Award-winning author Jen Fawkes’s Daughters of Chaos is an epic novel about Civil War-era Nashville’s “public women,” a secret society spanning millennia, and the earth-shaking power of the female.
“A beautiful spinning knife of a story that whirls back through the 1800s, the 1500s, the 4th century BC, and the age of myth to slice out an image of the pain and the power that women have inherited from antiquity.” ––Kevin Brockmeier, three-time O. Henry Prize-winning author
The year is 1862. After a tragedy at home, 22-year-old Sylvie Swift parts ways with her twin brother to trace the origins of an enigmatic playscript that’s landed on their doorstep. This text leads her to Nashville, the Union Army’s western headquarters, bustling with soldiers and saboteurs, partisans and powerful men––and powerful women.
Sylvie works on a translation of the playscript by day, but at night, under the direction of the Army’s Secret Service Chief, she acts as Union spy. Both endeavors acquaint her with an ancient sisterhood whose members—including Hannah, a fiery revolutionary to whom Sylvie is increasingly drawn—possess uncanny, and potentially monstrous, powers. Sylvie soon becomes entangled in the Cult of Chaos, a mystical feminist society steadfast in their age-old mission to confront and eradicate the violent injustices enacted by men.
Daughters of Chaos weaves together “found” texts, sly humor, fabulism, and queer themes to question familiar notions of history and family, warfare and power. Inspired by both Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and the true story of Nashville’s attempt to exile its prostitutes during the Civil War, this debut novel journeys through Ancient Greece, Renaissance Venice, and a 19th-century America torn apart by conflict.
"Jen Fawkes possesses one of the brightest new narrative voices of the last few years. In 2020 and 2021, her strange and shimmering story collections burst into print in immediate succession, one and then two, like a perfectly calibrated fireworks display. Now comes her first novel, which might be the most dazzling book she's written yet. It's a beautiful spinning knife of a story that whirls back through the 1800s, the 1500s, the 4th century BC, and the age of myth to slice out an image of the pain and the power that women have inherited from antiquity—historical fiction of a sort, but informed by both our own moment and the Old Attic Comedies."
—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Ghost Variations
“Daughters of Chaos is a deeply feminist story that weaves together Greek mythology, Civil War history, sisterhood, fire, sex, and love. Fawkes creates a delicious tapestry as she layers found text, journal entries and letters, narrative and playwriting, resulting in a lush and immersive novel. From Ephesus to Nashville and beyond, Fawkes’s wide perspective allows her to shine light on women lost to time while embracing surprising parallels that will delight any fan of the classics. Her dramatis personae sing long after you’ve closed the book.”
—Elizabeth Gonzalez James, author of Mona at Sea and The Bullet Swallower
“Daughters of Chaos lives up to its name! Celebrating the messiness of women’s lives and struggles against the backdrop of the Civil War, Daughters of Chaos delivers a world that feels both real and surreal, a history that is itself steeped in our primordial stories about who we can and cannot be and who we can and cannot love.”
—Gwen E. Kirby, author of Shit Cassandra Saw
“In her elemental inventiveness, Jen Fawkes is descended from the Angela Carter of Wise Childrenand The Bloody Chamber but is also up to something exhilaratingly new. Daughters of Chaos is joyful and bold, populated so richly with twins and prostitutes and mythical creatures and historical figures that in the great thrill of watching its tapestry unfurl, the enormity and seriousness of the questions Fawkes is asking snuck up on me. This novel is interested in nothing less than the forces of chaos and order and the question of where lies threat and where salvation. Ambitious, vast, expertly crafted—an extraordinary achievement.”
—Clare Beams, author of The Illness Lesson
“Jen Fawkes has written a wild adventure. Rooted in historical events, this is a genre-shattering book that is both intellectual and a ripping page-turner. Surprisingly and blessedly strange!”
—Megan Giddings, author of The Women Could Fly