Monday, October 7, 2019

Monstrous Devices

Monstrous Devices
by Damien Love
Recommended Ages: 12+

Life takes a strange turn for Alex, a bullied London schoolboy, when he receives a toy robot in the mail from his grandfather – possibly the original toy based on the early 20th century Czech play that coined the word “robot.” Soon afterward, Alex is attacked in his bedroom by several other toy robots that seem to have come to life. Also, he senses that his own robot has a mind of its own, offering him a power that he secretly covets.

Promptly, Granddad shows up and sweeps Alex off on a perilous adventure across Europe, while a tall man, a nasty little girl, and their henchmen pursue them. Everywhere they turn, the boy and his grandfather are strafed by tiny flying machines, watched if not actively chased by toys on wheels and treads and wobbly legs. Some of the robots are as big as people, but they’re all dangerous, all animated by villains who have learned to bind machines to their will by sacrificing bits of themselves to their whirring cogs. Yet again, Alex is drawn to them, haunted by a sense of familiarity.

Together, Alex and his granddad fight their way through Paris, the French countryside, and finally Prague, racing an enemy armed with killer robots. Eventually, Alex’s new toy proves to contain the clay tablet bearing the 72 Hebrew names of God that animated the original golem of Prague. Once it gets into the wrong hands, it’s only a matter of time until the same clay monster runs amok (amuck?) again. It’s the familiar legend of Rabbi Loew warmed up for the machine age – old terror, new look – with nobody but a scared English schoolboy to stop it.

This book is easy to love. Besides the fact that my recent readings have, just by chance, let me review the Rabbi Loew/golem of Prague legend from another angle, and the obvious combination of eerie mystery, supernatural horror and high-paced action, it’s just super-funny.

For example, Grandfather has this endearing character trait of indulging in bad habits (like smoking, drinking, eating fattening food and walking on ledges outside highrise buildings) while warning his grandson never, ever to do the same. Alex, meanwhile, has a vulnerability that goes straight to the heart – though he, too, is a very imperfect fellow. Maybe his most disturbing flaw is the one that will make the end of this book a hook into Book 2.

This is the debut novel of a Scottish author whose book jacket blurb claims he has the ability to talk to cats, but admits there is no evidence they understand him. A sequel, titled The Shadow Arts, is scheduled for release March 3, 2020.

No comments: