It’s not that Jo’s life was normal—she did, after all, live with a former movie star who once disappeared for 40 years and reappeared minus her memories; and Jo herself was found as an infant in the actress, Lily’s, washing machine with a note warning that she was a DANGEROUS baby—but it was fairly boring. Then a strange man showed up talking about his digestion, accompanied by a rather dapper—perhaps even dashing, possibly debonair, and certainly dandyishly dressed—cockroach, and before they know it, Jo and Lily are swallowed by a fish and spat out in Eldritch City. With their memories restored, Lily, the strange man, and the cockroach are readmitted, and Jo admitted, into the Order of Odd-Fish, a society of ditherers dedicated to collecting dubious data.¹ This is all well and good. Less well and good is that Lily et al were exiled, their memories removed, in relation to an incident thirteen years before in which a large portion of the city was destroyed due to the birth of a baby. A DANGEROUS baby. A DANGEROUS baby who, it is prophesied via TV show, will soon return as the Ichthala and finish destroying the city—nay, the world.
Eldritch City is a place of traditions, rituals, and festivals. Kennedy is at his most brilliantly inventive with the charters², gods³, projects4, and the like that characterize life in the city. Unfortunately, sometimes his creativity seems to run away with him:
‘[They] first have to give the girl some of the powers of the All-Devouring Mother. They do this by putting some of the All-Devouring Mother’s blood in her. . . . His…stinger,’ she said. ‘I know it doesn’t make sense, but the show says he grows a stinger, or beak, or some kind of second nose somewhere inside him.’ 5
Holy disturbing rape imagery in a children’s book, Batman! And then he makes it worse: “His gigantic purple nose was runny and engorged, a shapeless mass of skin and fat and veins.”6 Robin, what have I done to you?7
Deep breath. Moving on.
Jo’s isolation and anxiety are extremely well done. She has great friends and loves her life in Eldritch City, but she can never tell them who she really is. They, along with most everyone else in Eldritch City, declare themselves to hate the Ichtala and to want to destroy it. So Jo goes along for a while, happy and absorbing in her life with the Odd-Fish, until a random comment sends her into paroxysms of fear and loneliness; the fear and loneliness fade in the face of everyday life, only to rear up again a little stronger at the next comment or reminder. Unable to talk to anyone, she quietly panics while those around her discuss the evil she supposedly caused, will cause, and will experience.
The threatening stuff is mixed. On the one hand, the religion behind the Ichthala and those who actually want her to come destroy the world does make sense. Destructive and eschatological, yes, but logical and even beautiful (in the mathematical sense). On the other hand, the villains are not particularly interesting and are particularly annoying. They’re both trying too hard: one to be evil, the other to be funny. In their failures, they don’t produce schadenfreude; they produce embarrassment. And I really hate vicarious embarrassment.
The author is, i think, an Odd-Fish: “‘As an Odd-Fish, it is not my job to be right,’ said Sir Oort. ‘It is my job to be wrong in new and exciting ways.'”8. Mostly right, somewhat wrong, The Order of Odd-Fish is certainly new and exciting.
¹ In case you were wondering, yes, the alliteration is necessary, and yes, it has precedent in the book.
² “‘”It is an appendix of dubious facts, rumors, and myths,”‘ recited Colonel Korsakov. ‘”A repository of questionable knowledge, and an opportunity to dither about.” That’s from our charter.'” pp. 85-86.
³ Quafmaf, the Pigeon of the Moon; Nixilpilfi, the Gerbil Who Does Not Know Mercy; Mizbiliados, the Bleeding Butterfly; Pzarnarfalasath, the Rhinoceros Whose Laughter Destroys Worlds; and 144,440 more. pp. 262, 261.
4 “‘As you know, my specialty is unusual musical instruments,’ announced Sir Alasdair. ‘And for all my life, I’ve dreamed of playing the most unusual instrument of all: a living animal!'” p. 175.
5 Pp. 243-244.
6 P. 246.
7 From an actual golden age comic.
8 P. 175.