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Children of Chaos
Dave Duncan
Tor, 368 pages

Children of Chaos
Dave Duncan
Dave Duncan is a former geologist and recipient of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Achievement Award. His previous works include two four-volume sagas, A Man of His Word and A Handful of Men. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Dave Duncan Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Tales of the King's Blades
SF Site Review: The Gilded Chain
SF Site Review: Future Indefinite
SF Site Review: The Great Game

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

I always relish the opportunity to use the word "rollicking," and few better occasions present themselves than reviewing a new Fantasy by Dave Duncan. Children of Chaos is, according to my rough count, Duncan's 36th novel since he retired from the Calgary oil patch twenty years ago and took up literary swashbuckling.

He certainly has a gift for it, much in the tradition of Alexander Dumas, though with some interesting wrinkles in time and space. In the case of Children of Chaos, that wrinkle is a dodecahedral world (with twelve 5-sided faces). (Heck, and you thought a flat world carried on the back of an elephant made for strange topography.)

When the peaceful land of Florengia is invaded by bloodlord Stralg and his horde of crazed Werist soldiers, the city of Celebre is among the first to fall, and the doge is forced to give up his four children as hostages. Fifteen years later, amid rumours the doge is about to die, those hostages suddenly become strategically important. One hostage will be selected and sent back to Celebre to be installed as a puppet ruler, and the others must be killed.

The oldest child, Dantio, is presumed dead, Benard has grown into a charming and feckless artist with a dangerous taste in amorous conquests, Orlad has become a fanatical Werist soldier, and Frena, the youngest, was brought up as the pampered daughter of a wealthy merchant and doesn't even know she's adopted. But suddenly they are pawns in a dangerous political game whose chief manipulator is Stralg's ruthless sister, Saltaja -- rumoured to be a powerful follower of the Dark One.

The Witnesses -- a cult of mysterious seers -- also seem to have their own agenda for the hostages, although they won't reveal it.

Enough of the plot. It's very good, very complex and deftly handled. But my favourite thing about this novel is how Duncan's heroes careen from one near disaster to another, fluking victory out of the jaws of defeat with a delightfully stupified sense of "how did that happen?" These are kids in their teens and early twenties, and they make all the mistakes of callow youth while simultaneously bubbling with charm and optimism.

There are also many other characters in Children of Chaos -- so many that they're sometimes a little hard to keep track of, but even the bit players are so delightfully well sketched that they're well worth a little extra effort on the readers' part.

An interesting aspect of Duncan's world is that the gods -- although they never appear in person -- really DO have the power to intervene in people's affairs. So a desperate prayer to your patron may be answered, whether he is Ucre, the god of money, Weru, the god of war, Eriander, the goddess of lust, or one of the many others. This has the side benefit of adding extra, unpredictable twists to the plot.

Finally, I enjoyed Duncan's vocabulary. It's not often I run across such a satisfying four letter word as "pelf." Canadian journalists ought to use it more, as in "Mr. Mulroney, having retired to count his pelf...."

Ah, but the real world is rarely as gratifying as a Dave Duncan novel. Children of Chaos was a treat and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Copyright © 2006 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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