Monstrous Devices by Damien Love, 320 pp, RL 4

Monstrous Devices by Damien Love
Review Copy from Penguin Young Readers

When we first meet twelve-year-old Alex, it is a winter's night in a British town and he is trying to finish his writing assignment as eight menacing texts appear on his phone. But this is nothing new. What is new is the antique toy robot his wandering grandfather has sent to add to his collection. Taking a closer look at it, Alex slices his thumb on the sharp metal and, well, his life changes forever. Soon, he and his grandfather are on the run, with dangerous types in pursuit.

Between some serious fighting (that draws blood and requires the purchase of new, crisp, white shirts) while on the run and hiding out in France, Alex's grandfather explains the possible provenance of the toy robot in his possession. While a play by the Czech author Karel Čapek, the man who introduced (and popularized) the international word "robot," also inspiring creative representations of the word, it seems the origins of the toy robot harken back to the Biblical Golem and Rabbi Loew and the Golem of Prague. For decades now, a tall man and his "daughter" have been tracking down a toy robot that contains the clay tablet that can animate the Golem of Prague. And, for almost as many decades, Alex's grandfather has been trying to get to it first and destroy it.

Love's well written, well crafted story is at its best when history and golem lore take the forefront. In addition to the chasing and fighting, there is an array of deadly robots, animated by a bit of human flesh or blood. And, while there is a bit more chasing and fighting than I find engaging, the final scenes of the book are deeply poignant and intriguing. Love has created a story that will linger in imaginations, along with is descriptions of the snowy, nighttime streets of Prague.

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