20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2005
Wright continues to amaze. This book is not really anything like any of his previous ones, except that it's wonderfully written.
Somewhere in rural England, there's an orphage. The orphanage houses only five children-Victor, Amelia, Vanity, Colin, and Quentin. They're significantly outnumbered by the staff, and despite receiving an excellent education, they're kept in almost prison-like conditions of discipline and restriction of movements. They've never made even an unsupervised visit to the nearby village.
Oh, and they all have unusual powers-different and apparently incompatible powers. Quentin's a warlock, Victor can change the molecular arrangement of matter, Amelia can see in four dimensions. If the physical laws of the universe are such that Quentin's powers can work, how can Victor's also work under the same set of laws?
There's also some mystery about their exact ages, and the larger mystery of where they come from. And now that they're approximately in their late teens, or perhaps early teens, or, just possibly, early twenties, curiosity and determination are overcoming deference to the adults they increasing regard as jailers. When Amelia and Quentin manage to eavesdrop on a midnight meeting of the Governors and Visitors of the school, all bets are off and they're in active rebellion against their captors.
But they still know only tiny pieces of what's going on.
This is truly excellent, although I need to mention that it's the first half, or possibly the first third, of the novel, not the whole thing. This volume doesn't end; it stops at a crucial point. Part Two will apparently be entitled Fugitives of Chaos. (That's less of a spoiler for this book than it might seem.) Nevertheless, Wright has delivered before, and I do highly recommend this one.
20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2008
On the one hand, I found the author's writing style to be very mature and easy to read. The story was narrated by the main character, a teenage girl, and she lent a very charming voice to the novel.
On the other hand, every character was one-dimensional, there was no character development or maturity, the plot didn't develop much (in 300-some pages!), and the almost constant dominant/submissive sexual play with our youthful heroine was both annoying and off-putting.
The cast of characters was another disappointment. It began as a small, intimate group of friends, which I rather liked, but then quite suddenly grew into a huge gaggle of oddballs with multiple names, intertwining relationships, and even flatter personalities than our main characters.
The magic system was an interesting concept -- It used hyperspace physics as a form of magic -- but I don't feel that it worked very well in practice. The lengthy explanations in the middle of the action sequences were a little annoying. It was also silly because the physics babble was really just a thin veneer for whatever struck the author's fancy.
The ending was abrupt and unresolved, but I wouldn't exactly call it a cliffhanger. Generally a cliffhanger leaves you in suspense, excited to read on. This book just left me shrugging and thinking, "Well... that went absolutely nowhere."
So there you have it. This review is one part praise and four parts criticism, and that seems like just the right ratio for this book. Not without its charm, but I certainly won't be reading the rest of the series.
Your mileage may vary.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2007
While I admit I had some trouble understanding some of the concepts introduced in this book (sometimes the philosophic/technical monologues of each of the characters, as well as their confusing name changes become rather hard to follow), once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. John C Wright is an extraordinary writer, it's been a long time since I've enjoyed a series this much. I really cared for each of the main characters (despite their flaws), and my appreciation for them and their radically different personalities and quirks only grew in the following books, which are even better than the first one... I strongly suggest giving these series a chance, it only gets better and better.
The first book of this trilogy introduces us to 5 special teens, who are held prisoners in a severe British institution/orphanage for reasons that aren't entirely clear to them at first, but that they slowly begin to understand as the special powers each of them posess start to appear, and they find out clues of what their true identities are. Having at least a basic knowledge of Roman and Greek mythology helps a great deal in getting the most enjoyment out of the series, but it's not absolutely required either. Wonderful series overall, my only complaint was that I was sad to see it end!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2006
This was an enjoyable book to read--really interesting concept. It was difficult for me to understand however, and I wish I was more up on my mythology--I found the cast of characters a bit bewildering and overwhelming because I wasn't familiar with the Greek gods' backstories, and I got lost with all the stuff about "dimensions", hyperspace, etc. I just had to let myself get lost in the words and get a general "picture" of what he was talking about. But the book was very well written and moving, and the students were compelling (Though I wish we'd gotten to know the other students besides Amelia a bit more.) I am looking forward to the sequel, and plan to do a little quick reading of Greek mythology before I approach the series again.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2013
Tried to get a friend into these, but they didn't take. Not that he isn't a sharp fellow,but it asks for more understanding from the reader than the average fantasy novel. Think slightly above Clark and Gaiman. My friends that like Tolkien's works beyond The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy usually like these books.
Great story. Interesting concept. Just like the old myths, these are a good blend of tragedy, comedy, violence, and naughtiness of all kinds. But you can't read just one; it's pointless. If you pick up one, you should pick up all three (Orphans, Fugitives, and Titans). If you want some fun but are tired of the force-fed stuff that populates the majority of fantasy novels these days, you should make the investment.
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2007
I agree with other reviewers that this is excellently written. John Wright gives a (to me) very convincing impression of a teenage girl who is also an ancient four-dimensional Greek goddess (or demigoddess, or something). However, I must mention how annoying I find it that the dialogue of these teenagers, raised in Britain, given a very old-fashioned classical education and almost completely isolated from popular culture, is colloquial American (up to and including the phrase "go figure"). This is also interfering with my otherwise great enjoyment of the sequel, which I'm reading at the moment.
As a disclaimer, I'm a New Zealander with a master's degree in English language and literature who reads a lot of British and American fiction, and is married to an American, so I am much more aware of this than most readers will be. Your mileage, as they say in the US, may vary.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2007
This was my first John Wright book, but it won't be my last. It stands out for the way Wright infuses a strangeness into everything--the characters, the setting, and the way magic/science works in it. The seeming normality at the beginning makes discovering the lurking strangeness even more wonderful.
When I read the reviews before reading the book, I worried that there might be too much quasi-philosophical discussion about the different paradigms (magic/science/dimensional topography/etc.) each character represents, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the dialogue moved right along, and the discussions help the plot rather than obscure it.
On the other hand, the plot doesn't actually move very far, nor is there too much action/suspense. Read it if you want curiousity and wonder, but not if you mainly want plot and action.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2007
Orphans of Chaos was described to me as Harry Potter for adults. Students have magical powers, but as a slant, the teachers are actually their enemies. I don't think this comparison does an accurate job of portraying the mood of the book, but it comes close.
Orphans of Chaos - the first of a trilogy of fantasy books by John Charles Wright - takes place in an ambiguously old-fashioned boarding school in the UK, where five teenage students with no memory of their past start to realize their school is a jail, and their teachers are captors. The children stop taking their daily medicines, which awakens their dormant magical powers: each from a different and equally powerful paradigm. They slowly learn that they are hostages in a classic power play. All involved, including their teachers, are gods or servants of heaven. Narrated by one of the children - Amelia Windrose - they embark on a series of adventures to regain their memories, their powers, and escape their fate as political pawns.
The book is written in a somewhat florid style. I enjoyed the pace, which alternates between dialog and adventure. The language and plot elements are evocative of a pseudo-Victorian setting, though we later learn that the book takes place around modern day. All of the adventures and magic are entertaining. Though there may be an overload on the number of minor characters involved, all of the people (gods?) have intriguing backgrounds.
There are a few places where the book falls short. There's not a great continuity on which of the five children are involved in adventures or conversations. The children that are part of the action seem to be selected arbitrarily. Some of the descriptions of magic start out as plausible and easy to follow, and morph into the ridiculous by the end of the paragraph - I think this is done on purpose for comic effect, but I didn't find it very amusing, just annoying. In some places, we're given exposition in a very dense and unlikely format.
But perhaps most of all, I felt the light sexuality too overt and a little disturbing. This may be a credit for some of my readers, but I'm violently opposed to any glorifications of pedophiles in books. We never learn the girls' ages, but we know for sure that they're not women, even if they have the necessary features. And yet, the girls are constantly seducing or are seduced by their teachers. I can handle overtones, but the scenarios - especially towards the end of the book - were constant and served little or no purpose for the story.
I think I will read the rest of the trilogy, just to see how the adventure proceeds. And there's hope for the "bad guys" yet. I can't put a book down until I know for sure whether or not the characters are dynamic. There's a definite attachment for Amelia built up, and though the rest of the children sort of disappear towards the end of the book, I'd like to be reunited with them. The occasional flaws and annoyances are minor enough, and the concept entertaining enough that I'll continue reading. I recommend this book to any fans of young adult fantasy who aren't put off by wordy, moderately-paced stories.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2005
The preceding customer review and the Booklist review summarize the plot very well, so I won't repeat what they've said. I'll just comment on what excellent adventure and mystery the novel offers. Who are these children? Why are they being held prisoner in a boarding school? WHAT are they?
Highly imaginative and suspenseful, this novel is what a fantasy should be (and very few are): an intriguing situation, a dangerous threat, and wonders of the impossible that are made real. I enjoyed every minute of it and am waiting for the conclusion with great anticipation.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2009
The immediate thing I noticed about this novel, was a distinct sense of style. That's not to say other books I've been reading lack style, they don't. I just think that much of what I have read recently has a sense of style that goes along with third person point of views, a kind of cinematic approach to the story telling. I'm not sure I can pin down what it is that makes the style of this novel for me, it is linked to the first person point of view, but it's not merely someone telling me what's going on all around them. Perhaps its a sensation of time simultaneously passing and standing still, which I think is rather appropriate to the novel considering the nature of the Orphans of the title. Time is something that was very hard to pin down in the novel. I would say that the events are somewhat contemporary, but I would find it impossible to pin down an exact date the book is meant to take place in. Yet it also feels, perhaps due to the nature of this little British boarding school, to also feel somewhat Edwardian. Of course, perception of time for the main characters is one of the plot points, so I don't think it surprising at all that time's passage is not easy to pin down. I'm amazed at the number of fantasy books these days that have real world mythological characters showing up in the modern era. I think I'm starting to get a touch tired of that, but that's probably luck of the draw, not anything I can lay at the feet of any particular author. At the least, the mythological figures used are handled with new twists, and many appear to be thankfully more obscure characters. Which I happened to enjoy. Not the same old figures from central casting.
I think what I liked best about this book, was how each of the five main characters had a different perception of reality. And as an example of what I meant by style, you really understand this within the first few pages as he introduces each of the orphans, and gives you a sense of who they are and how the world works for them, all the while still through the lens of the first person narrator, Amelia. Quite an interesting feat. If the book can be said to have a flaw, however, it is the fact that it is quite clearly the first of several books. The novel cannot be considered complete and stand alone by any measure, and for some people that can be quite the turn off. If you got drawn in as I did, you might think it a good thing that there are two more books to read.