Damien Love (Rock the Boat, £12.99)

With its eagerly-awaited sequel, The Shadow Arts, available since the beginning of March, Monstrous Devices has finally been issued in this country (it’s been available in the US since 2018), allowing British readers to catch up with one of the most acclaimed, exciting new children’s series in years.

The fast-paced fantasy, in which toy robots do the bidding of sinister forces, and a boy and his grandfather travel across Europe in an attempt to thwart their evil plot, may have been a children’s book by a first-time author (Damien Love, the Glaswegian journalist who has written for this and many other publications), but its readers embraced it with the enthusiasm usually bestowed on the latest Rowling or Pulman.

Its central character, Alex, is a 13-year-old schoolboy – a late developer, bullied at school, a bit of a loner – whose grandfather has helped him amass a collection of toy robots. The most recent addition is quite special, something Alex realises when his bedroom is invaded by more tiny robots intent on snatching it. They’re repelled in the nick of time by Alex’s grandfather, a spry old chap who wields a mean cane and has clearly seen more than his share of weirdness in his 79 years.

Although Alex has qualities which hint at him becoming a more complex and ambiguous figure in the second book, he can’t help but be upstaged by his kindly, charismatic grandfather. Well-versed in esoteric lore and laughing at danger with a nonchalance that, even in the tightest of spots, never deserts him, he’s the sort of resourceful adventurer who stashes Gladstone bags of useful gear in safe-houses across the globe but will drop everything for a nice mint humbug or a decent cup of tea. He whisks Alex off to Paris, along with the toy robot that’s causing all the fuss, where they confront the shadowy antagonists who plan to use it to further their nefarious schemes.

The suggested age range for Monstrous Devices is 9—12 years old, but such is the quality of his prose that one never gets the impression Love has simplified it or written down to his audience. Nor is he trying to reinvent a genre, but to write as well as he can within its conventions, and the result is a hugely appealing adventure for all ages, which seems almost certain to be adapted for the screen one day. He bounces freely from one trope to another, whether it’s the echoes in Alex’s character of a hundred fantasy heroes before him or in knowing nods to Raiders of the Lost Ark and King Kong, and does it with such confidence and finesse that all his fond homages feel like essential genre elements we’d miss if they weren’t there.

Monstrous Devices raises many questions, mainly about Alex’s parentage and the long-term effects his adventures will have on him, and since the sequel is already here it’s exciting for us latecomers to know we won’t have to wait two years for the answers.