Review of Chaos Bound
Chaos Bound by Adriaan and Rebecca Brae is a young adult urban fantasy (it also might be categorized as paranormal). There is a science-fiction element but even by the end that aspect is more teaser than anything else. I am calling it urban fantasy, but the magic through to the half-way point is minimal. However, there are mentions of many kinds of para-creatures that would push the narrative out of the paranormal into fantasy, so I’m on the fence between the two.
The story focuses on Jessica Clarke, a smarter-than-your-average teen with peer issues. The novel opens with a dream sequence where an acquaintance of the heroine appears to be attacked by some sort of nebulous dark substance. This makes for a disorienting foundation for the narrative. Because it’s not really established as a dream or a vision or what it is.
As Chaos Bound rolls forward, Jessica is pushed from every angle, treacherous friends, bullying and obnoxious peers, school issues, career-involved parents, oh yes, leave us not forget dream visions and a shadow-possessed psychotic football jock. The authors Brae sure are not afraid of challenging their heroine. In a way, I think this throw-in-the-kitchen-sink approach works against the story to a certain degree because Jessica is constantly getting knocked down with no chance given to rally. While I understand life can be suffocating like this, I don’t need this much to empathize.
It is clear that the authors intend the story to be part of larger paranormal sleuthing series like a cross between Nancy Drew and The Dresden Files. The big difference is that our heroine while relatively plucky, lacks in having matters ‘together’. If there is a quibble for me it’s that until almost half-way through the book even Jessica’s friends think she’s crazy. Even after their first experience, it’s so surreal that they only partially believe. This makes their engagement with the story problem borderline unbelievable, and makes Jessica’s commitment to the issue seem forced. My biggest quibble is the denouement after the climax. It doesn’t feel wrapped up and Drew and Michiru haven’t really changed as characters.
Execution : 3.85 — The book has a consistent and professional execution. However, I think for a YA novel the pacing is perhaps too slow. It feels long and some of the issues seem repetitive. Less patient readers are likely to put this down as the ‘mystery’ aspect isn’t solidly confirmed until chapter 27-28 (200+ pages in). I think there needed to be less obstacles and more focus. The heroine needed some moments to shine before being dragged through the mud again.
Setting : 4.0 — The setting is handled fairly well, though I would have liked better physical registers in places. Overall, where it really counted we have ample sensory information to keep in Jessica’s point of view. My main quibble is framing context. The fact that it’s intentionally ambiguous as to what’s going on makes the material harder to engage. By the end of this long book I felt toyed with because so much of the background was withheld.
Character : 3.75 — Jessica is a likeable and plucky protagonist. Drew, and Michiru are great contrasts that lend variety to the story. I thought Jessica’s parents were far too generic and useless (just other obstacles to overcome). I mean, yes, I understand such parents exist but they’re barely a bookmark in the story, some depth and humanity should be lent to them. This is largely true of most of the adults in this story, I thought more imaginative things could have been done with them. My main concern is that after such a taxing journey that Jessica doesn’t get more out of it. No good deed goes unpunished. In fact, even the chance to settle affairs with her friend Beth is wispy and not very satisfactory. Realistic, yes, but not much fun.
Overall : 4.0 — Like its protagonist, Chaos Bound has something of an identity crisis. There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek and even the marketing implies that this is a light-hearted paranormal story. It’s not. We are reminded over and over of the stresses and peer-pressure that teens face, bullying, mockery and all of the trimmings. Through the course of the story, this never leaves focus. Racial predjudice remains an issue for Drew, and cultural expectations for Michiru. I laud the support characters being strengthened and weakened by these issues, but then it comes to the matter of the story voice. When these elements of reality weigh so heavily on the narrative, it’s tough to be bubbly and light hearted. When they get to the end, they acknowledge no victory, only survival. It’s satisfying and believable, but not uplifting. Despite the dichotomy, Chaos Bound is a worthy read, and definitely entertaining.