James Kennedy the Order of the Odd-Fish Book CoverIt’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.

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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.

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The Order of Odd-Fish ~ James Kennedy

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A strange boy (Stephen Rose) moves to a small town in the east of England in the 1960s. For most of the kids already living there, he’s a curiousity, kicked out of seminary school, living with the village woman known as Crazy Mary, surrounded by rumors of his father’s odd death and his mother’s decent into madness. For Davie, he’s a fascination, particularly after he whispers “move” to a hunk of clay, and Davie could swear it actually does.

The dialogue is trite and overblown, the first-person narration doesn’t match the way Davie speaks, and while I can intellectually understand that fistfights were highly important to boys in small English towns in the 60s, I still don’t really get it. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating portrayal of the effect of someone captivating. Davie isn’t just swept up in the supernatural, nigh-unexplainable occurances, he’s swept up in Stephen Rose, in Stephen Rose’s certainty and belief. Reading Clay, I was continually torn between my impatience with the mediocre writing and the power of Davie’s story as he’s untethered from everything he knows.

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David Almond
Clay

The first two installments of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel are really good, and no, they’re not Harry Potter rip-offs. J.K. Rowling and Michael Scott both take the characters of Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel (aside: awful name she’s got, eh?) from legend. History is reasonable certain that they were born in the fourteenth century, and died in the fifteenth, but there’s been some funny hocus-pocus involving graves…

Anyway, beginning in The Alchemyst and continuing in The Magician, two perfectly normal teenagers – twins, of course, Josh and Sophie – are caught up in perfectly abnormal events after Josh’s employer at a used bookstore is attacked by a couple golems in an attempt to steal a book. Naturally, this is not just any book; it is the Codex, and the bookstore owner is not just any bookstore owner (though even the most ordinary bookstore owner is, by nature, awesome), and these are not just any twins.

Ready? Set? Go.

This is fantasy and modern mythology at its best. The magic is used consistently and is powerful but limited; the myths are fascinating and well enough explained that you don’t need to go running to wikipedia constantly, but not so thoroughly explained that you get bogged down in exposition. And while the more curious reader may want to go for wikipedia after finishing, the author’s note adds a nice bit of extra information. The characters feel true – the potential for jealousy and the fear of being left behind are particularly well done – whether Gen Y teenagers, nigh-immortal humans, or being much, much older than that. Even the bad guys are complex and nuanced, without for a moment compromising their bad guy status.

Just as good is the writing. I’m pretty good at reading on the subway, getting lost in the book just enough to appreciate it without missing my stop. I’ve actually never missed my stop due to a book. (Yet.) Reading The Magician, I had a couple very close calls. The pacing is intense; you’re constantly being pulled along to the next plot point, to the next realization. Even when there’s a moment to breathe between dangers, the stuff you learn and the interactions between characters are fascinating and keep you absorbed. If anything, at a few points the narration moves too quickly. I had to fight the temptation to skim; I wanted to know what happened, but there were so many details I didn’t want to miss.

Now comes the part of this review I’ve been pondering since the idea of this blog was planted in my brain a couple months ago. There is one substantial flaw in The Magician, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to explain it without giving things away. I think I will just say that at one point, the author decides to play with the minds of the readers. Gentle reader, don’t let him. Believe what your instincts tell you. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.

And I hope you do get there, because these are bloody good books, and with more to come. YAY!

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