Monday, January 26, 2009

The Order of Odd-Fish

By James Kennedy.

A wonderfully absurd, funny book, albeit with hints of darkness. I want to tell you more about it — there are many great moments — but most of them are spoilers.

Part of the greatness is the setting, reminiscent of the Half-Continent in depth but more modern in atmosphere: a huge, decaying city on a tropical island with giant cockroach butlers and centipede newspapermen, who perhaps serve the human population, or are perhaps admired by them. Colorful and solemn festivals alternate as Jo Larouche, shot down along with her aunt, an elderly Russian colonel and a three foot cockroach off the coast of California, discovers why her past has brought her to this place and struggles to avert the future others want to use her for... (Yes, the previous sentence has terrible structure.)

There are, however, grotesque moments and hints of the unsavory. The opening chapters contain some innuendo (although to what, exactly, is not entirely clear, which I guess is what "innuendo" means anyway) and I dimly recall wondering about some other lines.

Overall, however, I found this to be a quite enjoyable book. One wonders whether there will be a sequel.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


By Catherine Fisher.

I've had this book sitting around since June at least, and I only just read it. It's a weird hybrid of a spy thriller, adventure story, political intrigue, etc.: Finn lives inside Incarceron, an entire world built to be a perfect prison and lift its prisoners to moral perfection and happiness. The Warden of Incarceron lives outside in an enforced Era of technological poverty, while his daughter Claudia searches for the location of Incarceron and tries to plumb his other secrets.

What I liked:
  • Strong adventure
  • Cool gadgets
  • Characters aren't stupid
  • Possibly Christian themes: Incarceron failed as a utopia because men cannot escape the evil within themselves; forgiveness; loyalty.
What I disliked:
  • This story starts off looking like (soft) science fiction but at a certain point became completely incredible to me as anything other than a fantasy.
  • By the end almost nothing was resolved.
What I wasn't sure about:

I guessed almost every plot twist far ahead of time, if things so apparent can even be called twists. On the one hand, it makes me feel smart; on the other hand, maybe they were supposed to be so apparent. Or maybe I've read too many books of this sort.

In the end: A pretty good adventure story (complete with sailing ship sequence), but you'll probably want to have the second one (Sapphique) on hand when you finish. (You might want to keep in mind that these books are imports, not actually published in the U.S., but you can get them through Amazon.)

The City in the Lake

By Rachel Neumeier.

A girl trained as a mage heads off to the City at the center of her Kingdom after various calamities strike her village (i.e., babies are all born dead).

This book is written in a style similar to Patricia McKillip's, although it lacks some of the vivid and startling language McKillip uses, at least in her later books. This may intentionally reflect the gravity of most of the characters but likely it's just the author of a first novel developing her craft.

Most of the characters have an overabundance of self-control; although they seem more solid than cardboard, most are in no danger of being overwhelmed by emotion, either.

The atmosphere is very much that of a fairy tale: Timou lives in a Kingdom with a Forest and a City, courtiers are shocked at the suggestion that they might pluck out the jeweled eyeballs of any lizard they found by the pool where the Prince disappeared, and Timou's quest is a matter of perception and careful choices rather than the application of force.

In the end, I think this book shows quite a bit of promise, and anyone who enjoys McKillip will probably want to check it out. Also, the book stands alone in a way that makes me guess there won't be a sequel.