Monday, December 8, 2008

The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy


Have you read any Neil Gaiman? He's clever in such an understated way, making such things as poetic redheaded trees, children raised by ghouls, and an angel and a devil coming together to save the world perfectly believable, touching and human.

China Mieville? He's endlessly inventive and deeply dark, filling underworlds with unsavory characters, salacious detail, and gripping underhanded plots.

Tom Robbins? He writes absurd, whimsical modern-day myths with strange characters saving the world from mundanity.

If the three had a magical literary baby who fended for himself in the dusty stacks of a small liberal arts college with arcane moonlit rituals until he was rescued by the members of pagan art-rock group My Barbarian, it would be The Order of Odd-Fish.

Jo Larouche was an extremely dangerous baby--but life in her movie star Aunt Lily's ruby palace in the desert was blissfully dry and tame till a neurotic hedgehog, a three-foot tall cockroach and a mysterious package from the sky crash Lily's costume ball and Jo's humdrum life, setting off a wild adventure full of ostrich jousting, dangerous epic pranksters who create the most terrifying balloon animals in the world in a battle, knights who revel in useless knowledge and pointless quest, underground worlds, elaborate ceremonies, a mysterious actress who knows more than she lets on, dangerous musicals and the end of the world as we know it. 

Kennedy's first novel is so many odd flavors wrapped into one, a novel as rich and creepy and magical as Eldritch City, where Jo discovers her past and apprentices herself with the Order of Odd-Fish, knights and dames trained in esoteric sciences and obscure knowledge as well as jousting and ostrich-taming.  Together, they'll save the world from destruction at the hand of the all-devouring Mother, aided by the deadly Silent Sisters and the notorious Belgian Prankster, whose hideously humorous reality show leads to rumors that he may, in fact, be the devil himself. It has a sometimes droll, sometimes quick sense of humor best appreciated by someone with a love for words:

There was so much to learn, so many new things to do, she felt it was impossible to take everything in. Even in the evenings, the knights would gather the squires together to give seminars about their own specialties: Dame Myra would show off some man-eating flowers or metallic, glassy blobs she'd collected in the fens, or Sir Alasdair would give each squire a different musical instrument and watch in silent amusement as they unsuccessfully tried to play them, never offering any help--not even when Nora's instrument got angry, sprouted wings, and flew away.

I felt as if the first few chapters dragged a tiny bit, but once Lily and Jo escaped to Eldritch City, the story picked up at breakneak pace. Another little caveat? The love interest is a brave and true lad, but sometimes I didn't feel so interested in their blossoming relationship. (I have a far more interesting match for Jo, but Mr. Kennedy may not totally approve.) Hands down favorite character? Audrey, the gifted actress with a heart of gold and mischievous spirit:

One afternoon Audrey and Jo picked the lock to Dame Delia's secret dissection lab, and they spent hours examining dozens of Dame Delia's dead monsters. A huge spider was still spread on the dissection table, its underbelly opened up to expose its colorful guts; other creatures floated in barrels, hung from the ceiling, or were squashed away in drawers; still others were sliced into sheets and bound like books. Audrey stole what looked like a furry starfish and hid it in Ian's bed, and that night Ian's road of shock woke up the entire lodge, and Audrey and Jo had to bite their pillows to muffle their hysterical giggling. (This was part of Audrey and Jo's campaign to torture Ian until he got rid of his mustache. When he finally shaved it off, Audrey organized a small funeral for it.)

If you love elaborate ceremonies, weird motives, strange smells, hideous devices, a classic quest with Lovecraftian squishness, strong women and strange men, and the odd creature or two (tame squid anyone?), The Order of Odd-Fish is for you.

*James Kennedy's website

*His blog

*His performance group, Brilliant Pebbles: An exciting mix of romance, epic battles, space dance, psychology and fun. Adventures of imagination. Time through obstacle courses. Holy arrows in directions of orbiting eyes to new places. Animal knows, human houses guide -light- start -shoes- fireblood hearts SURPRISE ! Red curtains, and baroque bows. Gymnastic mirrors floating in hope. .

*Chicago Reader's interview/review, "A Giant Peach", which mentions his next work, "The Magnificent Moots, a sci-fi comedy he describes as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets Ender’s Game meets The Royal Tenenbaums meets A Wrinkle in Time."

*Laini Taylor's excellent review (scroll about halfway down):

You know how it's better to watch a comedy with somebody, that somehow the humor is riper and deeper when shared? Well, the whole time I was reading this I wished I was reading it with someone, so I could elbow them at particularly bizarre moments, or chortle, or read passages aloud and savor them. I don't recall having that kind of reaction when reading a book before, at least, not so consistently.


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