Today I am absolutely delighted to be reviewing The Children of Chaos, the second book in the Cruel Gods series by Trudie Skies which is out NEXT WEEK (so there is still time to pre-order a copy for yourself!). I loved the first book in the series, but The Children of Chaos has well and truly raised the bar and I don’t think my rambling comes even remotely close to capturing just how amazing this book is, so all I can say is read it for yourself and find out!!
You can find my review for The Thirteenth Hour HERE
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, and I also had the honour of being a beta reader for this one, however all thoughts are my own.
When the saints call, the sinners answer.
Chaos stalks the steam-powered city of Chime and threatens the existence of the gods and their domains. Kayl swore to protect Chime’s mortals from their gods’ cruel whims, but when she agrees to represent the mortals of a god long thought dead, Kayl is thrust into a political role that goes against everything she’s ever stood for.
As the newly appointed ambassador to the god of time, Quen’s goal is clear – protect Chime and the domains by any means necessary. But as the gods make their demands, Quen is caught between his loyalties and his conscience.
To ensure a future for all mortals, Kayl and Quen must unite the gods against the threat of chaos and decide what they’re willing to sacrifice for Chime – before the gods choose for them.
For the gods are capricious and have their own divine plans.
Holy… I near said Dor, but screw that guy (and yes you will see why, although book one gave us plenty of reason), this is such a strong contender for my book of the year. I adored The Thirteenth Hour when I read it last year, and honestly even though I knew I was going to love The Children of Chaos, it had a lot to live up to, because Skies really started this series strong. I did not expect to love The Children of Chaos to the extent that I do – to the point that weeks, months after reading it for the first time, I am still chewing over everything that happened (and patching up the wounds in my poor heart) and I am so so excited to get my hands on the final version and read it all over again when it comes out next week! But Skies has raised the bar with this book, it’s taken everything that was so fantastic about the first book and added more on top.
The world-building was my favourite aspect of the first book, and Skies has not let up in the slightest in that regard. Even Chime, the wonderful melting pot of a city that we spent so much time in The Thirteenth Hour is constantly shifting and expanding, and there is never any feeling of stagnation in this world – we get to see the impacts of the events of the previous book playing out both in the physical aspects of the location, to the way different Mortals are now interacting, and restrictions and laws come in to play. However, that foundation that carries over from the first book, means that The Children of Chaos was able to take the world-building to new heights, and Skies embraced that fact in the best way possible, and in this book, we get to see the world expand so much.
Or should that be worlds, because now we get to see some of the domains, and I am still in total awe at what Skies has managed to create here. Each domain is such a well-realised world in and of itself, while also being part of the greater whole, and honestly, I could have just spent endless chapters in each domain that we visited, because we were given such a vivid, visceral picture of each one. The care and attention given to making each one not just unique, but to reflect the god that ruled it and the mortals that lived there, and to create living, breathing functional worlds e.g., how the Mesmer world has soft play centres (which is still such a cute mental image). Rapture and Obituary were probably my favourites, but I enjoyed exploring these worlds that had only been hinted at through the mortals we’d encountered in Chime for the most part. I also really loved, how the gods which are removed in Chime, were so very present in the domains – not just in terms of their physical presence, but how their personalities and aspects shaped the world, and the mortals, and it’s fun to see the connections coming together with what we’ve seen in Chime.
Then there are the gods. This crosses a little into character work which I will talk about later (and is a major strength of this book and series), but as we get to see more of the domains and events in Chime come to a head, we get to see more of the gods.
And….the gods except for Memorpheous are assholes.
And yet they are also fantastic. I love them and loathe them in equal measure, and as with the worldbuilding as a whole I am in awe of the author’s imagination in creating this pantheon of gods. Cruel Gods is an incredibly accurate description, and in The Children of Chaos in particular we get to see that ‘cruelty’ is not so easily defined, and Skies demonstrates this by creating and writing such a variety of ‘cruelty’ and how it is applied both to their own mortals and to others. It’s a fascinating exploration, and the variety and way it is handled means that it never becomes overwhelming or detracts from the story, and it adds so many levels to the story. As it brings in why the Godless exist and want to be free, why others fear their gods, but also the idea that what one person might perceive as cruel, is something that another might not want or need rescuing from.
We also have more epigraphs in The Children of Chaos, which is great as this is still one of my favourite ways to learn more about the world of the book. There is a great variety here – as you would expect in a story and world that encompasses so much, and I will say that they are well worth paying attention to, because amongst the titbits of knowledge are hints and little details that fold into the whole.
The Children of Chaos is different.
It’s dirtier and filled with sin in the best way. It carries the weight of events from the first book, and I loved that we got to see the consequences play out both on a personal level e.g., amongst the Godless, but also on a larger scale within Chime and beyond. That continuity, even as fresh stakes and costs are introduced, brings me to another aspect that really stood out to me in this book. AND that is just how cohesive this story is. There are so many moving parts, almost as though you are inside the clock tower in Chime and trying to make sense of all the parts that make it work, and I will say that it does demand a certain amount of attention, because the hints and details are layered throughout the story – there were so many bits that I picked up on my second and third read through.
As mentioned above Skies character work in The Children of Chaos is second to none. We have both the return of familiar faces, and Kayl and Quen continue to steal the show, while I ended up more invested in the Godless (old and new) than ever and oh, oh my heart. Then there’s Jinx, who was a fantastic character in book one, but now as a separate entity and POV reached new heights. Jinx is terrifying and intriguing, and there were moments when I wanted to hate her, but honestly everything about Jinx is so justified from her childishness from not having really grown up in the same way Kayl did despite their shared experience, to her rage about that and what is happening to her mother. She was incredibly easy to emphasize with, even if you didn’t always agree with her choices, and I loved that we could see the influences and similarities from her time with Kayl in both her actions and personalities, and that between her and Kayl we get to see two different sides of what chaos could be.
Kayl and Quen are both the characters we have come to love, and yet changed, and changing. As with the world, a lot of the groundwork had been done in book one for these two and their developing relationship, but The Children of Chaos doesn’t rest on its laurels, and I loved that we got to see this relationship that had always been forged in fire continuing in that vein. As with everything, we can see the effects of the events of book one on them as individuals and as partners, the distance of doubt and grief and guilt, with that prevailing trust that had developed through what they’d gone through. The development between them was so well done and organic throughout this book, and I loved that there were so many layers to their interactions and relationship, dependent on external forces (glares at the gods), the situation, but also to the give and take between them. And I think this is why these two work so well, because as well as that foundation of trust, it is very much a partnership and even when that risks being forgotten, they work through it and the concern and mutual awareness of the pressures the other faced, just makes it such a wonderful relationship to behold… as does the lovely, awkward and clumsy and ‘almost’ moments between them. And the end of this book gave me so many feelings and fears for the pair of them, and honestly it was perfect.
I also loved that as much as their relationship is central to the story, and them as characters, we also got to see them growing so much as individuals in this book. They also act as interesting foils, as they are the mortals of opposing gods, with very different relationships with said gods – and hugely different upbringing, and seeing those elements play into how they operate both together and apart is fascinating. As with Jinx finding her feet as a separate entity in this book, it also feels like Kayl is settling into her skin and finding who she is – not just in the eyes of others, but in herself and its wonderful to see her find that purpose, although you have to feel for her because the process is not easy. Quen also finds himself in this book – but in a different way – and one that I DID NOT SEE COMING! And it’s interesting, because it feels almost like Kayl’s growth came from losing things and people around her and becoming more herself, while Quen’s path was more through the connections he made with Kayl, and Ben and Pendula among them.
Then there are the new characters!!
My favourites (I am adopting them and showering them with candy) are the Mesmer Trio. Although really it could be expanded to all the Mesmer, because they were so central to this book, and we got to see so much to them without losing that charming childishness and sweetness. And there is a scene with the Mesmer trio towards the end of the book that is one that had my heart aching but is also one of my favourite moments in the entire book (and I had a lot of favourite moments). I think the Mesmer are so integral to this world, and story, not just for the part they play in this book and with Kayl, but also what they represent with the power of dreaming and possibility, and in many ways, it feels like they and their domain, are the bridge between chaos and creation and order and time. A midway between Corentine and Dor, that is often overlooked and distracted from by their childishness and obsession with candy and inability on many levels to care for themselves, but powerful all the same.
I think we could all use a little Mesmer in our lives.
Another favourite is Ben a Diviner warden that works with Quen. There were so many layers to Ben, and I love that we got to see so many different moments with him, from showing sympathy to Quen when he was ‘stepping out of line’, to his fascination with plants and how he reached out and connected with Dru. As much as I adore the Mesmer trio, I think Ben is the one I was most invested in from the new characters, and he made such an interesting contrast to Quen while also sharing a similar path – and he was also one of the two characters central to a fascinating aspect of the relationship between gods and mortals and creation that is introduced and delved into in this book. What I really loved as well is that we are given so much insight into him as a character along the way, and that the revelation at the end just feels like such a satisfying moment as we slide a final puzzle piece into place. And honestly it just made me love him more.
Joe and Gast were also fantastic additions to the cast, and for introducing and exploring new elements within the worlds, from aspects of their domains to that relationship between mortal and God. Both are characters I would love to know more about. Then there was Pendula – another great addition to the cast, and who played such a vital role in the crescendo at the end of the book and is a character I loved to loathe; and yet I couldn’t imagine this book or the events without her. The best and worst thing is that I did become invested in her, and really that just reinforces how good Skies is at creating characters both loveable ones and assholes (gestures again at the gods) that as a reader I can hate them and root for them in the same breath; and that there is always a connection, a reason for what they are doing, even if it is not necessary one, we can condone.
The Children of Chaos was masterfully written on every level, and its plot, world and characters just pull you in so completely that you forget about anything but what’s on the page in front of you and finding out what happens next. The pacing is on point throughout, balancing the action and chaos, with quieter character moments, while also giving the feeling of sand running through an hourglass, and time running out as the forward momentum carried us towards the crescendo. As mentioned above, we get to see the impact of the events in book one playing out in the characters and world, and even as we uncover answers to some of the questions and mysteries left from the first book, Skies gives us new ones to unravel and puzzle at. The prose remained really enjoyable and charming, and again there was that delightful Britishness that bled through (and not just with Quen’s continuing obsession with tea), as well as Skies ability to vividly paint their world around the reader. And just keeping all the various threads, twists and turns, and myriad other elements (and there’s some weird timey wimey stuff going on too) not only balanced but equally compelling all the way through.
And the ending.
Skies managed to balance leaving us feeling as though we are perched on a cliff edge, going WHAT JUST HAPPENED AND WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN with one of the most satisfying, revelation-filled endings I’ve read this year. I read this multiple times, and each time I am swept up in the events at the end, holding my breath and clutching the edge of my seat – because not only have we seen across both books that the stakes are real and Skies isn’t afraid to go for the heart, but because the action and the characters demand it. And it hits that sweet point of being beyond anything I have imagined, and yet leaving me with that feeling that it couldn’t have ended differently because it fits so well.
There are so many elements of this book that I want to ramble about, and I may have to come back and do an even more detailed look in the future when I wouldn’t be spoiling it for people; because holy shit there is so much that happens here, so many elements to love and SO MUCH HEARTACHE.
Truly there is no crueller god than an author.
A stellar continuation to what is a stand-out series, and I cannot wait for the next book even though I can’t help but fear what else Skies will do to my poor reader’s heart. The Children of Chaos felt like a political thriller, mystery, action adventure and fantasy all rolled into one, without ever losing any of the aspects that have made this series so gripping and refreshing. I loved every moment spent with this book (even the ones that had me shouting at what was happening to the characters), and honestly there aren’t words for how strongly I recommend Children of Chaos and the whole series.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.