Title: The Chaos of Stars
Author: Kiersten White
Length: 281 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★
[7/15 novels in November]
Sixteen-year-old Isadora is the daughter of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, but unlike her family, she is mortal and desperate to escape. When Isis announces that she is pregnant again and has been having foreboding dreams, Isadora convinces her mother to send her to live in San Diego with her brother Sirus. In the U.S., Isadora immediately begins rebelling against her mother’s attempts to control her life. However, she soon discovers that she cannot sever ties with Egypt so easily after all.
I really wanted to love this book.
I think it had great potential. It is/was a great idea. And I even like the tone and fun, kind of flippant writing style; it reminded me of Oh. My. Gods.
Also I’m still drooling over that gorgeous cover.
As I’ve said in other reviews, ancient Egypt was my first love, but I know a lot more about ancient Egyptian history than I do about its mythology. I know the story of Isis and Osiris and the role of some of the other gods like their son, Horus, but not much more. And the bits and pieces of that mythology that I re-learned in The Chaos of Stars were probably its best bits, sadly.
The internal logic of this novel made no sense. I can get behind the idea that gods need to be acknowledged, remembered, prayed to, believed in—whatever—to continue existing. Kiersten White isn’t the first author to have played with this concept, after all.
But what doesn’t make sense is this: why two immortal gods can produce mortal children. That isn’t how it works. Isis and Osiris had a child together, Horus—he’s a god. Osiris also had a child with Isis’ sister, Anubis—also a god. And in Greek mythology, and presumably every other kind, this holds true: Immortal + Immortal = Immortal; Immortal + Mortal = Mortal.
Not in this world, though. Isadora (whose name I love, by the way) is mortal. Her brother Sirus is mortal. And on and on back through the generations, all Isis and Osiris’ children since Horus have been mortal.
Why? No one knows. Though she does tend to whine about it way too often, I understood why Isadora was pissed about this, because it’s a raw deal.
When I was a little girl, I still believed I was part of the world’s secret magic. … Countless hours down there I painted, sketched, planned. I drew the stories of my life on those walls, filed them with the people and places I loved. My mom, beautiful and strong. My dad, serene and kind. Grandma Nut, stretching across the sky to watch us all. They were my family; they were my story. …
[But then] the world shifted. My childhood rewrote itself, everything changing… For the first time in my life, I did understand. All of the stories, the histories I’d been raised on? I had no part in them. … My entire childhood of warmth and love was a drawing in the sand—impermanent and fragile and gone in a breath of wind.
Just like me. (1-4)
A little melodramatic, maybe, but when you grow up thinking you’re immortal (and having every reason to), I can understand why you’d be devastated to discover otherwise.
And don’t get me started on Orion, whose own background was really obvious—but just as muddled and nonsensical, if not more so; it raised a bunch of new questions and answered none—because grrr, that is not how you world-build! Even fantasy needs rules!
Still, despite this confusing premise, Chaos could have been something colorful and unique and interesting. Instead of having “absence make the heart grow fonder” by sending an angsty, angry Isadora off to the U.S. for most of the novel, White could have developed her Egyptian world and Isadora’s complex relationship with her mother all at once by keeping her MC in Egypt. I didn’t hate the San Diego portion of the book. But the American characters were just okay, and the love story felt bland and obligatory. Worst of all, I knew—based on Isadora’s dreams—that all the action was really happening in Egypt, only I kept getting it second-hand through dreams and phone calls and emails. Talk about frustrating.
Unlike some others, I did not find Isadora to be a totally flat character. In fact, I thought she had some spunk and a distinct voice. For all the whining she did, well—she was a teenager, and for better or worse, her narration made her sound like one. Some YA authors write like they’ve never even met a teenager, so I actually found that kind of refreshing. I also liked how determined she was, even if some of her opinions were quite wide of the mark—like that the U.S. has no culture because it’s too “new,” and that having children is inherently selfish—and some of her decisions, rash and selfish. (Again, teenager!) I also liked her affinity for aesthetics and interior design, which was pretty unique in the YA world.
I’m also glad that Isadora had serious issues with her mother, even if I had issues (ha, ha) with the way their relationship was resolved. I mean, this could have been Brave, a crazy mother-daughter adventure that would teach both of them how much they loved and needed each other! But no. Nevertheless, complex mother figures and complex mother-daughter relationships are always welcome to me.
I would have liked everything much better if she had been living in Egypt with her mythological family, that’s all. Every time she mentioned Thoth or Isis or any of the others, I yearned to actually get to know them. Why not go the extra mile and, instead of just name-dropping, make them actual, three-dimensional characters? Isis and Anubis came the closest to achieving this—though the latter often came across as a cartoon villain (which made me sad, because Anubis is so cool with his jackal head!)—but Osiris was just a non-entity. You could remove him completely without changing the story whatsoever.
For all its shortcomings, though, I did find myself smiling over a lot of moments. Like this one early on:
Yesterday I asked what was for dinner, and all I heard back were wails for the death of [Isis’] husband.
Made even more awkward by Father, sitting at the dining room table in his robe and mummy wrappings, reading the paper. (6)
I got such a kick out of this image: Osiris, god of the afterlife, sitting around his modern dining room in his mummy wrappings, reading the paper like it’s no big deal.
Overall, I liked Chaos well enough while I was reading it, but I likely won’t remember it in a month. I liked what I wanted it to be, and I liked the bits and pieces of Egyptian mythology woven throughout, but as a whole, it was too predictable and formulaic for my taste. A little bit of a waste of a good idea.