Thursday, August 14, 2008

Book Review: The Chaos King

The Chaos King
by Laura Ruby

A budgie that speaks pig-Latin, an extinct sloth that loves M&Ms, a giant octopus that winks, vampires who are too cool, performance art, Sesame Street, secret passages in libraries: you'd think someone reached into a hat, fished out bits of paper with outlandish and incompatible descriptions, and wrote a novel that included all of them just as a challenge. In lesser hands, this can come across as trying too hard to be different or simply annoying. Laura Ruby, however, manages to put all these into one coherent and enjoyable story.

At the heart of this novel is the friendship between two friends. Each feels like a fish out of water. The girl is newly reunited with her loving parents (and a wise, Polish cook/guardian angel who wields sausage links as a weapon. Outlandish, remember?) after having been kidnapped by the father of her best friend. This best friend tries his best to distant himself from his thug of a father and finds himself in the high-flying—literally—world of being a winner in a flying contest.

Writing a novel that introduces so many fantastical elements takes an experienced hand, and the author certainly has that. She builds her world so seamlessly that I never once felt the pace slow down. Nor were there questions about this world that took me out of the story. Everything was explained clearly, succinctly, and at the right time.

Ruby writes in a somewhat detached, bemused manner, but not in that nudge-wink-see-how-clever-I-am sort of way. It seems to me she had fun with the story and I certainly had fun reading it, occasionally chuckling out loud, and often marveling at how she'd managed to make everything seem so easy.

Tell a story that has universal themes, such as alienation and friendship, and tell it superbly. There. I’ve discovered it, the secrets to writing a successful novel.

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