VOYA - Lynne Farrell Stover
Lily Larouche, an eccentric actress, hosts a raucous Christmas Eve party at her castle in the middle of a California desert. The next day, after a series of bizarre events, a giant fish is spitting up her, her friends, and a multistory building onto the beach of the extraordinarily weird Eldritch City. Accompanying Lily is thirteen-year-old Jo, a "dangerous" orphan who spends most of her time trying to uncover the past, avoid two psychotic villains, and discover her destiny by doing really irrational things. Lily and Jo join the Order of the Odd-Fish, an organization of ritualistic knights, squires, and butlers who research and catalog useless information. Eventually Jo realizes she is the catalyst who could set off a series of horrific events that could mean not only the destruction of Eldritch City but the end of the entire world. About twice as long as it needs to be, this book is an uneven mixture of ridiculousness and depravity. Although some characters are roll-your-eyes hilarious including Sefino, the three-foot-tall cockroach, others are unappealing, overly violent, or obsessed with bodily functions. The primary setting, the imaginary Eldritch City, is inconsistent in description and difficult to imagine-one should be able to imagine imaginary places. The word play is overdone, especially the annoying amount of awful alliteration. To paraphrase the author, "this entire story has become too fantastical for my taste." Reviewer: Lynne Farrell Stover
Children's Literature - Elizabeth D. Schafer
Cockroaches, Wormbeards, and Odd-Fish befuddle thirteen-year-old Jo Larouche, who, after surviving an airplane crashing into the ocean, is thrust from a giant fish into the absurd world of Eldritch City. Jo soon discovers that her Aunt Lily, who raised orphaned Jo in California, and Lily's eccentric friends are knights in the Order of Odd-Fish. Jo and other Eldritch City teenagers serve as squires to the knights, learning Eldritch City historic facts, which an elaborate tapestry depicts. The community was stunned thirteen years prior when an evil force, known as the All-Devouring Mother, destroyed vast areas of that city and killed many residents, including the mother of Ian, a squire for whom Jo develops romantic feelings. Survivors realized that the nefarious Silent Sisters placed the All-Devouring Mother's malevolent essence in an infant girl, referred to as the Ichthala, which will reemerge when that child matures. Rumors spread that the Ichthala has returned to Eldridge City. Jo duels and eludes known enemies such as the Belgian Prankster and friends, who abruptly become foes, intensifying suspense as she comprehends her true identity. Overly detailed scenes, excessive zany characters, and tangential plot developments may seem indulgent but contribute to creating a believable setting in which Jo endures trials and dangers, transforming into an extraordinary heroine who finds her home. L. Frank Baum's "Oz" novels present similar literary elements. Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up
Thirteen-year-old Jo Larouche lives quietly in the California desert with her adoptive Aunt Lily, an eccentric former film star, and longs for something exciting to happen. She gets her wish and then some when Lily's annual costume party is crashed by an elderly Russian colonel ruled by his digestive system and a giant talking cockroach with a flair for the dramatic. Soon Jo and Lily are swept up by the Order of Odd-Fish, a group of knights devoted to researching useless information, and taken to the fantastical world of Eldritch City, where Jo learns the truth about her birth and destiny. This debut novel has many of the trappings of popular young adult fantasy titles, including an exotic setting, a dangerous villain, and a coming-of-age quest. However, Kennedy's clever plot, rich and fully realized setting, and often witty dialogue cannot compete with his dense, ridiculous prose (e.g., "He could not even think about the Belgian Prankster for too long before he would feel his soul dwindle and teeter on the precipice of being blasted to nothing by the sheer demonic grandeur of the Belgian Prankster."). Very few teen fantasy fans will be willing to wade through the text, no matter how likable the heroine and how fascinating the world of Eldritch City.-Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD
Kennedy's debut sets a confused but game teenager down amidst a Monty Pythonesque cast that ranges from the titular Order of Knight-Scholars-dedicated to the study of all things pointless and speculative-to a corps of oversized, unutterably vain cockroach butlers. Thirteen years after being left on a doorstep with a cryptic note, Jo suddenly finds herself pursued from California to teeming Eldritch City, a pawn in the schemes of an undead creature of confusingly indeterminate nature and abilities. Why? Because Jo is the Ichthala, born with the vital component needed to bring The All-Devouring Mother back to universe-destroying existence. The author wastes this promising premise on an overstuffed tale frequently sidetracked by quirky characters, subplots, unexplained twists and random ruckuses. Any suspense is dispelled by, first, a popular local TV show that reveals all major plot developments, and second, a conveniently discovered letter from Jo's lost father that explicitly describes what she needs to do to come out on top. This may find an audience, but probably not a young one. (Fantasy. 10-14 & adult)
Read an Excerpt
The desert was empty, as though a great drain had sucked the world underground. Every color, every sound had vanished, leaving nothing but flat sand and silence.
Except for the ruby palace. If you were blasting down the highway in the middle of the night, somewhere near Dust Creek, you probably wouldn't even see it. Or just blackness, a red flash in the distance, and then nothing. It was tucked away behind the mountains, alone and nearly forgotten, the old house of Lily Larouche.
From the highway the ruby palace sparkled silently. Come a couple of miles closer, though, and you could hear the buzz of voices--closer, and squeals of laughter, snatches of music, raucous shouts--Lily Larouche was throwing a party.
The last hundred yards and suddenly the ruby palace loomed all around, slumping and sprawling over acres of sand and weeds like a monstrous, glittering cake. Its garden swarmed with exotic flowers, vegetables of startling colors, and dark ponds with fat, ill-tempered toads; strings of lights were flung throughout the crooked trees, twinkling like fireflies, and torches flickered all along the stacked and twisting terraces.
Strange shapes moved in the shadows. A man dressed as an astronaut chatted with a devil. A gang of cavemen sipped fizzing cocktails. A Chinese emperor flirted with a robot, a pirate arm-wrestled a dinosaur, a giant worm danced with a refrigerator--it was Lily Larouche's Christmas costume party, and all her old friends had come.
A blossoming bush grew on the garden patio. At first the bush seemed ordinary; but then two green eyes flashed inside it, and stared. It was a thirteen-year-old girl, small and thin, with brown skin and black bobbed hair. Her name was Jo Larouche. She was Lily Larouche's niece. She also lived at the ruby palace, and she was spying.
"Where did he go?" Jo took a bite of her scrambled-egg sandwich and watched the party intensely. Jo never talked to Aunt Lily's friends, but she loved spying on them.
They usually ignored her--but tonight's party was different.
Tonight someone was watching her.
A fat man was looking for her.
Jo's eyes darted over the crowd. The fat man had been wearing what looked like a military uniform, staring at her across the patio, tugging his beard and pointing at his stomach, rumbling something in a Russian accent. Jo had no idea what. One thing was for sure: the fat Russian was nobody she or Aunt Lily knew.
She couldn't see him anymore--maybe he had left. Good. She intended to enjoy tonight. Jo closed her eyes and inhaled the familiar smell of Aunt Lily's parties: the lemony smoke of tiki torches; the clashing, flowery perfumes; the warm musk of cigarettes . . .
She heard Aunt Lily's name.
Jo peered out of the bush. A couple of feet away, a woman disguised as an enormous eggplant was talking to a man dressed like a UFO.
"Did you see?" whispered the eggplant. "Lily's gone nuts again."
"Cracked as a crawdad, and worse every year," said the UFO. "The woman's going to hurt herself."
"It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the poor girl. Do you know, I've never even seen her?"
"I heard she's some kind of freak, actually," said the UFO. "Remember what the newspapers said about her being 'dangerous'?"
Jo crouched back and frowned. So Aunt Lily was causing trouble again. She wasn't surprised. But there was a chance Aunt Lily might go too far, get herself hurt. . . . Jo rocked back and forth, hesitating. No, she had to see what Aunt Lily was up to. She picked up her cocktail tray and crept out from the bush.
At once Jo was swallowed up in the party's shimmering confusion. Nobody noticed her in her plain black dress, but she preferred it that way. She hated attention.
Aunt Lily, on the other hand . . .
Jo scanned the crowd, biting her lip. It was true--Aunt Lily was getting worse. Jo remembered the party a couple of years ago, when Aunt Lily had dived, still in her cocktail dress, into the swimming pool; the year after that, when Aunt Lily had poured bleach into the champagne punch; last year, when Aunt Lily had kicked another old lady in the teeth. . . .
Where is she? Jo's head buzzed as the lights and noise of the party swirled around her. She turned back toward the palace; maybe she'd find her in--
Just then someone crashed into Jo, knocking her to the ground, spilling her tray and breaking the cocktail glasses on the bricks. It was a boy dressed as a hedgehog, a lanky seventeen-year-old with greasy hair. "Watch it!" he snarled.
Jo looked up, shaken. "Hey, you ran into me."
"Tough. Who're you, anyway?" The hedgehog looked closer. "Oh, wait. You're that girl?"
Jo got to her feet. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You don't look so dangerous to me," said the hedgehog with a smirk, and then he walked away.
Jo didn't have time for this; her heart was beating too hard, she had to find Aunt Lily--but she heard herself shout, "Hey! Get back here!"
"INDEED!" roared a voice behind her.
Jo turned, startled. It was the fat Russian again--where had he come from?--a lumbering, shaggy, harrumphing, absurdly dignified mastodon of a man, with twitching white whiskers and a gleaming uniform, swinging a great black cane.
"I will take it from here, Miss Larouche," he rumbled. "You, sir! Hedgehog! Turn around and apologize!"
"Mind your own business," said the hedgehog.
"APOLOGIZE!" said the Russian.
Jo looked from the Russian to the hedgehog with alarm. People were whispering and glancing over at them; the Russian was jabbing the hedgehog with his cane.
"You, sir, are disturbing my DIGESTION!" said the Russian.
"Hey! Stop that!" said the hedgehog.
"Do you understand what it means to disturb my digestion, sir?" said the Russian.
"That even now, my stomach rumbles with contempt? That my kidneys flood with excruciating acids? That my entire gastrointestinal tract revolts at your ungentlemanly conduct?"
The hedgehog squinted. "Who cares about your stupid gastrointestinal--"
The Russian roared, swinging his cane--crack!--and the hedgehog howled, clutching his head, staggering backward.
"My digestion is not mocked!" boomed the Russian. "Nor will I stand idly by while Miss Larouche is insulted! You are banished, hedgehog! My digestion has spoken--BEGONE!"
The hedgehog wavered; the Russian advanced, waggling his cane; finally the hedgehog swore, and stumbled off into the darkness.
Jo glanced around, flustered. More and more guests were staring, and now the Russian was stooping down to her. "Miss Larouche! I hope--"
"Who are you?" said Jo.
"Who am . . . Oh! My apologies." The Russian bowed. "I am Anatoly Korsakov, colonel. I have been trying to speak with you. Where were you?"
"Um . . . in that bush."
"Brilliant. Excellent strategy. We have enemies everywhere." Colonel Korsakov nodded. "But you need not hide anymore, for I shall protect you! And what is more, Jo Larouche, I have it on unimpeachable authority that tonight you shall receive a gift!"
"Wait, wait!" said Jo. "How do you know who I am?"
"My digestion," said Colonel Korsakov. "It whispers secrets and instructions to me. And this very moment, Miss Larouche, my digestion advises us to be on guard. I have dispatched my partner, Sefino, to patrol the grounds for suspicious characters."
"You're the most suspicious character I've ever met."
From the Hardcover edition.