Alex is sent a small toy robot by his grandfather. He has a large collection of toy robots - this is a shared passion with his grandfather. It is clear this robot is very old and so perhaps quite valuable.
"The old man picked up these toys on his travels around the globe and this newest robot - or rather, this oldest, for Alex sensed it was very old indeed - had just arrived out of the blue a few days earlier: a brick-shaped package in the post, brown paper tied with string, his grandfather's spidery scribble across the front."
There is so much to enjoy about this book. One aspect of the writing that I appreciated was the way Damien Love gives the reader important signposts - we know more than Alex but we cannot warn him. For example very early in the story Alex picks up the robot. We have just read that it is:
"Angry and pathetic-looking, it was made from cheap, thin grey-green tin ... it grimaced with a mouth like a tiny letterbox, filled with jagged nightmare of ferocious metal teeth. Its eyes were two holes, framing a hollow interior blackness."
Read this quote again. Notice the warning behind words like jagged, nightmare, ferocious.
As I just said, Alex picks up the robot. The rough edges cut into his thumb. Some blood is on the robot. Alex hopes not too much has leaked inside. By this page alarm bells were ringing for me. At the end of next school day his grandfather arrives. He suggests Alex should accompany him to Paris so they can visit a dealer and find out more about this old robot. Alex has a few more days of school and so it seems he cannot go but that night things become very scary when Alex is attacked in his bedroom. He is woken by three tiny robots. One climbs onto his bed. It has a needle on the end of its arm and "thin brown liquid dripped from the tip. Only when the robot's arm came down with a violent jabbing motion did he realise it was trying to stab him."
Alex's grandfather comes to his rescue demonstrating amazing combat skills. There is no time to spare. The pair must head away now. Someone clearly wants this toy robot but why?
The robots in this book are fighting machines. This is not a book for the faint-hearted. There are violent confrontations at every turn. There are fliers and life-sizers. In this scene the humans- a young girl with horrible scars on her arms and a tall man with a disguised face - who are chasing Alex and his grandfather, arrive at the house of Harry an expert in toys.
"Around their feet, a vague parade of smaller robots trundled and stumbled over the snow, maybe thirty, bright little robot cars and robot trains and robot rocket ships, tiny space bull-dozers with robot drivers. Little things on legs and wheels and caterpillar tracks, things that walked and climbed and rolled, things that looked and hunted and tracked and hid, things that picked and drilled. Things that could slash and wound and worse."
I especially loved Alex's grandfather. I loved his sense of humour, his love of delicious food, his wisdom, his amazing agility, his brilliant bag of tricks and most importantly of all his love of Alex. This is an action packed story leading the reader to a glorious but surprising ending which promises there will need to be a sequel. Many reviewers have used the word cinematic to describe this book and I agree.
Confused, terror-stricken, and inarticulate throughout, Alexcomes off as a pale character next to his creepy adversaries and, inparticular, his dapper, glib, secretive, martially adroit, scene-stealing grandfather. Still, as events move along apace, he (Alex) proves surprisingly resourceful. Kirkus
This is an immensely entertaining adventure tale, with Scottish author Love's masterful manipulation of pacing alternately drawing out tension or speeding up life-and-death clashes to keep the pages furiously turning. Bulletin of the Centre for Children’s Books Volume 72 Number 3, November2018.
You can hear the first chapter on the publisher web site. This is an excellent way to gain a feel for the style of writing the the atmosphere created by Damien Love for his story. I highly recommed Monstrous Devices for readers 11+ just make sure you have a good supply of salt in your house before you embark on this wild fantasy adventure.
The sequel The Shadow Arts was published in March, 2020.
Monstrous Devices is based around the story of The Golem of Prague. You can read more about this story here. I would recommend doing this after reading Monstrous Devices. The golem is figure from Jewish folklore. Here is a quote from an academic paper that compares three texts that feature this story:
"In 1580, the Rabbi of Prague—Rabbi Loew (also known as The Maharal)—created a golem which would become the prototype of most golem figures in modern literature. Rabbi Loew was a 16th century scholar and mystic who created a golem upon realizing that his own strength alone was not sufficient to cope with the task of protecting his people. With help from two of his students, the rabbi created the golem out of mud found near a river, and brought it into being by invoking the forces of the secret names of God. The legend continues that the golem created was a powerful giant, but ultimately a robot, in that it was essentially soulless. This soullessness manifested in the golem's fundamental lack of communication—the absence of the desire, need, and ability to question, reason, and interpret both itself and its surroundings, and this notion was embodied within the golem's inability to speak."
from Danya David, Revisiting Golem: An exploration into three illustrated narratives for children IN The Look Glass New Perspectives on Children's Literature.
If you have read Monstrous Devices go back now and re-read pages 195-199 and you can see the links to the story of the golem.
I would pair Monstrous Devices with Sweep by Jonathan Auxier.