Dave Duncan – Children Of Chaos

One interesting aspect of the fantasy genre that the imagination is the limit. One can create something that is physically not possible and use that to build a world that is conforms to different rules than we know. Such a different concept has been used by Dave Duncan for his Dodec Duology, with the first book named Children Of Chaos (2006). The name is derived from the shape of the world: a dodecahedron, an object with twelve identical faces in the shape of pentagons. It is of course not realistic but Duncan made a valiant effort to create some physical rules that would constrain the people living on this world. Just such an idea makes a book already worth reading.

The premise for the series is relatively simple. One face of the world is conquered by the other and a group of siblings (four in both novels) is forced to leave their home. I mention this I read another fantasy novel using a very similar plot because before this book, this being Acacia by David Anthony Durham (actually published a year after the first book of the Dodec Duology). The world-building and the plot derived for this similar premise were so poorly done (and irritatingly so) that I didn’t even finish that novel. Perhaps that made me hesitate to read this series with the similar premise, even though I have read quite a few other novels by Dave Duncan already and thus know that he does things quite differently. I am now happy that I picked the series up when I came across it again recently.

Despite the odd setting Duncan keeps much of the world building familiar. The peoples created are based on Earthly ones with some small adjustments. The cultures however are very different. This is a universe where the divine has a strong influence over persons, especially those who are chosen. I call it the divine because the gods are not present but they exert influence by granting gifts and abilities and they are not particular picky about it. This thus has a strong impact on the story and the plot development, but Duncan makes sure there is no clear favouritism. It are still the choices of the person who decides to use them.

The characters in the novel define the nature of the story. In this odd world and the strong divine influence Duncan makes sure to ground his characters. They are unique persons who have grown within their circumstances. They are not perfect and often naive, taking their chances and impulses as they come. Their choices are not always what we would consider the right ones and they are just as well the victims of circumstance. Despite the oddities it is easy to relate to them and Duncan also shows that the enemy is not as evil as they seem to be. Even the main antagonist, who is clearly very evil, makes choices and takes actions which are logical. You get to understand her, to some extent.

The plot provides few introductions as major events kick in almost immediately. Changes are coming and the main protagonists will play a pivotal role. Duncan switches narrative between them and also adds a few minor ones so that the reader is provided with a good picture of the greater whole. Each narrative is done well. Even those by minor characters give the reader a good insight into their thoughts and background without being obvious.

The frequent shifts between narratives push the pace of the story along with many things happening although the greater plot follows a gentler pace. However, it is not correct to stick everything to the greater plot. It are the many minor events that determine the course of the greater plot. Duncan could have started the story from the beginning and from there told the different stages of the greater plot. Instead he chose to show the central premise that would define the final stage of greater plot. I have read series in which the story started in the middle to avoid the setup stage but this is the first in which the story starts near the end. The effect of this choice is that the plot of the novel is full with intrigue and rapidly developing events that make a thrilling layered story.

The novel ends almost abruptly with many threads still in the open. This is of course always tough when having a series consisting of only two novels. The story is not long enough to break it into selfcontained parts. The choice for the moment is however right as a final turning point has been reached. The story is very entertaining and there is sufficient connection with the characters to captivate the reader and make him keeping to turn the pages. Recommended.

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