Chaos was first published in 2014 and is C.M. Fenn’s debut novel. It is an urban fantasy story which focuses on a group of super-powered humans who are dedicated to protecting the world from shadowy invaders. The novel forms the first part of The Realmwalker Chronicles, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been released.
Seventeen year old Addy is plagued by realistic dreams in which she’s falling from a great height. Although she always wakes before she hits the ground, she knows that there’s something different about them. They just seem far more vibrant than anything that she’s ever dreamt before. One night, she finally hits the ground and finds herself in deserted city. She’s quickly attacked by a shadowy monster but is rescued by a teenage girl who possesses the ability to change her body shape at will.
The teenager, Mel, takes her to Minor Calm – a safe haven in the world of Chaos. It is here that she reveals to Addy exactly what she is. Mel is a Realmwalker, a rare individual who has the ability to enter Chaos – a battleground between our world and the nether realm. It is the duty of Realmwalkers to fight invading Shades to prevent them from entering the human world. As Addy has found her way into Chaos through her dreams that means that she’s a Realmwalker too.
Soon Addy enters training and begins to develop her own unique set of skills. However, she’s arrived in Chaos at the worst possible time. A new Greater Shade has just appeared, one that seems invulnerable to all forms of attack. To make it worse, the Shade seems to be fixated on Addy and goes to great lengths to hunt her down. Yet if the Realmwalkers are to defeat the monster they first need to resolve the issues and conflicts that are dividing their ranks…
Chaos is a unique and well-written novel. Although it is very long for a debut young adult novel (the eBook weighs in at a hefty 540 pages), it never feels as though it starts to drag. This actually came as somewhat of a surprise to me as, thinking back, there was not an awful lot of action within the story. Most of it simply followed Addy, day to day, as she gradually learned how to use her powers, how Chaos functioned and the differing attitudes of her twelve new friends. I think that the reason why this novel flows so well is primarily because it’s such an original idea.
I’m struggling to find anything to really compare Chaos to, as it was so unlike anything I’d read before. There is maybe a little of The Matrix in there in the way that people can “awaken” to see the true nature of reality, yet the setting and tone is nothing like these movies. The Shades also reminded me a little of the Hollows from the Bleach anime but, again, they did not behave anything like these creatures. As I’ve reviewed so many fantasy novels now that essentially follow the same plot, it was really refreshing to find one that truly stood out among their ranks.
As the story progresses, the reader learns about Chaos at the same rate Addy does. Because of this, the novel never feels exposition heavy. I wanted to read on because I wanted to know more about how Chaos worked. Although the story was presenting an idea that was entirely new to me, I never felt lost or confused. Fenn clearly is excellent at world building and successfully described her world to the reader in a way that is easy for the reader to grasp. I really like the way that the different kinds of Shade have an almost symbiotic relationship and therefore need to work together to break through into the human world. I also thought it was rather clever how the abilities of the Realmwalkers mirrored the Shades, with those who have support abilities such as sealing rifts or healing needing to be protected at all times by the people who have the more combat-orientated abilities.
My only real problem with the writing of the story is its tone. At times, the novel was just sickeningly upbeat. I’m aware that this complaint makes me sound like a hypocrite as I’ve complained dozens of times about novels being overly angsty but everyone in the story was just so damn nice. There is no real drama in the book as everyone is just one big happy family. Addy was apprehensive about Chaos for roughly three pages but immediately declared that all the strangers that she’d never met before seemed like family and was happy to put her life on the line to save them. While there was some animosity with Simone (who was nasty because she was scared and became nice as pie as soon as this fear was removed) and Mikhail (who was just socially awkward) everyone else is just immediately best pals with Addy and are endlessly supportive of her. While it’s hard to hate on people for being friendly, it did make all of the characters feel younger than they were. I kept forgetting that Addy was supposed to be seventeen as she seemed quite childlike.
I also feel that I should note my feelings about the ending. While the novel did wrap up very tightly (if a little abruptly for my taste), it then contained a short epilogue which acted as nothing more than a cheap cliffhanger. This felt completely unnecessary. As I’ve said before, if a book is good you really don’t need to resort to such tricks to blackmail the reader into buying any sequels. The epilogue of this novel was utterly pointless. It was the only chapter not told from Addy’s perspective and served purely to bring an new Realmwalker to Chaos, one who will presumably be vitally important in the next book. The epilogue is far too late to introduce a new character and so I personally felt that the novel read better if you skip the last few pages. They don’t serve any purpose and, naturally, I didn’t care about this new character at all because I had no idea who he was.
The characterisation in the story was not quite as strong as Fenn’s world building. The secondary cast of this novel was enormous. On top of the thirteen Realmwalkers, there was also Addy’s family and school friends in the real world. Naturally, as the cast was so huge, not all of these characters could be fully developed. Some were just dropped from the plot after a while (particularly Addy’s crush Kevin, who was barely mentioned after the first few chapters). While I appreciate that the Realmwalkers were more central to the story, some of these also gradually disappeared after the half-way mark. While Addy frequently interacted with Angel, Sam and Mikhail, some of her early pals (especially Ember and Mel) gradually seemed to spend less and less time with her.
The development of some of the secondary cast was also a little sketchy. I’ve already mentioned Simone’s sudden change of personality but Mikhail also presented a problem. Given how nice everyone was to Addy when she was new, it struck me as odd that everyone was so quick to hate on Mikhail. It was pretty obvious from the word go just how shy he was. I’m not sure how anyone could misconstrue this as being a bad person. When Mikhail does eventually do something inexcusable in the story, the reaction that the Realmwalkers have to this is pretty horrific. To vote unanimously for him to be imprisoned for three months without trial is pretty deplorable, especially when his victim is really quick to forgive him.
Yet my biggest issue with the story is that Addy is an enormous Mary Sue. When you give characters superpowers, it’s sometime pretty hard to make them feel balanced. Usually, it’s good practice to give your character some kind of huge fatal flaw. Superman has his kryptonite, Green Lantern has the colour yellow. Addy has nothing. Absolutely nothing. Oh, and her power is mind reading plus the ability to mimic the superpowers of every other Realmwalker. Yeah, you might be starting to see the issue here. To make matters even worse, Addy never has any problem learning to use her powers. While most other Realmwalkers need training, she can just do everything first try without any real effort. She also manages to surpass the abilities of her mentor in the course of her first week in Chaos.
Her relationship with Sam was also rather sudden. The attraction was instant and the two of them didn’t really share that much page time alone so it felt a little as though they both came to the conclusion that they loved each other independently. For most of the early novel, I was actually hoping that Mikhail would be the love interest because he seemed a little sweeter. Sam was just too business orientated and, consequently, a little too straight-laced and boring. Of course, Mikhail’s later actions caused me to dislike him somewhat. Perhaps Addy should have ended up with Lang instead. He seemed nice.
Anyhow, this review is getting very long so I’ll wrap it up now. Although there are some problems with characterisation and an epilogue that’s completely unnecessary, Chaos isn’t a bad novel by any means. The plot is nicely paced, well-written and very original. I devoured this novel because I was incredibly curious to see where it was heading and was not disappointed in the conclusion. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this series goes next. If Fenn can provide a little more development for her secondary characters, it will be really one to look out for.
Chaos can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk