Orphans of Chaos

Monday, March 17, 2014

Orphans of Chaos
John C. Wright, 2005

Premise: Amelia and her friends go to an unusual school. The hardly ever leave and it seem like they’ve been there an awfully long time. Will they ever discover what their true backgrounds are? Do I care?

Warning up front: there will be spoilers of a sort for this book. I wish I'd known more going in, or known enough not to go in. Don’t read it. Just. Don’t.

I came close to not even finishing this book. I just... it’s terrible. It’s boring and unpleasant and I hated it. But here, let me explain a couple of the specific subjects I took issue with.

1) Women.

I believe and have experience that corroborates the fact that men can write perfectly believable and sympathetic female characters, but I did not find that to be the case here.

The main character, Amelia, starts out as a fairly stereotypical tomboy. She has little use for the only other girl of her age, who is more stereotypically female (her name is even Vanity). She has a few out-of-nowhere comments about suddenly understanding the purposes of makeup and high heels, and they’re all super-submissive and male-gazey and ugh. Amelia says that she wants nothing more than to be an explorer, but we never see that. Her personality is mostly told, not shown.

With one exception:

Conveniently, Amelia is put into situation after situation where she is confronted with her own arousal at being restrained. She seems mildly disturbed by this, but eventually seems okay about it, even after it’s revealed that she was altered by another character to like that. Now, age is unclear, but since she presents as around 14, all I can say about this is that it made me feel kind of scummy to read.

I am so glad I couldn't have read this as a teenager. I think I could have swallowed Amelia’s thin perspective hook line and sinker, and ended up even more self-loathing of myself for being female than I was at the time. Hence: why I have no patience with it now.

2) Gods.

So it's eventually revealed, through a lot of tedious narration, that the kids are the descendants of the Titans, and they're being held hostage by other factions among the Greek gods to keep the peace. Which, okay, that could be cool. Even though it makes the title of the book somewhat depressingly literal. The kids each have vastly different and incompatible power sets, and we learns very little about any of them except Amelia’s. It should be cool that she can see into/interact with other dimensions, but it just felt so clinical to me.

My biggest problem is that except for a lot of obscure references that are probably very satisfying for scholars of greek myth, and arguably one scene with Aphrodite, it didn't feel mythic at all. It felt pedantic. It felt like a badly designed game, where fire beats water and water beats earth, so to win you.... The kids might as well have been space aliens. It might have been more interesting if they were. Their relationship to the actual myths was only sketchily outlined, although i may have been skimming by then.

Also, why the Hades was Grendel in a book about greek myth, but not any figures from other myths? Why, if the gods are so powerful and so present is earth more or less the same?

Finally, the ending is completely unsatisfying. I’d like to close with something I really wanted to happen to all of the characters in this book, courtesy of a more interesting character who is better at magic than they could hope to be.

1 Star - Didn’t much like it

Important PS: when I was about 3/4 of the way through, I got so bored that I got curious about other peoples reactions to the book. I found that Wright has distanced himself from this book, not for any particularly good reason, but because he is now a “Christian” super-raging unhinged bigot. FUN TIMES. Yup, going to stay far far away from anything else by this one.

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