Who's ready for another indie book review?! This time around, we have Chaos by Jimi Rodriguez. I was instantly drawn to this book from the moment it was submitted, and so upset technology kept putting off my time with it! Thankfully, Kindle Unlimited came in handy *cough* Thanks, Mom! *cough* and I was able to squeeze this one in for Spookytime—I mean, how much more Halloween can you get than a magic school where people are being murdered left and right? Right?
Genre: YA Fantasy
Category: Emotional Read
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Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
The cover is simple and mysterious; the misty forest in purple hues instantly makes me think of magic. The story follows J.T., a boy from a small island off the mainland, after he is scouted and offered a position at Valcrest School for the Promised—a school where students can choose to devote themselves to Father Chaos or Mother Order and learn their ways . . . if they can pass the entrance exam. If not, they may find themselves exiled, perhaps even kidnapped and enslaved like McAllister, another character the story follows.
It’s interesting to see the differences between the two main characters and their goals as the story progresses—one boy an outsider offered a place, while the other is rejected by the society he was born into. While the story itself wasn’t quite what I expected, Chaos is a quick read that explores racism, mortality, mental health, and more. It's also surprisingly funny, full of gems like, “Normally, he wouldn’t chase a professional murderer, but this was a desperate situation.”
J.T. is a sweet kid; a mama’s boy who only wants to cure her Alzheimer's so she'll remember him. He's also a good friend who recognizes what his responsibilities are, stepping up when they need him. I also love that Rodriguez made him comfortable with expressing masculine affection, telling his best friend that he loves and is proud of him. However, J.T.'s lack of nurturing has turned him into a bit of a womanizer who is afraid of commitment and vulnerability.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the story is The Hunt: a televised school competition reminiscent of The Hunger Games. Participants are loosed into Bedlam Forest, where they must kill as many monsters (or participants) as possible during the allotted time. Moving lights/cameras follow participants, allowing viewers to see from each fighter’s POV—including when they die. Better yet, there are dragons!
I appreciate the morbid beauty of this scene, where J.T. thinks of how grateful he is for a student's "sacrifice" that allowed him to glimpse one of the last, sacred, immortal dragons without risking death himself. However, I found that most of the magic and excitement fell off after this section, partly because the dragons are not shown again for the rest of the book.
It’s also here where the more problematic aspects of the story become apparent: a slight lack in world-building and a timeline that can, at points, feel illogical and confusing.
Throughout the story, there were questions that could've been answered with a little more world-building—like how can all these kids survive alone for years? Why is half the population okay with death and murder, to the point where students kill each other for sport? What are their gods like, and how did they pass magic onto Maleford and Destilia? Why are the teachers okay with J.T. hardly ever attending classes, and why can he disappear from school for two months without any of them noticing or taking issue—especially since he was scouted for his ability! Why did J.T.'s best friend's body disappear shortly after her death, while another remained overnight until a search party found it? And where are all of the adults?!
Many questions bothered me until near the end, when you finally get insight into the villains and what their goals are. Then I was like this:
“Conversations are better in private, when the only means of exit are my will or death” - Castor Thorne.
Castor is an intelligent, diabolical mastermind of a villain. This proud, powerful Penultimate of Valcrest reminds me very much of Faustus Blackwood in Neflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. He invented and secretly dispensed a potion to his flock that removes all fear and sympathy surrounding death, creating guiltless killers to weed out the garden. Yet he knows this is a temporary fix and is working on a cure. As he puts it, “When the world is cleansed of filth, we’ll need to worry a little more over death, so we don’t go extinct ourselves.” He truly believes he is doing society a favor and that his actions are just.
The cherry on top is that he tests all this by sending Iliana to kill Lucille due to her ability to see through the fabric of time and space—his own daughters! I don't think it gets more villainous than that!
Another problem was the timestamps at the beginning of each chapter; they can be confusing, as timekeeping methods in this world are never explained. Aside from a few larger time jumps, they could've been left out. The most unbelievable part of the timeline was the main plot point: J.T.’s mother’s diagnosis.
His mom develops a rare case of Alzheimer’s at a young age and forgets J.T.'s face when he is around 4. He leaves home, fending for himself a few years until a Valcrest scout takes notice of his ability to make things disappear.
Despite going to a magic school, J.T. pretends he's unable to use magic and refuses to attend magic classes, believing they won't help. He also refuses to talk about his mother. All of which is very illogical. When J.T. FINALLY asks a friend if magic can cure sicknesses in the body, she responds as if it's common sense that it can.
J.T. should have some idea about healing magic, especially being best friends with a Destilian, who might be familiar with that type of magic. It isn’t until the end that he wonders, What if he could have cured his mother already? By that point, it’s been 13-14 years since she got Alzheimer’s, yet she's still alive and healthy, showing little to no change in condition since he left.
While J.T. explains some of his work and a small breakthrough, it wasn't enough to truly make a difference. Wouldn’t her doctors be fascinated by the anomaly? It would've been more believable and heartbreaking had Rodriguez aged J.T. up a bit and worked with a shorter timeline.
Despite the few hiccups, I enjoyed the originality of Rodriguez's story and world. I was curious, and I will admit some tears were shed—how dare you kill my favorite character, Jimi! I see potential in the concept, especially since J.T. finally started to budge on his ideas about magic. There are still some questions I need answered (like why has he been hiding his magic?!) that I'll certainly be reading the rest of the series to find out. I have a feeling Rodriguez has something creative planned.
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