Review of Chaos (Lost Gods #5) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 5 stars

“Nine gods ruled the world, until the ultimate betrayal resulted in their destruction. Now, the world is dying and only by restoring the Lost Gods can it be saved.”    All of the five kingdoms but Schatten have seen their gods return to the world.  Schatten, a world of darkness and ice, has been isolated from the rest of the world by Lord Teufel, the Shadow of the Lost Licht.  By his power and enforced by the deadly Sentinels, Schatten has been ruled by Order, its people regimented, living under iron laws for over nine hundred years.

But now things are changing, the gods are returning and chaos has entered the lands of Order just as prophesied.   A man named Sasha roams the forbidden lands of Schatten, his memory gone, fragmented, with just snips of knowledge to go on.  He knows his name and remembers a fight with a beast with violet eyes.  He has a whip and knows how to use it.  On his finger is a ring of immense power and on his chest is burned a black violet spider web telling him he is cursed.  Sasha can remember just enough to realize he has a mission, but what?  Sasha has the feeling that time is running out, but the more he tries to remember, the greater agony in his head.  A young man from the nearest village takes him in, tends to his wounds and feeds him.  When the village is beset by Sentinels, Sasha destroys them, something unheard of and the wary villagers cast him and the young man, David, out.  Together they travel to the capitol, Sonnenstrahl, where all paths lead.  Sasha can only hope for both their sakes and that of Schatten, that he remembers who he is and what he has to accomplish before they arrive or all will be lost.

What an amazing ending to an incredible series!  I have to admit that when a series has been as great as this one I am always a bit apprehensive when approaching the final volume.  Will the final book tie the saga together?  Will it meet or exceed the standards set by the previous books?  Will all the characters I have come to love, and the rich drama that has carried me from book to book come together in the glorious ending I have been hoping for?  I am so happy to report that with Chaos (Lost Gods #5),  Megan Derr answers all those questions and more with a resounding yes!

Lost Gods is the saga of five kingdoms whose gods were lost or killed nine hundred years ago.  Their worlds were plunged into darkness, their people suffered, and only a handful of prophesies gave hope to the kingdoms of Kundou (Treasure), Pozhar (Burning Bright), Piedre (Stone Rose), Verde (Poison), and Schatten (Chaos).  One by one, we watched the unimaginable happen and through forgiveness, pain, and rebirth, each nation regained their gods.  Now the only kingdom left is Schatten, the place and the god that started it all, the Lost Licht.  In each book, there has lurked a malevolency in the form of a sorcerer or dark magic from the lands of Schatten, as Teufel, the Shadow of the Lost Licht, has tried to prevent the gods from returning.  But we have never understood the reasoning or the power behind these attempts, the nature of their god and the land of Schatten remained hidden behind the giant walls and secrecy.  But as the saga progressed, it was understood that the final battle was to be taken back to the beginning, high in the frozen mountains of Schatten.

Derr has given us the epic battle between Light and Dark, Chaos and Order, and all the threads she has been weaving throughout all the books come together in a rich tapestry full of life, pain, death, forgiveness, love, and rebirth.  These are the themes we have visited over and over in every book and so they must all be present here at the end for a mythic conclusion.  We have been waiting for the Child of Chaos and were told in Stone Rose that he had been born and must be hidden, protected until it was time for the prophesy to be fulfilled.  I had an idea that the Child of Chaos must be someone we had already been introduced to but when he is finally revealed (no spoilers here), I was floored.  It never occured to me that he would be the Child, but after the fact, this character was the only perfect one and Derr’s splendid planning and brilliant plot was just reinforced with that reveal.  Derr has been meticulous with her plots, as each story moved the saga forward but not always in a manner that was immediately obvious.  It might take the next book to bring to fruition an idea or plot line she started with Treasure.  The amount of notes and timelines she had to have established to make this convoluted, complicated mythology come together boggles the mind.  Megan Derr never once dropped a plot thread or misplaced a character’s purpose in her story.  Really, its just so beautifully carried out.

And oh the characters we have met!  Each and every one a gripping, vividly portrayed person, whether it be a young pickpocket, a sensual White Beast of Verde, the haunted and haunting avatar of the Basilisk or the passionate, sword swinging captains of Kundou.  We have had young men sacrificed on alters of fire (I have never forgiven certain events in Burning Bright) and marble, old betrayals forgiven, and gods reborn amid the ashes of hate and love.  I have cried and laughed my way through each book while admitting I do have some favorites among her characters.  We revisit some of my favorites here and are introduced to new beautifully fleshed out characters who appear in Chaos.  High Seer Friedrich is just an example.  He is the High Seer of Schatten, one of immense power who helps enforce the laws of Teufel.  But from the start, we realize, along with him, that something is terribly wrong with him.  He hears a voice in his head, more than hears, he sees this person Dracht who talks to him, visits him in his dreams and makes love to him.  Dracht seems so  real but he whispers things of such sacrilege that Friedrich thinks he is losing his mind.  There is an under Seer who is scheming to take Friedrich’s place and a High Sorcerer who reports that Sentinels are being killed  all over the Kingdom, an unheard of event.  Then we meet David, a true innocent.  An orphan who loses the one person who took him in yet turns around and offers shelter to someone who might have caused that person’s death.  David is such a shining presence you fear for him immediately because you have seen what has happened to ones like him in the past.  David’s youthful goodness is balanced out by his younger friend, Killian, whose immaturity and bratty nature threatens David’s precarious position within the village.

And finally we have Sasha, the warrior with the lost memory and a mission to accomplish.  Sasha is older, powerful and at ease with his weapons.  He looks in a mirror but doesn’t recognize his face.  When he thinks of love, he feels pain and loss yet everything about David calls to him.  Sasha can’t remember his identity but realizes that the happiness he has found with David is something he has never achieved before, and the irony does not escape him.  One person after another strides across the landscape of this saga, each bursting with life, their emotions so real, so authentic that we cannot help but become involved in their stories. Their hopes and promises become ours, we absorb their pain and when their hearts break with loss so does ours.  That is wonderful storytelling, that is terrific writing. The boxes of tissues I have gone through over the course of this outstanding saga would fill a shelf.

But if I have shed many tears, I have also laughed, chuckled, and shouted with joy and ended my journey with the Lost Gods absolutely satisifed, amazed at the depth of Derr’s world building, and assured that the books of the Lost Gods will be ones I reread over and over again.  What a saga! What heros and what amazing gods we have met along the way.  Do yourself a favor.  Pick this saga up, settle into your favorite place to read, and prepare to lose yourself in worlds so amazing you will never want to leave.  I feel that way every time I think of these books. I think you will feel that way too. This is one of my best series for 2012.

Cover:  I love these covers by London Burden.  Each cover is a map of the kingdom whose story is being told.  The colors all have significance as well.  Just outstanding.  These are among my favorites of the year.

Here is the Lost Gods series, in the order they were written and should be read, in order to understand the complicated plots and characters within.

Treasure (Lost Gods#1) – Kingdom of Kundou

Burning Bright (Lost Gods#2) – Kingdom of P0zhar and my favorite book of the series

Stone Rose (Lost Gods#3) – Kingdom of Piedre

Poison (Lost Gods#4) – Kingdom of Verde

Chaos (Lost Gods#5) – Kingdom of Schatten

Review of Phoenix Rising by Theo Fenraven

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Rating: 3.5 stars

It’s early morning hours when Det. Artemis Gregory gets a phone call from his partner, Rachel Wayland.  Another body has been found and that makes three in all.  The victims were young, gorgeous gay men killed on the full moon of each month. Each body looks posed and peaceful with little clues left at the scene to help them identify the killer. The latest victim has a fresh tattoo, exactly like the first body discovered.  It’s the logo of the hot rock band Phoenix Rising.

An interview with the owner of the tattoo parlor leads them to Talis Kehk, the lead singer of Phoenix Rising.  With his violet eyes and almost narcotic charm, he sets off Det. Gregory’s suspicions. The more they investigate the timing of the murders, all leads keep pointing back to Talis Kehk. Talis seems remarkably unconcerned for a man under suspicion of murder and his continued attempts to see Artemis confuse the Detective even as he becomes attracted to Talis.  Det. Gregory believes he is a good cop.  He has sacrificed his relationships and his private life to the hours required to be a Detective.  How can he  reconcile his reactions to this impossible man who may just be a serial killer with his duties as a police officer?  The time of the next full moon draws near and the moon killer will surely strike again. Can Artemis find the killer before its too late and will the killer’s identity destroy his chance for love.

Phoenix Rising is the first book I have read by Theo Fenraven and it has many wonderful qualities.  Fenraven’s myth building here is terrific.  He does an excellent job of bringing mythology to life with vivid descriptions and small attention to detail.  I can’t go into too much details here otherwise I would be giving away too many spoilers but let’s just say I could clearly see the  splendor of the author’s creation.  His humans fall a little short though after a promising start.  Det. Artemis Gregory comes across at the beginning as a typical cop.  He’s harried, sleep deprived, job obsessed and lonely.  Artemis long ago came to terms with the emotional costs of his job, it even lost Artemis his most recent relationship as his boyfriend recognized he would never be a priority that Artemis’ job was.  Rachel Wayland makes a good partner as well and they balance each other nicely.  I liked the details of the police investigation, they have an authentic ring to them and the author has clearly done his homework with regard to police work.

So what is the quibble?  That halfway through the story, Artemis Gregory discards his hard won persona and becomes totally unbelievable.  It’s very hard to talk about how his characterization failed without giving away the plot of the story but right up until a certain dramatic event, Artemis Gregory is as thorough and compulsive a cop as you will meet outside of Law and Order.  He’s watchful, sneaky, and smart.  I totally got him.  And then it all disappeared. Kaput. At one point in the novel, Gregory wonders how he is to live his life, how is he to occupy his time. A reasonable question and the first reappearance of the man who started the story.  And then the question is never answered and the Detective I loved disappeared never to return, leaving a shell of a persona behind.  What a shame.  Tossed away as well are the other fleshed out characters of his partner and coworkers.

The other quibble I have is that a tight, cohesive story starts to resemble swiss cheese about two thirds of the way through.  A building burns around their ears and no one seems to care, a huge deal is made of the killing of the young men and then a surprising tossed off comment at the end made me confused at to the purpose of it all. A Interpol agent says she will remove warnings from the files yet police around the world are now involved so that becomes a moot point. Hole after hole appears with nothing to plug them up.  It’s quite dismaying because the first  part of this book is just terrific.  If I could divide the book in two, the first half gets a 4 rating, the second half?  No more than 2.75 stars.  That’s how big a shift takes place within the story.  I would love to read a book from Theo Fenraven where the promise shown here is carried throughout the book.  I will look forward to it,  In the meantime, you will have to decide if only half a good book is worth your while.

Cover: Beautiful, dramatic cover by Anne Cain.  Perfect for the story.