Alistair Grim's Odditorium
Combining magical and nearly steampunk sensibilities with a protagonist straight out of Dickens, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM keeps the pace fast and the action constant.Following Grubb, a young orphan being raised by an abusive adopted father, the book plays things rather safe, leaning on established tropes and cliches while adding just enough new elements to make it a decent read. Grubb begins the tale as a chimney sweep, but it doesn't take long until a misadventure leads him to London, and it’s a very strange situation indeed when he enters the employ of Alistair Grim and learns of the existence of magic, called Odditorio.
ODDITORIUM succeeds at creating an interesting hodgepodge London, one where monsters and magic are real but not widely known. Instead of focusing just on English myths and legends, the book takes from all comers, borrowing from Japanese folktales as well as Native American stories and all points in between. It's fairly fun having everything on the table --- ninjas and banshees mix with impunity --- but it’s a bit jarring and not free from problems.
Combining magical and nearly steampunk sensibilities with a protagonist straight out of Dickens, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM keeps the pace fast and the action constant.
Different creatures have different kinds of magic, which have convenient colors and can be combined for different effects. Categorizing by type makes for an easy way of keeping all the different creatures straight, but I felt like the author glossed over actual world-building in favor of throwing in creatures that are only characterized by how they most often appear in fiction or media. The Ninjas don't feel like they have anything to do with Japanese culture, but are instead Western approximations and clichés, and that could have been done much better.
ODDITORIUM does have a rather engaging tone, using Grubb as the lens through which this is all viewed and digested. And because Grubb grew up with stories of magical creatures, nothing is presented as being impossible. Grubb manages to be curious and yet serious, dutiful and yet still childish enough to bend the rules occasionally. He's a solid character, and plays well off the more colorful personalities that come to surround him, especially Mack and the Yellow Fairy. Where the characters are new, or deviate from the traditional depictions (a violent and cranky fairy, a rowdy pocket watch), they shine. Where they line up exactly with the tropes, though, they fall a little flat, like the evil judge and the heroic ninja. All in all, though, most of the supporting characters stood out and had plenty of interesting quirks to keep them distinct and memorable.
The same could not be said, unfortunately, for the plot. Despite the interesting setting and the characters, the plot felt very predictable. From the beginning, Grubb's journey seemed to be leading him in one direction, and though there was a lot of action to get him there, there were no real surprises. The mysterious backstory that links him to Alistair Grim was done entirely by the book. Plus, the good-versus-evil conflict wasn’t that compelling. Perhaps because this is only the first book in a series, there wasn't a lot of payoff, either. Grubb and his friends fight the bad guy, and they don't win and they don't lose. Everything gets postponed and a few players are cleared away to probably return later. It makes for a very quick read, but not a very complicated one.
In the end, the action of ODDITORIUM was fun, the tone light and charming, but that couldn't really elevate the work above decent. For children, it's an easy and fairly accessible read that's probably good for a few chuckles and some decent suspense. For readers that are starting to crave something different and a little complex, though, there isn't much to discover here. Perhaps future installments will complicate things, but for the moment I'd hesitate to fully recommend it.
Reviewed by Charles Payseur on January 12, 2015
Alistair Grim's Odditorium
- Publication Date: January 6, 2015
- Genres: Fantasy
- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
- ISBN-10: 1484700066
- ISBN-13: 9781484700068