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BOOK REVIEW: Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

BOOK REVIEW: Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

Bloomsbury
October 2017
Paperback, $12.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Middle Grade / Humour / Mystery

9/10

Greta Zargo doesn’t know it, but she is the only one who can SAVE PLANET EARTH from the death robots coming to destroy it!

But right now, she’s a bit busy figuring out who stole all the cakes!

Warning: this book contains robots, peanuts, squirrels, trousers, an eleven-year-old spelling mistake, baths and, yes, lots of cake!

 

This story has two starting points – “Last Sunday” in an alternate England, and 107,242 years ago on a planet called Cestrypip.

In England last week, intrepid eleven-year-old reporter Greta Zargo was looking into the recent theft of several cakes, and after getting a little snippy with one of the victims, she found herself without a paper to write for.

‘Hello?’
‘Greta?’
‘Yes, Mr Inglebath?’
‘I want a word with you, young lady.’
‘Yes, Mr Inglebath?’
‘Do you know what that word is?’
‘No, Mr Inglebath.’
‘Fired.’
‘Oh, Mr Inglebath.’
She put the phone down.
She had a word for Mr Inglebath too, but being only eleven years old and knowing her mother wouldn’t have approved of her using language*, refused to think it.

In Cestrypip (approximately 965 light years from Earth) 107,242 years ago, the great Cestrypian scientist Harknow-Bumfurly-Histlock formed a plan to explore and investigate the entire galaxy.

He talked the people of his world into taking apart some of the other, less important planets in their solar system and using them to build a fleet of Huge Space-Going Robots (each filled with a host of smaller robots) which they would send flying out to nearby star systems to explore and investigate and compile detailed reports on.

As we read along, we see Greta’s progress in the case (which she is following despite no longer having a job at the The Local Newspaper), and the progress of the Huge Space-Going Robots as they visit and destroy many a planet on their journey.

Before the war here had been two languages spoken on Ramflot. Uniquely, both languages had consisted of exactly the same words, but each language used those words to mean different things. The upshot was, if you didn’t check carefully which language the Ramflottian you were speaking to spoke, it was remarkably easy to accidentally insult her. Which explained the recent series of rather serious global wars.

The reason they sang so loudly was that Lemmeroldians didn’t get on very well with one another. (Mostly because of all the gossip, wisdom, boasts, histories and knowledge that other Lemmeroldians insisted on singing when they should have been listening to my song, they each thought.)
It had been lifetimes since and Lemmeroldian had actually heard what any other Lemmeroldian had to say, and so most of the gossip, wisdom, boasts, histories and knowledge was long out of date, fairly out of tune and totally unnecessary.

Commander Wrigglesworth watched with a sinking feeling in his stomach from the window of Space Station B as a thousand silvery robots flew out of the Huge Space-Going Robot and carefully deconstructed his planet.
First the atmosphere was removed, then the crust was extracted, and then the core was mined for iron.

The small, furry creatures that inhabited the planet Belf-Trooga had found the journey to civilisation to be a long and difficult one.
The main cause of difficulty was that Belf-Trooga was a windy planet and the Belf-Troogans were a small and furry people. Fire is an essential stepping stone on the path across the river of progress, but when you are small and furry and the weather’s windy, fire isn’t always your friend.
As it happened, fire was actually discovered many times by many different Belf-Troogans over the millennia. Most Belf-Troogans who witnessed the discovery of fire by a fellow Belf-Troogan (a) vowed never to discover fire themselves, because it looked noisy, hot and painful, and (b) ate tasty, freshly cooked meat for the first time in their small, furry lives.

As readers see planet after planet fall, we can’t help but wonder (and worry) what will happen when they arrive on Earth, and how exactly Greta is supposed to save the planet.

 

This is a great, fun, quick read, and the exciting start of a new series from proven children’s author, A.F. Harrold.

The voice here will appeal to readers of The Last Kids on Earth and A Series of Unfortunate Events, and there’s even something a little Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about the sense of humour. Highly recommended for middle grade (or young-at-heart grown-up) readers who like a sense of humour and wish there were more sci-fi books on the shelves for this age group.

At the same time that this is definitely science fiction, the chapters that take place on Earth stop it from being overwhelmingly so, should readers be a little tentative.

The only thing that brings down the rating for this reader is the fact that Greta was at times rather rude and uncaring to her best friend. She’s definitely single-minded when she has a mystery to solve, and she is perhaps on the spectrum (with a few mentions of struggling to communicate with and understand people in social settings) which would help account for this dismissive attitude. However, without making this clearer to readers, the message could be taken the wrong way by kids not on the spectrum.

In the end this was wildly fun and read in a sitting, and I will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series! 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

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