Thursday, 7 February 2013

Mortal Chaos - M's review

Mortal Chaos by Matt Dickinson
Mortal Chaos has been nominated for the Carnegie medal 2013. This review forms part of our Longlist shadowing and has taken the judging criteria into consideration.

The premise for Mortal Chaos intrigued me. It looked like it could be a complex, exciting and thought provoking story.  From the first page, it quite literally puts chaos theory’s butterfly effect into the story. Chaos theory is complicated but basically suggests that just one small change can cause much bigger and broader changes. even in a determined system. 

Mortal Chaos by Matt Dickinson
Mortal Chaos is a page-turning global action adventure. There are quite a few characters and sub-plots, as you would expect in order to demonstrate the butterfly effect. But the plot itself is thin: a butterfly startles a rabbit one morning in Sauncy Wood, England. The plot revolves around the events that this sets in motion around the world, very few of which are pleasant (although this in itself is thought-provoking). Some of the connected events also seemed a bit too contrived (e.g. film crews and producers) and I thought some of the links between  characters and events was occasionally tenuous (again, an area for debate).

The characters are vast and include a mountaineer on Everest, a woman pilot, a hungry six year old in Africa, a trainee astronaut, jockeys, vets, American psychos, thieves and kids who bunk school. Perhaps because the novel is quite short and there isn’t enough space or time to develop the characters (and because the focus is obviously on the events), the characters are quite flat. We don’t learn very much about them. However, many of them were stereotypically typecast – like the gambling plumber, an American psycho-divorcee, rich Japanese, poor African villagers. Interestingly, the two main female characters, Tina and Kuni, are not put into gender stereotyped roles, but while not giving anything away, male heroism dominates this novel. On the whole, I didn’t like many of the characters.

The language is highly accessible. There is also a lot of ‘telling’ rather than reading between the lines which makes the story very easy to follow (perhaps too easy).   With very short chapters, this was a page-turning quick read. I finished it – and quickly. But, I was relieved to finish it. The majority of the characters and plot situations revolved around adults in adult roles and I felt like I was reading a quick-read adult fiction novel rather than a complex teen novel.  

Clearly I am turning into an old prude because some of the gory details seemed superfluous to me and didn't enhance the story. The last page really turned my stomach. Of course, I know that none of this bothers a lot of other Little M would say, it probably just wasn't my cup of tea. I'm really disappointed because I wanted to love this story!

Other action-adventure reads on the Carnegie longlist include Call Down Thunder by Daniel Finn (it is an accessible action adventure that ticks a lot more of the Carnegie boxes for me – but it does have a singular plot and linear structure which is both less demanding and less exciting).

For a completely different perspective which highly recommends Mortal Chaos, see Beth Kemp’s review.

Publication details: Oxford University Press, 2012, Oxford, paperback

This copy: received for reviewing the Carnegie longlist from the publisher



  1. Hmm. I can't remember now if I have this downloaded onto my Kindle or if I borrowed it from the library once and never got around to reading it. I've heard good things about it, mostly of it's short, snappy chapters that push the pace up. Sorry that you didn't love it though!

  2. put it in a summary then people will read it even more

    1. Hmm... I don't want to put in a summary.


Hi there! We'd love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment. You need to fill out the word captcha too because of spam. Your comment will be visible after approval.