SFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviewsAlistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum by Gregory FunaroAlistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum by Gregory Funaro

The strange adventures of Grubb, a young boy and former chimney sweep swept away to hair-raising magical escapades in Gregory Funaro’s Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, continue in Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum, the second volume in the ODDITORIUM series set in Victorian-era England. Grubb is starting to feel at home in the Odditorium, a magically mechanical ― or perhaps mechanically magical ― flying mansion of wonders built by Alistair Grim, an inventor and sorcerer. Magical energies in this universe are color-based, a detail that is likely to enchant young readers. They include yellow fairy dust from Gwendolyn the Yellow Fairy, which enables the Odditorium to fly; a red energy that powers its weapon systems; and a blue energy provided by an attractive and mischievous banshee, Cleona, which animates the machinery and other objects in the Odditorium. Unfortunately, these magical powers can be used for evil as well as good (the combination of red and blue energy into purple is particularly alarming), and the malevolent Prince Nightshade is using them to gain power for his own purposes, and is trying to steal the Odditorium’s sources of power to strengthen his hand.

Having narrowly escaped Prince Nightshade and his army of goblins, trolls and other dark creatures in the first volume, Grubb, along with Grim and their friends in the Odditorium, is anxious to defeat Nightshade once and for all. Alistair Grim’s plan to do just that leads the motley crew on a journey to strange new places as they seek the legendary sword Excalibur to help them battle the dark Prince with his invincible armor. On this journey they run afoul of many adversaries: demons, a handcuff-bearing male banshee determined to bring Cleona to trial before the banshee council for her supposed crimes, a crazed redheaded witch called Mad Malmuirie bent on kidnapping Grubb, an old rival of Alistair Grim with unique knowledge of the hidden way to Avalon, home to Excalibur. But some of these foes may turn out to be helpful to their quest, if they can only figure out whom to trust!

There’s a brief info dump at the beginning of Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum, where Grubb recaps his story from the first volume and brings readers up to date. While this may be enough to somewhat orient new readers, I advise against skipping the first book, which introduces the reader to this world with its characters and their motivations and quirks. For example, banshees have a deep loyalty to those they adopt as family, and their wails warn their loved ones of courses of action that would lead to their deaths. And apparently yellow fairies have a weakness for chocolate.

“I think we should protect ourselves with our own fairy just in case.” He flicked on the talkback. “Gwendolyn, are you there?”

“What is it, Pookie?” the Yellow Fairy replied, and she let out a long coo. Clearly, the chocolate had done its work.

Originally I assumed that “Aquaticum” was a new name for the Odditorium itself, given in recognition of its new ability to travel underwater. Not so ― it is the underwater part of their journey, as the search for Excalibur and a way to defeat Prince Nightshade leads Grubb and his friends to watery realms where immense sea monsters hold sway.

Like Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum is an exciting magical adventure geared toward middle grade readers, but the story has enough interesting twists and humor to appeal to older readers who enjoy youthful fantasy adventures. This second adventure is even more compelling, particularly in the last half of the book, and the storyline is more coherent. I reached that magical place where I was not just reading, but was transported into the book, joining Grubb and his friends on their quest and journeying to marvelous new places.

Publication date: January 6, 2015. Grubb, age twelve (or thereabouts), has never known anything beyond his miserable existence as a chimney sweep, paid only in insults and abuse by his cruel master. All of that changes the day he stows away in the coach belonging to a mysterious guest at the inn that he is tasked with cleaning. Grubb emerges from Alistair Grim’s trunk and into the wondrous world of the Odditorium. Fueled by a glowing blue energy that Grubb can only begin to understand, the Odditorium is home to countless enchanted objects and an eccentric crew that embraces Grubb as one of their own. There’s no time for Grubb to settle into his new role as apprentice to the strange, secretive Mr. Grim. When the Odditorium comes under attack, Grubb is whisked off on a perilous adventure. Only he can prevent the Odditorium’s magic from falling into evil hands—and his new family from suffering a terrible fate. Grubb knows he’s no hero. He’s just a chimney sweep. But armed with only his courage and wits, Grubb will confront the life-or-death battle he alone is destined to fight.

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  • Tadiana Jones

    TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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