I'm trying to keep this cover image on the opposite side of the page from my userpic, as less complementary images are a bit hard to imagine. But James Kennedy could probably not only imagine it, but would come up with a whole group of people who've dedicated their lives to searching out the most appallingly jarring images, and -- well, James Kennedy's imagination is such that I've not the slightest idea what he might do with anything. As those who've read this post will maybe agree.
I got the audiobook, and was well pleased to find it, as Audible.co.uk doesn't always get US-published books that aren't by big names at all, or at least not quickly. (Still no Paper Towns, for example.) And the narrator does an amazing job - very consistent on the different voices and accents for each single one of a huge number of characters. Still, listening to an audiobook can leave you at a bit of a loss when it's time to write about it - have to go rooting around for spellings of the characters and places, and in this case it's hard to give even good paraphrases, so much stuff is there! I wish it could be got out of the library just for that, but not over here, and I'll definitely get a copy of the book for rereading.
The story in stripped-down form, is of Jo, who lives with her Aunt Lily - not really her aunt, but has taken care of Jo since having Jo was found in her house with a note saying that she's a 'very dangerous baby', 13 years before. They live out in the middle of the California desert, with Jo doing more taking care of the scatty, ex-film star Lily than the other way around. Lily knows nothing about why Jo was dropped with her, why she's supposed to be dangerous, or who Jo's family is. And then, really bizarre things start to happen, leading Jo and Lily, in the company of Colonel Korsakov (an elderly Russian colonel obsessed with his digestion) and Sefino (a large talking cockroach) - via a plane and then the stomach of a giant fish (I think) to Eldritch City, where they find Lily and Korsakov are knights of the Order of Odd-Fish, who were exiled years before. Once they get there, Aunt Lily's memory returns, and she warns Jo never to tell anyone who she really is, because the reason Lily and Korsakov were exiled is their having protected Jo as a new-born.
In Eldritch City, Jo is made a squire of Dame Lily, and makes friends with the other squires, especially Ian (or possibly Iain?) and Norah (or maybe Nora?), finds out about the Order and the insane quests and undertakings of the knights, learns to fight on the ostriches the knights ride, discovers the obsession of everyone with the TV show The Teenage Ichthala (that spelling via Amazon), about the monstrous Ichthala, which is prophesied to return and destroy the city, and makes friends with Audrey, who plays the Teenage Ichthala. But this short (yes, really, it is short!) description gives only a smidgen of the flavour of the book, which is in turns whimsical, absurd, grotesque and just freakin ODD. A lot of the humour comes from the piling on of layer upon layer of absurdity, and it doesn't always work completely, I think. (I might re-visit this opinion after reading instead of listening, as some bits, especially the pursuits of the Order of the Odd-Fish, seemed to drag just a bit, going on and on, as frex the cataloguing of the world's most disgusting smells.) But when it does, I wasn't just laughing, but feeling amazed delight at how wonderfully off-centre it all is. One of my favourite parts was the description of Ken Kiang, whose aim is now to be the world's worst villain. He started as an ordinary businessman, got very wealthy, and went in for philanthropy first. Quickly growing bored with just donating to worthy causes, he started forming his own charities - including the foundation to give every underprivileged child in America post-modern haircuts. Or then there are the many, many rituals that have to be followed before a duel (illegal) can be fought in front of the crowds in the Dome of Doom. Poor Jo has so many worries by that point that being killed in the duel isn't even the worst, but luckily she has Ian/Iain and Nora/Norah to help her write the astonishing insults that have to be delivered during the series of increasingly goofy pre-duel encounters.
Along with the hilarity there are moments of seriousness, as Jo wistfully realises she's never felt as if she belonged anywhere before coming to Eldritch City, and then has to hide the knowledge of who she really is from the people she most cares about, terrified of how they'd react if they knew. And there's a nice treatment of a prophecy which maybe doesn't have to go the way it's been foretold.
Finally, you know the type of ending in which there's a misdirect, leading the reader to think that a friendship/romance has been broken in the ending of a book, when it hasn't? They're fun, but don't usually manage a 'gotcha'. At the end of this one? I was totally got!
I certainly wouldn't expect more in this book, but I'm very much hoping for more of all of them, and I'd definitely love to find out how this world and Eldritch City fit together. I'm as addicted as Hoagland Shanks to pie.