Children of Chaos is the first book of the Dodec duology and well establishes the world and characters in it. Dodec is a dodecahedral world where the habitable Faces are surrounded by ice and mountains, which makes moving from one Face to another difficult at best. Although the customs of the peoples living on the different faces are different, they worship the same deities and seem to have the same Classical World equivalent technical level. The twelve Bright Ones are worshipped openly and people can either pray to them all or dedicate themselves to just one god or goddess. Each god has their own sphere of influence. For example, Anziel is the Goddess of Beauty, Ucr the God of Prosperity and Wealth, Veslih the Goddess of Hearth and Home, and Weru the God of Storms and Battle. The deities bless their followers with special abilities, which are usually subtle. There is also Xaran, Mother of Lies, the Goddess of Death and Evil, whom all people fear.
The bloodlord Stralg Hragson
first conquered his home Face, the Vigaelian Face, then continued his march to
the Florengian Face, which had little choice but to crumble. The Florengians don't worship Weru the same way as the Vigaelians, so the Florengians don't have Werists who can turn themselves into
giant warbeasts. Mere humans cannot beat warbeasts, but the price is high: Werists slowly turn into animal-like monsters, and their thought processes
are apparently slowed. On the Vigaelian Face, the Werists are the ruling warrior-elite and any apprehensions about the consequences of the battleforms are suppressed.
Stralg conquered most of the Florengian Face fifteen years ago. Now he fights against rebels who are mostly Florengian Werists originally trained by Stralg to replace any lost troops. The fight goes poorly because the former trains of slaves and loot from Florengia to Vigaelia have turned into demands for more fighters. His brothers and sister are ruling the Vigaelian Face in his absence. They rely on the seer abilities of the followers of Mayn, the Goddess of Wisdom. However, the seers
(or Witnesses, as they are called) are in an unwilling pact with the rulers and are
just now starting to rise against them.
The children of the doge of Celebre, an influential Florengian city, were taken as hostages
at a very young age. The surviving children have little or no memories of their birth city and parents,
but all of them have issues with why they were given away. The eldest boy, Benard, is a warm-hearted, romantic artist who is also a favorite of his goddess, Anziel. The second boy, Orlando, is fanatically loyal to the Vigaelian leaders and wants nothing more than to be initiated into to the cult of Weru and kill the rebel Florengians. The girl Fabia has grown up as
the pampered daughter of a rich merchant and has no knowledge of her roots. They live in different cities,
unaware of the existence of the others.
When the old doge of Celebre becomes ill, Vigaelian rulers turn their attention back to the hostages. One of them must be chosen to rule after their father and the others killed so that they cannot become rivals.
Despite the background of war and the presence of bloodthirsty Werists, the book centers on intrigue and has only a few fight scenes where the fighters try to end the conflict as quickly as possible in order to survive. In addition to the hostages, the point-of-view characters includes the rulers of the various cities and other important characters.
Even though Duncan has to give a lot of back story and introduce a whole, complex world to the reader, the story itself is fast-paced and humorous, not too cluttered with information but neither leaving the reader in the dark. The characters are more complex than it would seem at the first glance
there is no clear delineation between good or evil despite what some of the characters say. They act because on motivations, not on abstract notions. The most stereotypical character is the arrogant, stubborn Fabia, who is a bit too quick in her choices which change her whole worldview. Orlando's fanaticism is handled more believably.
The world-building is first-class. Religion is important to these people, and it shows in their speech and actions. Even though the world has a pre-industrial flavor, it reminds more of the Classical World than medieval;
people ride in chariots and keep slaves. Mammoths are used for the difficult crossing from one Face to
another. The cities we see seem to be more like city states with somewhat different social rules according to tastes of the ruling satrap;
in one city, artists are prized. In another, artists are considered little better than slaves. This level of detail is often missing from other epic fantasy series and helps to bring
Duncan's world alive for readers.