I’m a sucker for a good historical novel. Done right, it can drop you into a time period, introduce you to characters you see as dear friends or bitter enemies, and immerse you into historical events in a deeply meaningful way. The graphic novel Sons of Chaos by writer Chris Jaymes (Party of Five, Chicago Hope, Lost) illuminates the harrowing 19th-century events of the Greek War of Independence through the lens of tragic underdog Marcos Botsaris. Game of Thrones meets 300 in this bleak-yet-epic saga portraying the costs of brutal and anything-but-fair conflict with impressively natural pacing. Massive, lustrous pages serve as a backdrop to the grandiose, fantastical, and occasionally wincingly violent artwork illustrated by Ale Aragon (28 Days Later, Deadpool).
Does Sons of Chaos deliver the character-driven, action-packed, emotionally real impact that we historical novel lovers crave? Yes, for the most part. The oversized, shiny graphic novel was truly fun to hold, and as I read it in a coffee shop, more than one person glanced my way to take a peek at the volume I had opened on my corner table. The artwork immediately drew me in, and Aragon’s use of color is masterful; the neutral tones contrasted with shades of warm red immediately communicate the time period as well as the narrative’s inherent violence.
Before I continue my review, let’s read what the publisher has to say about Sons of Chaos:
In honor of the 200 Year anniversary of the Greek War for Independence, Sons of Chaos presents the story of 1821 through the eyes of Marcos Botsaris, the son of a respected Greek leader taken prisoner as a child and raised within the dungeons of history’s most infamous Ottoman Pasha, known as the “Napoleon of the East”– Ali Pasha of Ioannina. Over the next ten years, the bond formed between them would define history.
A two-centuries-old event is truly brought to life in Sons of Chaos. My curiosity surrounding the rarely-told story was certainly sparked and I even went on to spend some time doing some independent research once I finished reading. Jaymes employs strong characterization in his writing of Ali Pasha – although part-caricature, Pasha is engaging and I could almost “hear” his jovial-yet-sinister, rye tone. I had a bit of a difficult time feeling attached to some of the characters including Marcos (the protagonist) as the plot carried forward throughout the years and he grew from withdrawn, hopeless boy to mentally-strong, optimistic man. Moreover, I found the plot twist (which I won’t spoil here) to be a bit predictable, and there were a handful of grammatical errors strewn here and there throughout the book. That said, Sons of Chaos has many of the trappings of a Shakespearean tragedy and is a dark take on a coming-of-age tale with a “trust no one” theme – not even your family or closest friends. Zooming out to a more comprehensive view, the novel is a commentary on the tolls and atrocities of war and the repetitive cycle of conflict. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the classic quote from Battlestar Galactica (2004): “All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again.”
Should you read this depiction of the war that has been called “the pinnacle of what we now know as the Romantic Period…that stimulated the fall of the Ottoman Empire and shaped Western Civilization as we now know it?” Like many of the best works in graphic novel form, Sons of Chaos provides the reader a space to explore a serious topic while reflecting on its significance in our culture today. Dark and gritty with just a tiny speck of hope, Sons of Chaos invites the reader to reflect on the concepts of justice, loyalty, and trust while exploring the gray areas between good and evil. So yes, coming from a person who did not grow up reading comics, I can confidently recommend Sons of Chaos as an exciting, accessible, informative page-turner.