The Chaos: A realistic, gritty portrayal of how society spits out teens who don’t fit in

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Rachel Ward NumbersThe Chaos by Rachel Ward

The Chaos is the sequel to Numbers, and is a much better book. The way the numbers work is explained better and the plot is more consistent. The Chaos also has the effect of making Numbers feel like a prequel. Jem is long dead in this installment, and her son’s story has a much larger scope.

It’s the year 2026, and things are a little different: climate change has led to many towns being flooded, and the government microchips people for identification and surveillance. Adam has been raised in a country town by his great-grandmother, Val. When their town is flooded, they move to London, despite a warning from Jem before she died — that vast numbers of Londoners are destined to die on New Year’s Day, 2027.

Adam soon sees these dire numbers too, and the nitty-gritty of his ability is explained. He can, and Jem could, only see the numbers if direct eye contact is made. It doesn’t work with photographs, TV, or mirrors. Adam has an additional dimension to his power that Jem didn’t have: Along with the person’s death date, he gets an impression of how the person will die, and so he learns that most of the New Year’s deaths will involve fire and twisted metal.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHe meets Sarah, a pregnant girl with plenty of trouble of her own. She instantly recoils from Adam – she has a recurring nightmare in which he does something horrible amid a fiery cataclysm – yet life keeps throwing them back together in spite of themselves.

One of the strengths of Numbers was its realistic, gritty portrayal of how society spits out teenagers who don’t fit in. This continues in The Chaos, and Adam and Sarah face real-world obstacles as they try to warn people about the coming catastrophe and, perhaps, change a few numbers. How do you warn people, when most of them think you’re just crazy? How do the police treat you when you’re seen as a juvenile delinquent and all of your forebears had a rap sheet too?

The disaster, when it comes, is frightening and the tension nearly unbearable. Rachel Ward does a great job of keeping it personal and showing us intimate, human scenes rather than “panning out” and going for spectacle. It’s rather predictable that Sarah’s dream comes true rather differently than she thinks it will, but it works anyway.

The only disappointing aspect of The Chaos is the ending, which is abrupt and leaves many questions unanswered. I wonder if it’s the setup for a third book…


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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