just a bit too much for me. I’m not a prude, and I loved that Skies created a queer-norm world that feels so effortless and sexually liberated. Having said that, it seemed like characters became sexual-quip machines at times, sometimes even robbing moments of their dramatic heft. I would say that it was like the a very toned-down version of what Marvels do with their non-sexual humor – it becomes a bit of a narrative crutch to pull out a quip. I was on board when Skies had characters considering and exploring their own sexual identities, but the sexual humor was a couple of jokes too many for my tastes. If you are someone who doesn’t like any sexual content or dirty jokes in your reading material you may want to stay away, but otherwise they are pretty easy to pass right over.

The sexual humor doesn’t mar a book that merges everything I love about fantasy in one not-so-small package. It’s imaginative, chaotic, romantic, magical, and more. The final book is coming soon, and I will be first in line!

Concluding Thoughts: Trudie Skies dramatically expands the world of The Cruel Gods series with The Children of Chaos, sending Quen and Kayle on adventures that have them encountering new realms, vengeful gods, and a just a bit of romance. The pacing of this book is much different than its predecessor, feeling a bit more episodic but never slow. The worldbuilding remains as immaculate as ever, and readers will either love or love-to-hate all of Skies’ characters, new and old. This is an exciting and action-packed sequel that examines the tension between structure and chaos in our lives – and how the predominance of one is stifling. Highly recommend for readers looking for queer-norm worlds, wild imagination, and steampunk and/or gaslamp worlds. Highly recommended!

Thank you for reading my review of The Children of Chaos!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

Leave a Reply