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.