In the pre-Adventure Time days, there was no easy way to describe James Kennedy’s The Order of Odd-Fish. After all, how does one simply describe a book that is equal parts the snap-quick grotesquerie of Roald Dahl, the cracked-out madness of every late-late-night cartoon, and even the bizarre randomness of a select band of comedy anime? There is no simple way to cover all that. Or at least there wasn’t. Not before Adventure Time. But now I can say this about The Order of Odd-Fish:
This book reads exactly like Adventure Time, and it is a glorious, glorious thing.
From the back cover: Jo Larouche has lived her thirteen years in the California desert with her aunt Lily, ever since she was dropped on Lily’s doorstep with this note: “This is Jo. Please take care of her. But beware. This is a DANGEROUS baby.” Soon worsening circumstances lead Jo and Lily out of California forever—and into the fantastical world of Eldritch City. There Jo learns the scandalous truth about who she really is, and she and Lily join the Order of Odd-Fish, a colorful collection of knights who research useless information. Glamorous cockroach butlers, pointless quests, obsolete weapons, and bizarre festivals fill Jo and Lily’s days, but two villains—one quite silly and one more demonic than you can possibly imagine—control their fate. Jo is inching closer and closer to the day when her destiny will be fulfilled, and no one in Eldritch City will ever be the same.
Odd-Fish is a book unlike any book that I’ve ever read. It shares similarities with the whimsical worlds of Roald Dahl and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, but takes the absurdity inherent in such worlds and turns it up to eleven, with hilarious results. It might actually be the most hilarious book I’ve ever read.
The amazing thing about Odd-Fish, though, is not that laugh-out-loud moments occur; it’s that they continue, and they keep continuing until you start wondering how much funny can possibly fit into a book and then realize that you’re still on the same scene, and there’s, blissfully, more to come. It’s not typical funny, though. I’ve read humor books that have literally kept me laughing from page to page, but these books all tackle rather normal topics—the humor and quirks of day-to-day activities, for example. Nothing in The Order of Odd-Fish is remotely normal. It is totally and utterly nonsensical and absurd and wonderful and I love it. It is a novel in which the main characters include a Russian colonel with digestion so sensitive it’s semi-conscious, a four-foot-tall talking cockroach who likes fancy purple suits, a Chinese millionaire who wants to be as evil as he can because he’s already done every good thing in the world that he can possibly do and is bored with it, a celebrity prankster terrorist (Just read the book), and a regular girl who is not as regular as she seems—a combination stranger and more eclectic than anything seen even in Eldritch City. It’s a setup so mad that, by all accounts, it shouldn’t work. But it does. Even when it’s using an idea that we’ve already seen (which is rare), it works, and it works brilliantly.
The book’s only significant shortcoming is, fittingly, as odd as the story itself. Odd-Fish is at its best for the first few hundred pages, when it’s simply a string of bizarre adventures involving Jo and her friends. Nearing its end, though, it decides that it needs to settle down and grow an actual plot. The conflict and climax that result are still entertaining, but they don’t have the spirit of the first chunk of the novel, which is disappointing.
Still, fans of the absurd are bound to find a favorite in this novel. The Order of Odd-Fish has a place of honor on my bookshelf, and I eagerly await James Kennedy’s next work, The Magnificent Moots, whenever it finally releases.