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Literature / Chronicles of Chaos

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The Chronicles of Chaos is a fantasy trilogy by John C. Wright. Amelia Windrose, a sheltered tomboy who dreams of travel and adventure, narrates the story of herself and her four foster siblings: Victor, logical and imperious, Vanity, who is giddy and curious, the domineering bully Colin, and the quiet, withdrawn Quentin. They are the only five students at a private school somewhere in the English countryside, so sheltered that they wonder if the "Earth" their teachers have taught them even conforms to the world they live in? A physics experiment on the ether is what first suggests that something is off.

That is the beginning. Then, over the events of a few days, these children slowly discover their own heritage and the nature of the beings imprisoning them.


  • Orphans of Chaos
  • Fugitives of Chaos
  • Titans of Chaos

Tropes featured Include:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Wright's writing style contains numerous interludes between action sequences where the characters take stock, discuss or think about morality, future repercussions of their actions, and their own emotional responses to danger.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Vanity's powers can find-slash-create passages where none ought to exist. The first book contains a passageway accessed through a grandfather clock.
  • The Almighty Dollar: The Greek/Roman god Mercury is a god of wealth, money, and speed.
  • Amnesiac Hero: The plot of the first book revolves around the orphans realizing that their memories have been tampered with—multiple times. The book also ends with them losing their memories.
  • Amnesia Loop: Some discoveries have to be made more than once.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Amelia confronts the possibility of getting back her memories, she fears that her true self could be someone terrible, like a murderess, an adulteress... or an environmentalist; she also fears to be someone who can't do math, or who likes Tony Blair.
  • Archangel Gabriel: In Orphans, Amelia says that rather than pray to God, she prefers praying to Gabriel, seeing him as the only one mentioned in the major religions (Christianism, Judaism and Islamism)
  • As You Know: Subverted; "Headmaster Boggin" begins one of these, but is quickly stopped. Double subverted later, when you find out his reason.
  • Author Appeal: The curricula that the orphans are taught are taken directly from Wright's alma mater, St. John's College.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Amazons.
  • Axe-Crazy: Artemis, the Maenads.
    • The Maenads are so completely crazy that they have to be mind controlled in order to be a useful force....otherwise they would be tearing each other to pieces. Literally.
  • Back from the Dead: Because of Mutually Exclusive Magic, by several means.
  • Being Watched: A natural consequence of their hostage situation
  • Blackmail: Amelia attempts to blackmail another character with the fact that said character is not working for Boggin as per their employment contract. It doesn't work to begin with because Amelia is a complete amateur and also because it's a double-cross.
  • Children Are Innocent: Explicitly invoked; Mrs. Wren asks Vanity and Amelia to pray for her, because God will hear the prayers of the "young and sweet" better than hers.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Colin's powers run on this, at least as Amelia interprets them. Note that this is explicitly incorrect; due to the interactions between their powers each orphan has one other whose powers they are literally incapable of understanding (the one whose powers trump theirs).
  • Close-Knit Community: The Prelapsarians, who will not act to distress Helion despite his holding no official position.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Victor was warned of this as a child.
  • Conversational Troping: There are several discussions as to what kind of book the characters are or would be in.
  • Cool Ship: Which, as it turns out can be:
    • Cool Boat: Vanity's Argent Nautilus can sail through any sea—in any dimension—and responds to her telepathic commands.
    • Cool Starship (This one takes some aftermarket modifications....)
  • Crossover Cosmology: Features Grendel, Greek gods, and figures from nursery rhymes — among others.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Amelia is a bit too ladylike to qualify as a First-Person Smartass.
  • Death of Personality: This is referenced by Vanity, upon learning that all of them are Uranians (or Titans) and prisoners of war of the Olympians, who had their memories erased, forced into human bodies, and raised as such she cries that they commited murder by making them forget their true selves.
  • Determinator: Telegonus was sent to protect Vanity. He continues to do so long after he was dead, and while he is being dragged down to hell.
    Glum: "He ain't going to run away, that one. I seen him fighting Neptune's men when they killt him. Fought even after he'd lost. Even after he'd died. He don't give up."
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Multiple times by multiple characters, but most notably when Hermes pauses in mid-rampage to chat up Vanity, complete with a We Can Rule Together pitch.
  • The Dreaded: Even for the four faction of Chaos, the Army of the Dead seems to be this, Boggin recalls that the four armies either fled or stoped their advances when The Unseen One (Hades) opened the Gates of hell:
    "Yet even they, yet even they were held back by one more terrible still: the great lord whom I will not name, the Unseen One, the Lord of the House of Woe, came forth that day in all his horror, opened the hell-gate, and drove his armies of shadow before him; the dead walked, and the Great Fear was at hand: the dreamlords shrieked and fled like mist; the Fallen spirits cowered, aetherial spear and shield a-tremble in their airy hands; and the cold brains of the war-machines of the Lost would not open fire with their planet-destroying weapons without the support of their allies. Even the deathless Titans of your timeless people, the prelapsarians, were astonished, and they paused, even though they could not be made afraid."
  • Due to the Dead: They have to bury some corpses they come upon, though they know nothing of the dead.
  • Dumb Blonde: Used as an insult to the blonde, quite brainy, but also quite inexperienced/naive Amelia.
  • Enemy Civil War: Part of the backstory, and connected to why the orphans are in the school.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Grendel, who has a reverence for his mother more honest than his reverence for "marriage."
    • Mavors, who has been terse but polite until then, summarily threatens to break the kneecaps of anyone who speaks ill of Hera:
    Mavors: "When she stood up to dad and his philandering, she was called a bitch. When she said nothing, she was called a doormat. No one will speak ill of the Queen Basilissa in front of me."
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Grendel may have drowned hundreds of sailors and drunk their blood, but damnit, he's never molested a woman outside of wedlock. He's got the skull of a preacher in his shed to officiate, too....
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Amelia muses that every conspirator should know Morse code, as it makes things simpler.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: slightly subverted in Orphans, played straight in Fugitives.
  • The Fair Folk: Invoked by Quentin when he theorizes that Vanity's people the Phaeanicians could have been this in the Homer's The Odyssey, he mentions some similarities, like not having to suffer heat, cold, the seasons or weather, having food always ripe etc.
  • Faking the Dead: Invoked along with King Incognito (see below) by Headmaster Boggin in Titans who after being questioned about the need of a school for them essentially prisoners of war and teach them what was needed to use their powers, Amelia of course calls him out on it, but considering how he's behaved the entire trilogy and his nature as an Unreliable Narrator there is a fair chance of this being truth.
    "Well, would you believe that I am actually the Lord Terminus himself? The real Boreas has long since retired, and is living happily on his pension in Hyperboria. You and your brethren have been raised as the last and only hope of peace between Cosmos and Chaos, and you were taught your powers so that my sons and daughters, squabbling over a meaningless throne would not have the ability to destroy you?"
  • Feed the Mole: Amelia ponders what her actions might reveal when the orphans are being spied upon, and how to manipulate it.
  • Flaw Exploitation: Every paradigm is vulnerable to another, and a third is vulnerable to it. Working out how to exploit flaws is a major plot thread.
  • Forceful Kiss: Amelia tends to run into these:
    • Quentin forces a kiss on her to prevent her from saying words that will cause the aerial spirits to drop them out of the air.
    • Colin forcefully kisses her several times (it's how he recharges his powers).
    • Boreas kisses her after cornering her in a bathtub.
  • Forgiveness: In Titans, Amelia is told to speak the word and the universe will be destroyed in Revenge for her killing. It is, it turns out, a Secret Test of Character; when she does not speak, they proclaim she forgives her killers and shows that a human can make correct moral judgments. Later, Quentin manages to nullify a Curse against him for killing Lamia by forgiving her for the injuries she did him.
    • Also, this is represented by Queen Basilissa (Hera) who is said by Cupid to be the Lady of Forgiveness, and one of the three goddesses that can grant the Throne of Heaven by this.
  • A Friend in Need: Several people spontaneously help the children.
  • Gilded Cage: The orphanage where the story begins, though the gilding is in the education available, and thus not even apparent to the imprisoned orphans.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Explicitly invoked by Vanity in hopes of giving Colin the will to turn himself from eagle back to a young man. Also see Funny Moments.
  • Go-Go Enslavement: Grendel has his mother dress up his kidnapped girls like this. Her future daughters-in-law.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Well, not happiness, but Miss Daw, who as a siren is also a POW, admires and is loyal to Queen Hera.
  • Hidden Depths: Every character is more than he appears. Even Grendel, though not much more in his case.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: "Terrance Miles" wears punk gear and conceals knives and throwing stars among the zippers and chains on his clothes.
  • The High Queen: Queen Basilissa (Hera), whom Miss Daw deeply admires and says that she's the only decent one of the Olympians who she respects.
  • Home Sweet Home: Emotionless Stoic Victor's secret personal desire is to have a wife, home, and children—it being totally logical, after all, to want stability, companionship, and the propagation of his genetic material and personal ideals. Amelia thinks that this view lacks romance.
  • Humans Are Special: In Titans, Boggin certainly seems to think so, and assures to Amelia that she will come to realize this too, when questioned about being raised among humans, as humans he says:
    You will not believe this now, but in times to come you may. The art and science, poetry and literature, philosophy and thought and myth of mankind exceed the best efforts of the immortal races. Our muses need their artists as much as their artists need our muses. What men had to teach was more rational, fair, and lofty and, in a word, better, than the lessons you would have learned from the Olympians. They are the creatures of Prometheus.
    • There were already mentions of this in Orphans:
    In every human being, there is a spark of divine fire, which makes them sacred. We have nothing like that in us. We are mightier, older, wiser than man, and we do not violate our laws; but Mankind is a finer thing than we are, and some day we will save them from the Demiurge, who made them merely to be playthings. He did not know what he made.
  • I Have Many Names: The children, as it turns out. And everyone who works in the orphanage.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: In Fugitives, this briefly happens to Amelia when Grendel gets hold of her. He intends to marry her. See Even Evil Has Standards as to how.
  • I Know Your True Name: Done by one of the villains late in the trilogy, as an attempt to control Quentin.
  • In Harm's Way: Amelia says boys want this; Victor points out that she does.
  • It Was a Gift: Mrs. Wren gave them peculiar birthday gifts. Romus also gives Amelia and Quentin gifts in Fugitives of Chaos.
  • Jerkass Gods: Ingeniously examined. In this universe, moral laws have definite weight, which is why every supernatural species is leery of breaking them. Olympians, however, can define and change morality and destiny, which means they don't have to pay heed to them. At all.
  • King Incognito: The "head of the board of visitors and governors," Hephaestus.
    • Invoked Trope In Titans during the final confrontation between Amelia and Headmaster Boggin/Boreas with him claiming that he could be Lord Terminus (Zeus) himself whose death was the trigger of the orphans' situation. (See Faking the Dead above)
  • Language of Magic: Quentin's power isn't the "blast them" kind of power—he merely knows things like the true name of the first salmon.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: At the end of the first book. And, as it turns out, the beginning as well.
  • Last of His Kind: Miss Daw is the last of the sirens.
  • Like Brother and Sister: The orphans—theoretically. In the first book, Amelia states that she has long been aware that they are, mostly, not "the Three Musketeers plus two". However, Amelia and Vanity are noted to be "sisters, though not by blood," and the same to be said about the boys.
  • Losing Your Head: Orpheus and Bran. In Orpheus' case, it doesn't prevent him from showing up to the conference, or playing his music.
  • Love Triangle: Amelia, Victor and Colin, though amusingly Amelia fails to figure this out for a long time.
  • Made a Slave: The music teacher, Miss Daw, claims to Amelia that she is a POW. As a Siren, she is also a Uranian and has the same powers as Amelia.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Each of the orphans has their own distinct magical system, with extremely defined worldviews and interactions (and limitations) with each other. And Magic B is Magic B, and Magic C is Magic C... they get up to Magic F.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Characters discuss saving a cruise ship that they are on vs. endangering the universe.
  • Mind over Matter: Colin's power allows him to shape reality via his desires.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: Amelia, as the most dangerous of the orphans.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Amelia from necessity, so she keeps insisting, Vanity far more enthusiastically
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic: There is a sophisticated system involving four paradigms of power, each with a specific weakness to a different paradigm and the power to trump another. Plus two composite paradigms.
  • Never Found the Body: Several characters have or were noted not to have left any remains behind, in most cases because they were indeed still alive.
  • Not Quite Dead: In Book 2, Colin is temporarily presumed dead after falling off a roof, whilst trying to brain Boggins with an axe handle.
  • Numerical Theme Naming: Their original names — Primus, Secunda, etc.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: One god is out to destroy and remake the universe.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The Olympians vs the Uranians. The Olympians want to make the universe run according to established laws (including morality and gravity); while the Uranians want to demolish the tyranny of said laws.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The orphans are aware that they are being drugged and held prisoner, though they don't know why, how, or by whom.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different
  • Parental Abandonment: The title orphans never knew their parents. All of whom are, in fact, alive, but had to surrender their children as hostages to the Olympians.
  • Physical God: Lots of them, including some mythological gods.
  • The Power of Rock: Colin unlocks his powers by playing rock music. Deadpan Snarker Amelia notes that if he hadn't been playing in the middle of a war, the resultant noise would have been pretty bad.
  • Power of Trust: Amelia recounts a fantastic story and all the other children immediately vote that they are in a crisis and must take all precautions. She is moved by their trust.
  • Power Nullifier: Half the purpose of the school is this.
  • Promotion to Parent: Amelia and Victor, being the oldest, consider themselves to be the de facto parents of the other children.
  • Running Gag: Quentin's "The true name of the first Salmon." It later becomes a Moment of Awesome when he uses said name to turn a group of Maenads into fish.
  • Sacred First Kiss: Amelia is saving hers for Victor. She kisses all of the other orphans first, though. Even Vanity. Chronologically, Victor is the last person she kisses in the entire trilogy.
  • Secret Test of Character: Amelia is at one point offered the ability to save herself from a nasty scrape by destroying Earth. This is a test of whether someone raised on Earth, as a human, can have the strength of character to resist.
  • Shout-Out: Many. There is banter mangling together The Lord of the Rings and Wagner's Ring Cycle. When Amelia and Victor are talking on the Queen Elizabeth 2, about what a young man wants, she rattles off something very similar to the "Roc's Egg" monologue from Robert A. Heinlein's Glory Road.
    • Also notable is one point in the second book when the Orphans need to get past a locked, magically trapped door and Quentin uses one of the incantations Gandalf used on the Moria-Gate. Nothing happens.
    Quentin: That would have worked if these had been dwarf doors.
  • Shown Their Work: Concerning the gangs trip to Mars: "astronomers can figure out what year the scene takes place, because I established the orbital positions needed for a Hohmann transfer orbit".
  • Show Some Leg: Exploited by both Vanity and Amelia in order to distract male captors/adversaries.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Don't tell a boy to put you down when you're both being held aloft by aerial spirits.
  • So Proud of You: Most notably in the final book when Boreas tells Amelia that he is proud of who and what she has become.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: All over the place. Most amusingly done by Mavors, who speaks in a combination of Flowery Elizabethan English and military(esque) slang.
    Mavors: "Whoso seeks to slay one of the Children of Chaos, dies. No second chances, no repeals, no phone calls from the Governor, just a pilum up the fundament."
  • Speak of the Devil: Saying certain beings' names draws their attention. This is especially bad when someone called The Mother of Monsters has just found out where you are.
  • Spock Speak: Victor and Dr Fell, being robotic. This makes their pre-battle banter somewhat... odd.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Amelia has a slight tendency towards this, at least at first.
  • Stealth Insult: Boggin's conversation with Centurion Infantophage is loaded with these.
  • The Stoic: Victor and Quentin both behave like this most of the time.
  • Succession Crisis: Part of the reason the orphans have been in the school so long is there is dispute over who should take the throne of Olympus now that Zeus is dead.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Amelia feels sorry for Glum—despite his trying to kidnap/rape her—because he is simply so pitiable, lonely, and outclassed.
  • Talking Animal: Lelaps the hound, Glum's dog, pops up for one scene. He hopes that the kids will remember him helping them out later on.
  • Take That!:
    • Amelia's musing after reading Ulysses on how Joyce should have sued his publisher for all the typographical errors. Probably a general Take That! to True Art Is Incomprehensible.
    • Also done to Kant, whose books are the only ones in the library that don't give off any usefulness-light when Amelia looks at them with her higher senses.
  • Tap on the Head: Amelia tried to do this to Headmaster Boggin, but failed, probably because she didn't really want to cave his head in.
  • They Have the Scent!: Namedropped when Grum sets Lelaps on Vanity and Amelia's trail: he finds them, turns away, and starts to bay, running off. Grum comments that he's found the scent.
  • Through His Stomach: The first sign of Victor returning Amelia's regard is when he complements her cooking.
  • Time Abyss: Amelia's people, The Prelapsarians, are said to be from before the Fall of Man (or Adam) and said not to suffer the pass of time whatsoever
    • It's also implied by Cupid her own son, that Lady Cyprian (Venus) may be older than Chaos or Old Night
  • True Love is Exceptional: Mulciber attempts to bribe Amelia by offering her her True Love on a platter.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: A motive to keep quiet about love.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Amelia remembers Quentin like this.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Quentin can eventually create golems and swap shapes between them. Colin, whose power is "wishing really hard" can transform himself into other shapes, notably an eagle and a pterodactyl, if he really wants to.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sort of, The four factions of Chaos, want to overthrow the Olympians and destroy Cosmos, but one of their main motivations (well at least for two of them) is to free humans form the suffering of time and fate, the later being indeed controlled by the gods, who according to the Creatures of the Void sees them as playthings (see Humans are Special above)
  • We Need a Distraction: This is Colin's default job, being loud, distracting, and obnoxious. His finest hour? Staging a "conversion experience" in a crowded Easter service to allow Amelia to begin arrangements for their escape.
  • What You Are in the Dark: See Secret Test of Character