Saturday, May 12, 2007

Titans of Chaos

Titans At the end of Fugitives of Chaos, the five orphans were struggling to survive an attack while cruising aboard the Queen Elizabeth II. Lord Mavors (aka Mars, god of war) has encircled them with a fleet of black ships from which there seems to be no escape... but a daring feat of seamanship aboard Vanity's silver ship allows them to slip free of Mavors' trap.

Thus begins Titans of Chaos, the conclusion of John C. Wright's Chaos trilogy. Replete with strange heroes, even stranger villains, weird powers and juxtapositions of real and surreal landscapes, this is the turning point for five youngsters battling the gods and monsters of myth for their survival and that of the world itself.

The five seem to be teenagers, but each comes from a reality with its own rules, which exist outside the Earth's native dimension (which is an artificial construct known as the Cosmos, created by the long-dead Saturn for unfathomable reasons). They have been hostages, held to assure that their people will not attack Cosmos; without the thunderbolt held by the now-deceased Lord Terminus (aka Zeus), the Olympians are unsure of their chances.

Amelia (the book's narrator) leads her team to seclusion on an island, where they train in their powers. But adolescence, even when one is a godlike entity of Chaos, is never easy. Amelia's crush on Victor is as strong as ever, even though Colin makes plain his budding love for her, while Vanity and Quentin settle deeper into a happy, intimate relationship.

Their time on the island is cut short, however, when they realize that Mavors is using them as bait to trap a more dangerous enemy: Lamia, the vampiric creature who may be behind their recent difficulties (see Fugitives for details). Unwilling to wait to be attacked, they set out to see America and prove themselves with a jaunt into outer space, but soon find themselves battling a freakish array of monsters and hostile powers--while the true author of their troubles finally makes himself plain.

There is, naturally, a great deal more that happens but such is the complexity and depth of Wright's work that condensing it into a handful of paragraphs would be a disservice.

Suffice it to say that this is not light reading (though many bits are light-hearted, between ever-increasing challenges to their lives and freedom); it is a bit of work to keep straight what the individual characters are capable of and how their powers interact, not to mention the factions of enemies (and their powers) lined up against them. Throw in motivations, working at cross-purposes and the hormonal hyperactivity of teenagers and it is easy to see how this could become a serious piece of reading.

Amelia remains an appealing focal character, with abilities that may be the most easy-to-grasp of the five; her true body (of which the teenage girl she seems to be is only a slice) exists in multiple dimensions with multiple aspects, which can be "rotated" out and thus transform her physical presence in nearly infinite ways. Although she is a shapeshifter, her mindset is definitely that of a young woman with ambition and an iron will. She has come a long way, however, and is not the simple schoolgirl seen in Fugitives of Chaos; Wright has wisely allowed her to "grow up" through the experiences she has had and the burden of responsibility and leadership she's had to shoulder.

Her comrades develop along similar lines, realizing that their paradigms may be incompatible but their friendship is not. (In some ways, this character arc is reminiscent of teen films such as The Breakfast Club, wherein dissimilar teens find that they have a lot more in common than they realized. That's not a knock on Wright's work, by the way.)

Their enemies also grow into more fully realized characters, partly because the children are able to treat with them as equals rather than the child-teacher relationship they had earlier. The orphans see the flaws and frailties of those who seemed like invincible and unbeatable enemies; it also doesn't hurt that Amelia gains access to memories that tell her how to defeat the Olympian ability to decree fate, which comes in very handy. Mavors and Boreus, in particular, show up as semi-tragic figures, bound to fight a war they don't think they can really win.

Wright skillfully evokes Zelazny in this trilogy, creating a complex but internally consistent set of realities with overlapping powers and a mythological structure. It's a tremendous feat of writing, though it can make one's head swim trying to keep it all straight. Nevertheless...

Strongly recommended. (****)

Featured link:
John C. Wright's blog

This review first published in April 2007 issue

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