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Children of Chaos    by Dave Duncan order for
Children of Chaos
by Dave Duncan
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dave Duncan is a prolific writer of varied, action-packed, and highly entertaining fantasy series, like the Great Game and his recent King's Blades adventures (I liked the latter much less than his earlier works). Children of Chaos reminded me why I enjoyed Duncan's writing so much. He delivers a well-realized world of competing gods, and heroes manipulated by them, conflict and treachery, art and love - with intriguing characters that readers can care about.

It starts with a fanatical warrior cult, the Vigaelian Werists. They don't need weapons as, once dedicated to their god, they can transform at will (and often involuntarily) into practically invulnerable war-beasts. They invade the Florengian Face. After other cities are conquered and his small force massacred, the doge of Celebre is forced to give up his four small children to Bloodlord Stralg as hostages. They're taken across the ice barrier, separated, and effectively disappear. Gradually, the reader is re-introduced to the survivors as the story develops.

Benard is one of the lucky ones - he's raised by a loving foster mother, Ingeld, in Kosord and becomes a celebrated artist, dedicated to Anziel, goddess of beauty. He does have his problems - both satrap Horold and the satrap's son Cutrath want him dead - only his status as a hostage protects him and that not for long. Orlando (the baby of the four) goes the if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em route and becomes Werist Orlad - more fanatical than the Vigaelians themselves but hated by most of them because of the rebellion of Florengian Werists. The baby girl, Fabia, is raised by a very rich wily trader and becomes the spirited Frena Wigson. The eldest boy Dantio is believed to have died in Skjar.

While the children grow up, the Florengians start to fight back with their own Werist force, and the war does not go well for the Vigaelians. Celebre becomes important again and its doge is dying. Saltaja, Queen of Shadows effectively rules the Vigaelian Face and is reputed to be a Chosen of Xaran, goddess of death and evil. Saltaja decides to make one of the hostages a puppet ruler in Celebre and kill the others - which will survive? Bloodlord Stralg had forced an order of Seers to support him (they can tell truth from lies and see a great deal of what's happening) by killing their members until their Eldest made a compact with him. That support bolsters the Vigaelians' power, but it is given unwillingly and minimally.

The action develops slowly, but builds to an exciting climax (with many surprises and a filling in of backstory en route), as the hostages meet their very different siblings once more and make their own plans for the future. The story is to be concluded in a sequel, Mother of Lies, set in Celebre - I look forward to it and can only guess which of the doge's offspring will end up as ruler.

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