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Orphans of Chaos [Mass Market Paperback]

John C. Wright
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Nov 2006
Five orphans, raised in a strict British boarding school, discover they are not ordinary human beings. They do not age, while the world outside does. Amelia is apparently a fourth-dimensional being; Victor can control the molecular arrangement of matter around him; Vanity can find secret passageways through solid walls where none had previously been; Colin is a psychic; Quentin is a warlock. Each power comes from a different paradigm or view of the inexplicable universe - and they should not be able to co-exist. The orphans have been kidnapped from their true parents, robbed of their powers and memories, and raised in ignorance by super-beings: pagan gods, fairy-queens, Cyclops, sea-monsters, witches, or things even stranger. Can the children learn to control their strange abilities and escape their captors?

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; New edition edition (20 Nov 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765349957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765349958
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 10 x 16.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 466,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Wright's myth-infused fantasy looks like something older Harry Potter fans might enjoy with its creaky British boarding school setting and its five ageless orphans--Colin, Quentin, Victor, Vanity, and Amelia each with a supernatural gift." -"Publishers Weekly" on "Orphans of Chaos""" "Wright's "Orphans of Chaos" is a stylish roller-coaster ride through the best loops and swerves of science fiction and fantasy. Zelazny lovers in particular ought to love this book as much as I did." -Sherwood Smith "A bit like C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia updated by half a century, but with more gusto." -"Locus" on "Orphans of Chaos" "I don't know if John Wright's intent for "Orphans of Chaos" was to write a Harry Potter for grownups. But that's what he's accomplished. . . .highly enjoyable." --"SFsite" "An exciting, unusual, and very satisfying ride through the author's imagination, and the results are certainly going to make Wright even more of a hot property." --"Chronicle" on "Orphans of Chaos" "Start of a complex mythology-based series from the author of the astonishing far-future Golden Age trilogy . . . . Fascinatingly, dazzlingly erudite fantasy that trends inexorably toward science fiction; addicts will pounce." -"Kirkus", starred review on "Orphans of Chaos""

About the Author

JOHN C. WRIGHT lives in Centreville, Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy with a twist 31 Oct 2007
This is a refreshing alternative to the run-og-the-mill fantasy books that floods the market. Fantasy is successfully mixed with both science and mythology.

This, the first book in the triology, is a bit slow in the beginning, but gathers speed and momentum after a while.

As a Norwegian, I find it disappointing that Wright hasn't got his facts right. First he gravely misspells the name of Roald Amundsen. Next, he manages to indicate that Oslo is the capitol of Sweden. Go stand in the corner, John!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Really Enjoyable 27 Dec 2011
By Robert
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I enjoyed a couple of John C Wrights short stories, but was less than enthused with his novels. So I did not have high hopes for this one. What a pleasant surprise! If you like Neil Gaiman's work, especially Smoke and Mirrors, then I think you will like this. The hint of ancient myth mixed with modern life was slightly like Michael Scott Rohan. But it is the uncovering of the true background of four children in a remote boarding school or orphanage that kept me engrossed. Well done John.
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Format:Mass Market Paperback
Oh dear, an "X of Y" book. Such titles are usually a sign of bad fantasy, and combined with the bad cover art, I'd put off reading this for quite some time after getting it as a free download from Tor. Turns out that it's actually quite good. The orphans in question are the children of Titans, held as hostages to prevent their people from going to war again and overthrowing the Olympian gods. They are kept in what is ostensibly a strict (and cruel) British residential home (the author tries hard to make the setting really British, and mostly succeeds, but his roots show through in a few places where he's left in some American idiom, and those are terribly jarring - I wish authors wouldn't try so hard to hide themselves like this. By all means write about somewhere you're not a native of, but don't try to pretend to be a native. Grrr) where the staff are all supernatural beings - drawn primarily from Classical mythology, but a handful of British myths are also touched on and I may have missed some others. The story centres around an attempt by the children to escape from their captivity and their exploration of their own suppressed supernatural powers.

The setting is imaginative and is a good compromise between the supernatural magic of mythology and a rational, mechanistic worldview, and is actually part of the story instead of just backdrop; characters have motivations and feelings. This is one I can recommend. Sci-fi fans will find it inventive and new, classicists will enjoy a different take on their chosen field.

Incidentally, the author attended St John's College in Maryland which teaches a "Great Books Program". From what I've read of this, it has some resemblances to that taught to the characters of this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  55 reviews
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another weird and excellent story from John C. Wright 20 Nov 2005
By Elisabeth Carey - Published on Amazon.com
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.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harry Potter for adults? Not quite... 31 Oct 2007
By Lauren Hutchison - Published on Amazon.com
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.
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well Written but Disappointing 13 Jun 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but troubling 10 Oct 2013
By Evil Overlord - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I started this book with some trepidation. I first encountered John C. Wright via his Golden Age Trilogy. The first book of that trilogy was great, ending on a cliffhanger that promised mystery and revelations in an entirely new setting. I was hugely disappointed that the author completely threw away the advantage in the second book, which was literally more of the same - like stepping through a door to fairyland to find ... hardware stores, fast food, and traffic. I finished that trilogy but wasn't excited about it, and didn't buy any of Mr. Wright's other work.

When I saw this book for free, I picked up this book with some worry about what I would find. The book has an engaging premise <spoiler>hostage children who are Titans - I'm sorry to say that it took me a few chapters to be sure of this</spoiler>, that relies heavily on Greek mythology. It's mythic SF in a vaguely English setting. Five children with special powers struggle to find out who they are and why they're kept at this boarding school. Wright mixes in a number of interesting concepts, and the heroine is likeable.

Unfortunately, the story is undermined by two factors.
1) The extent of the mythological references is extreme. I understood most of the key references - confirmed by the occasional 'now I explain it all' moment - but there were dozens of minor references that passed me right by. Understanding these is not essential to the story, but not understanding means that they're just so much blather - like reading a technical manual that goes on about the components of the paint, when all you need to do is screw one piece onto another. I like my mythology, but this was only mildly interesting.
2) Some of the heroine's reactions are troubling. I have no problem with putting unpleasant elements in a story - often they can strengthen it. But I do like to relate to or understand characters, even when bad things happen to them, or they do bad things. I had trouble with that here. There are some indications that this element is the result of evildoing, and perhaps that will be explained in later books.

I'm unsure whether to go on with the series. On the one hand, the premise is engaging, and much of the writing is good. On the other, the two points above did substantially decrease my enjoyment of the book. Last time I read a Wright trilogy, the sequels fell very flat. So on balance, I think I'm unlikely to continue. If I see book 2 for free or cheap, I might give it a chance to improve. Otherwise, probably not.


The heroine, a 14 or 20 year old girl (it's unclear), expresses a desire to be subdued and taken sexually by force. By pretty much any male she meets. That's not my thing, but I'm willing to accept that as a character trait. Unfortunately, it's a central and defining trait - it comes up a lot.</spoiler>
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, if sometimes strange and bewildering 24 Jan 2006
By W. Eisenberg - Published on Amazon.com
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.
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